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by Claire Robinson and Jonathan Latham, PhD
Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Journal, has jested that instead of scientific peer review, its rival The Lancet had a system of throwing a pile of papers down the stairs and publishing those that reached the bottom. On another occasion, Smith was challenged to publish an issue of the BMJexclusively comprising papers that had failed peer review and see if anybody noticed. He replied, “How do you know I haven’t already done it?”
As Smith’s stories show, journal editors have a lot of power in science – power that provides opportunities for abuse. The life science industry knows this, and has increasingly moved to influence and control science publishing.
The strategy, often with the willing cooperation of publishers, is effective and sometimes blatant. In 2009, the scientific publishing giant Elsevier was found to have invented anentire medical journal, complete with editorial board, in order to publish papers promoting the products of the pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck. Merck provided the papers, Elsevier published them, and doctors read them, unaware that the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine was simply a stuffed dummy.
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