Journalist John Bohannon submitted slightly different versions of the same article to all the relevant open access journals he could find.
The article purported to deal with evidence that a viable cancer drug candidate had been extracted from lichen.
It contained blatant mistakes, such as claiming to have shown a dose-response relationship without presenting any evidence of one.
The lead author was named as Ocorrafoo Cobange of the Wassee Institute of Medicine. The paper was run through translation software and back again to create the impression of having been written by scientists with limited English.
Bohannon’s purpose was to demonstrate that open access journals, where authors pay to appear in a free publication, are “an emerging Wild West in academic publishing”.
Journals accepting the article included publications by reputable scientific publishers Sage and Elsevier. Sage’s Journal of International Medical Research charged $3100 for inclusion – the charge was for ‘technical editing’.
Bohannon noted that about a third of the journals he targeted are based in India, including Elsevier’s Drug Invention Today.
Of the 304 versions of the article submitted, only 98 were rejected. In all, only 36 generated comments via peer review, leading to 20 of the rejections.