Clelia Frondaroli | Head of Comment
In a post Covid-19 world where social media has exacerbated already strained tensions between science and public trust, scientific publications are often lauded as being the pinnacle of rigorous, peer-reviewed scientific research. However, what if this is not entirely the case?
Good scientific and academic research requires funds, prestige and, most importantly, time. Often researchers spend years formulating precise research questions and undertake rigorous participant studies to ensure their research is accurate. All this occurs before the publishing of the material itself; academics are required to submit their research findings to scientific journals, where their content is verified and vetted through a peer-reviewed process and eventually leading to the study being published if approved. This is what lends scientific journals a trustworthy reputation; these checks are put in place to ensure scientific research maintains credibility as well as upholds public trust. However, what if the content published in these journals are not verifiable because the journals themselves are fake? This is the case for over 10,000 academic journals (known by the term ‘junk journals’) found on the internet, which was discovered in an investigation conducted by Eduardo Franco. Franco, a leading specialist in oncology, initiated his investigation into these fraudulent journal publishing sites after noticing some inconsistencies with the academic journals in which his colleagues had published their research. He found that many of his colleagues had studies published in journals that were later exposed as scams: they were journals set up to mimic reputable science publishers yet essentially published ‘junk’ (fraudulent) science.
These ‘junk journals’ were established as a result of online, open-access publishing, which allowed academics to publish their material at a much faster rate than the traditional publishing process. This, in addition to the rising pressures on academics to provide CVs with extensive published material, allowed an entire online network of fraudulent scientific journals to flourish. These journals charge academics a fixed fee (ranging from $200 to upwards of $2000) in return for publishing their unverified, and at times falsified research material into their online journals, generating extensive profits and providing academics with all the published content they desire.
However, the consequences of such a trade are dire. As detailed by Alex Grillis in The Walrus, fraudulent scientific material is being published at a faster rate than legitimate material, with over 30 percent of medical research articles being shown to be entirely inaccurate. Scientific journals are widely used by healthcare professionals yet pharmaceutical companies (such as AstraZeneca) publish false studies within junk journals to promote the use of their drugs, creating the dangerous possibility of doctors trusting these studies to prescribe the use of these drugs to their patients that may not function in the way the studies have claimed.
Therefore, this is the dark side of science research in general. By publishing false scientific research, these junk journals not only exacerbate the issue of spreading false information online but also diminish both public trust in scientific research and the integrity of science as a whole.