12 Aug 2015

iMed Publishing fell for Bohannon's chocolate hoax, but that's not the worst thing about them

The first introduction to iMed Publishing (iMed.pub) for most people was not a good one.

In October 2013, John Bohannon — a self-styled 'gonzo journalist' — announced that he had pulled off a sting of dodgy open access journal publishers by submitting a made-up article and seeing which took the bait  and many did. This triggered a debate about OA, peer review, and publishing ethics, as well as Bohannon's tactics.

On 26 March 2015, International Archives of Medicine published a small German clinical trial showing that eating dark chocolate can help in losing weight (article now removed but archived). Not that many people noticed: a few people tweeted the link, and the story was covered by some low-quality science and health news sites that are effectively mirrors of press releases and a handful of tabloid newspapers — most notably the British Daily Mail, Express, and Daily Star, and the German gossipmonger Bild (Google News search; Google search).

Bohannon had struck again.

This time, with two German documentary makers, he'd had an even more audacious plan: to hoodwink lazy journalists — churnalists — by running a real clinical trial, fiddling the stats, and publishing it in an apparently peer-reviewed journal. As 'Johannes Bohannon' of the 'Institute of Diet and Health' in Mainz he submitted his study to 20 journals; of those that took the bait he selected the International Archives of Medicine, who had agreed to publish without peer review, and he then press released it.

On 27 May 2015, Bohannon did the big reveal of his #chocolatehoax on the news site io9. Many got the impression that Bohannon had indeed fooled millions into believing a clever lie; Bild published a retraction notice, and Mother Nature Network confessed “Well, this is embarrassing. Turns out this 'study' was a stunt to see who was paying attention — and we weren't.” The focus in the science communication world largely turned to whether the trial and the reporting of it by Bohannon was unethical.

The publisher of the journal, iMed.pub, tried some rather desperate damage control; iMed.pub told me on Twitter “That article has never been published” and said in a disclaimer on their website that the paper “accidentally appeared online for some days. Indeed that manuscript was finally rejected and never published as such.” They accused Bohannon of lying: “what the pseudo-author was claiming is false”. The article was available until 27 May; is two months “some days”? Nobody was convinced and the blog Retraction Watch took this claim to task. Few asked: “Who are the International Archives of Medicine and iMed Publishing, anyway?”, but I was intrigued as I had heard of iMed.pub and their journals before — what was going on?


So who are iMed.pub? International Archives of Medicine (IAM) was formerly published by BioMed Central (BMC) from April 2008 to December 2014, under the Editor-in-Chief Manuel Menendez-Gonzalez of Universidad Oviedo. For the avoidance of doubt, BMC (my former employer) had nothing to do with the Bohannon paper. For on 31 December 2014 the International Archives of Medicine was sold to iMed.pub, and in February 2015 a relaunch was announced. Within months, IAM and iMed.pub would have its first major scandal: publishing the Bohannon chocolate hoax.

iMed Publishing (Internet Medical Publishing or iMed.pub) would like to be known as “the fastest growing publishing house on the net”, an open access publisher based in London, UK, publishing seven journals and affiliated to the Fundación de Neurociencias and the Internet Medical Society. iMedPub Limited is a company registered in the United Kingdom (company number 08776635, though 2,215 companies also use the same address as iMed.pub, likely a mail forwarding service). iMed.pub and their associated organizations seem to trace back to two Spanish clinical researchers: CEO Carlos Vázquez and the director of iMed.pub and the Editor-in-Chief of IAM, Manuel Menendez-Gonzalez.

Publishing Bohannon's hoax is not the only suspect act made by iMed.pub.

A tangled web

The founders of iMed.pub have been busy. Alongside the journal publishing wing — including the Open Journal of Medicine (publishing only 10 papers since 2011 and none this year) — there are:
publishopenaccess.com - a mirror site for iMed.pub
Fundaciónde Neurociencias
Internet Medical Society
Asociación Española de Médicos Internos Residentes (AEMIR)
A tonne of blogs, and some more
Various traces and abandoned sites around the web, including some old Twitter archives

The connections are not always openly declared. For example, Carlos Vázquez announced on Facebook that “We have partnered with peereviewers.com so we have an extra database of reviewers available to find suitable reviewers for manuscripts submitted to International Archives of Medicine http://www.peereviewers.com”. The relaunch of IAM also gave the impression of independence. Two of their sites (and only those sites) are awarded their own 'eHealthQ seal'.

They are perhaps not so keen to maintain this empire — they tried to sell their social network Medicalia in 2014, and they offloaded a number of their journals at about the same time. More on that below...

Paper mill

In IAM, one author Luiz Carlos de Abreu has published a stunning 48 articles in just 2015 — a feat I have never seen from a single author in a single journal in a single year, and we're only eight months in.

Copying other publishers

My old BMC colleague Tom Mowlam, now at the open access publisher Ubiquity Press, tweeted: “http://iMed.pub copy @ubiquitypress model; forget to update name!”.


And compare iMed.pub's about page: “Vision: As a service to doctors and biomedical scientists, iMed.pub is driven by clinicians and researchers for themselves, while serving the interests of the general public. iMed.pub disseminates research in a tiered system, beginning with our specialty books and journals and then working upwards. The grand vision of iMed.pub is a world where all medical researchers and health professionals have an equal opportunity to seek, share and create knowledge.
Mission: iMed.pub aims to address the needs of authors and foster a rapid, convenient, unbiased, and comprehensive publishing environment, which not only guarantees the highest quality constructive peer-review process, but also provides an evaluation system that involves the entire research community. To fulfill this mission, iMed.pub applies the most advanced Internet technologies to bring scholarly publishing into a new generation.”

to that of the OA publisher Frontiers: “The Frontiers journal series are a new approach to scientific publishing. As a service to scientists, it is driven by researchers for researchers, while serving the interests of the general public. Frontiers disseminates research in a tiered system, beginning with our specialty journals and working upwards. Our research evaluation system is democratic and objective, and based on the reading activity of not only scientific communities, but that of the general public. It drives the most outstanding and relevant research up to the next tier, the field journals.
VISION: The grand vision of Frontiers is a world where all people have an equal opportunity to seek, share and create knowledge. To help actualize our grand vision, Frontiers provides open and free access to all of its publications.”

The dubious aim to aid pharmaceutical companies in reinforcing their brand messages, and to produce customized content to integrate with global and local communication plans” is taken from Springer HealthcareiMed.pub's “Before you submit is taken from Springer's Before you start. The Statement of Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent is taken from the Korean journal CEEM, leaving CEEM in the text. The Article Processing Charge page is taken from BMC. And so on.

They have also ripped off the PLOS Medicine collection “No Health Without Research” and rebranded it without attributing the source — a breach of the Creative Commons License. They are even selling it on Amazon for $10 — shades of VDM's practice of ripping off Wikipedia articles to sell as books. Other PLOS collections have also been copied.

[EDIT: In April, it was noted on Twitter that peereviewers.com had copied wording from the peer review service Rubriq]

Keeping poor company

iMed.pub is easily confused with Insight Medical Publishing or imedpub.com, an imprint of the notorious publisher OMICS, whose website even uses some of the same wording as iMed.pub (and who Aries are letting use the journal management platform Editorial Manager). An indication that this may be more than OMICS simply ripping off iMed.pub is that on iMed.pub's old website they list Archives of Medicine, Journal of Universal Surgery, Journal of Neurology and Neuroscience, Translational Biomedicine, Archives of Clinical Microbiology, Health Systems and Policy Research, Archives in Cancer Research, and Journal of Biomedical Sciences — which are all now among OMICS/imedpub.com's own list of 75 journals.

iMedpub.com was once run by the Spanish researchers, published in Spanish and owned by Fundación de Neurociencias. The website went through a number of changes of style and logo, then between 28 October 2014 and 8 December 2014 OMICS took over, moving the website to Hyderabad. The journal websites similarly transformed: before and after. However, Carlos may have regretted this, posting “Please, do not mistook this publisher with iMed.pub, International Medical Publisher, the publisher of International Archives of Medicine among others” on Insight Medical Publishing's Facebook page in April 2015.

Carlos/Carvaper (a username of Carlos Vázquez) popped up in the comments of a post by Jeffrey Beall on OMICS for buying their way onto PubMed”, criticising Beall. How... coincidental.

Losing track(ing)

iMed.pub celebrate IAM being indexed by the murky Index Copernicus, a common resort of disreputable publishers. But even this is untrue — they've not had an 'IC Rating' since 2011. They claim “IAM is included in the JournalGuide whitelist of reputable titles”, but the entry says “This journal is not yet included in the JournalGuide whitelist of reputable titles.” They claim to be archived in the Keepers register, but this has not continued beyond the acquisition from BMC. They claim IAM is in Q1 for Medicine in Scopus; it's in Q2.

False identities?

Like Lambert Academic Press before them, the people associated with iMed.pub are more than meets the eye. The author of the iMed.pub books is listed on Amazon as a 'Samuel Barrack'. Samuel Barrack also appears as an editorial board member of the OMICS/imedpub.com journal, Journal of Neurology and Neuroscience, with the affiliation 'Southamptom'[sic]. Almost the only other trace of 'Samuel Barrack' is on Google Scholar as a lone author or co-author with Manuel Menendez of iMed.pub on articles posted to jneurology.wordpress.com, an old iMed.pub site. Samuel also has a Google Plus profile, which uses the stock photo “Doctor smiling in his clinic” aka CB106289.jpg.

Samuel is not the only apparent sockpuppet in iMed.pub's drawer. Medicalia includes a profile for InternetMedicalPublishing, but this is not Vázquez or Menendez — this is someone else called Dr David Ryan. David's association with the site goes all the way back to November 2005, when the Internet Medical Society was founded. He is apparently the web admin and former co-chair, and is based at KCL: “Dr David Ryan, Public Health, Kings[sic] College London, UK”. I can find two David Ryans who attended KCL: one did Classics in 1964, the other History in 1985. The profile pic for 'David Ryan' on Medicalia was also used as “denia telemedicina portada” on neurocien.blogspot.com, the Spanish language blog of Fundación de Neurociencias (run by Menendez) to illustrate “Consulta Médica Online” — this was itself taken from an image (also here) from Hospital Marina Salud de Dénia. Strangely, his Google Plus profile says he is at UCL, not KCL. He also lives in 'Londres, Reino Unido' — how odd that an English doctor would put that in Spanish. On Google Plus David uses the same image of a group of doctors as on his YouTube profile. These doctors are in fact dermatologists at UMass medical school (bonus points for spotting the doctor UMass themselves photoshopped in).

The Spanish language version of their website Medicalia is apparently hosted by 'Sandra Toledo', but her profile picture is also a stock photo.

David Garcia, whose Medicalia profile URL contains 'iMedPub', uses another stock photo. And he replied to a post in December 2012 as though he was Carlos Vázquez Perez.

By now I am even doubting that the CEO of iMed.pub Carlos Vázquez aka Carlos Vázquez Perez exists. His Facebook profile pictures are stock photos and there is little detail available about his background, just 'Clínica Virgen del Carmen, Zaragoza, Spain' (or 'Clínica del Carmen'). He has no publication record that I can find — just two articles on iMed.pub, one of which also appears under the names of Indian and Pakistani researchers. Another Facebook profile for him has the same stock photo as used by David Garcia on Medicalia. Carlos' Google Plus profile picture and Academia picture is actually the picture of a Microsoft employee (and Carlos has two more Google Plus profiles, one of which claims he attended UCL). His email address carvaper@gmail.com was once used for a blog on Urban Trekking that was based in Oviedo — where Manuel Menendez-Gonzalez is based. The Managing Editor of iMed.pub Isabel Miguel might be real, but otherwise could this all be a one-man band run by the only registered company director of iMedPub Ltd, Manuel Menendez-Gonzalez of the University of Oviedo and Hospital Alvarez-Buylla?


iMed Publishing were not just Bohannon's dupes

They have repeatedly copied other OA publishers, churned out papers, associated with another disreputable publisher, given the impression of independence of their different organizations, misreported the tracking of their journals, and apparently invented several false identities. Editors on their boards, prospective authors, other publishers who may be associating with them — PeerJ*, Cureus** — should give iMed.pub and its sister organizations a wide berth.

* imedicalsociety.org said All abstracts will be published only as preprints in the journal PeerJ; PeerJ told me PeerJ has never communicated w iMed & has no partnership to publish w them. We’re investigating.
** Cureus says To echo PeerJ, Cureus has no business relationship with iMedbut iMed.pub's Internet Medical Society has a channel and is promoting Cureus' inclusion in PubMed on social media]


p.s. An ethical aspect of Bohannon's 'chocolate hoax' that was less commented on was that it muddies the water for legitimate research. “Eating chocolate is good for you!” is great clickbait, which is why Bohannon chose it, but there is legitimate work that suggests, as summarised in systematic reviews, that cocoa may have benefits on lowering cholesterol and blood pressure.

p.p.s. Some readers might be experiencing déjà vu, and indeed this story has played out before with another ex-BMC journal. In July 2012, the journal Head and Neck Oncology was discontinued by BMC after an investigation into its editorial practices. The Editor-in-Chief promptly founded an open access publisher based in London, imaginatively titled OA Publishing London, and a raft of associated organizations. The blogger Neuroskeptic had the scoop on their operations, so I need not repeat them here. The similarities between iMed.pub and OAPL are striking, and it seems to come down to a common factor — the hubris of the academics running these publishing operations.

p.p.p.s. I have archived snapshots of the websites involved in case they mysteriously disappear, which I can send to anyone who is interested.

p.p.p.p.s. Competing interests: I am a staff editor at PLOS ONE, but this post is written in a personal capacity. All opinions expressed in this post are mine and not those of PLOS.

10 Sep 2012

Lambert Academic Publishing (or How Not to Publish Your Thesis)

[Updated March 2014, see update below]

Lambert Academic Publishing (LAP) is an imprint of Verlag Dr Muller (VDM), a publisher infamous for selling cobbled-together "books" made up of Wikipedia articles mainly under their Alphascript Publishing imprint. LAP, on the other hand, specialize in "publishing" academic theses [update: they also use the names Scholars' Press and Editorial Académica Española (EAE)]. Below, I summarize what's known about LAP's operations (and my opinion of "publishing" a thesis with such an organization), but consider this first:

Lambert Academic Publishing on Facebook have an Acquisition Editor called "Kevin Woodmann". This is a little curious as Kevin is not a common German name, though apparently it was popular in East Germany in the 1990s. Here's his profile:

He's a handsome guy with salt-and-pepper hair; there's a touch of George Clooney to him.  There's a catch though - Kevin's photo is actually a stock photo of a "Confident middle aged man sitting and smiling against white background" by Yuri Archurs

Yasmine Watson, another Acquisition Editor, is actually a "Smiling business woman with colleagues at the back"; Sophia Campbell is a "Young business woman laughing over a thought"; Lisa Thompson is a "Happy casual business woman holding her coat over shoulder at her workplace".

And so on. Legitimate publishing businesses do not create false profiles on social media sites.

What else is known about VDM/LAP (and the many other names used by this company)?
- They find authors largely by bulk-emailing students who have recently published theses;
- They have no selectivity - anyone who submits their "book" will have it "published";
- They do not conduct peer review;
- They do not edit the "book", and they "publish" exactly what is submitted - and apparently they charge for any changes made by the author after submission;
- Authors will almost certainly never receive any royalties (a blogger notes that "I have yet to found the testimony of anybody who has received royalties");
- They do not market the "books";
- The "books" do not count in many research assessment processes.

For example, see this summary of the business practice of VDM/LAP from an Australian university:
"LAP Lambert does not conduct a peer review/editorial process. Manuscripts are published exactly as they are submitted to the publisher." 
"Where royalties average less than 50 Euro a month, the author is given book vouchers for other LAP Lambert stock. An author’s share is usually always under this because at the average rate of 80 Euro a book, it means they would have to sell 11 copies a month to exceed the 50 Euro threshold, which is difficult since the company does not undertake any marketing on behalf of the author." 
"This could adversely affect the opportunity to have your work accepted in a reputed peer-reviewed journal."
Also see this experience of "publishing" with LAP:
"I should point out that once you’ve submitted your publication-ready document to LAP’s online system, that’s it. If you’ve made a mistake and left off one-third of your reference list (as I almost did) they impose a hefty fee for having to intervene to make corrections." 
"My personal copy arrived last week. Looks just like my thesis (but with less expensive paper, a smaller font and packaged as a paperback!)" 
"When I checked my author's account at Lambert Academic Publishing at the end of the last financial year (after my beautifully paperbacked master's thesis had been on sale via Amazon for 12 months) not only had no royalties accrued to me, but zero copies of the book had been sold."
Is the publication of these "books" solely the responsibility of Lambert Academic Publishing and their ilk? (author mills, vanity presses, call them what you will) Are these authors all unwitting victims? I think the answer is no. Many new authors starting out on an academic career are desperate to get published, but "publishing" an unaltered thesis with a print-on-demand publisher without making clear that the "book" is a copy of the thesis is, in my opinion, an attempt to gain unearned academic credit for no additional work. I do not think that charging people $97 on Amazon to read a repackaged thesis is reasonable. I believe that many who buy these books will think that they are buying a published book and not an unedited thesis, and they will be misled and angry.

If you only want your thesis to be made available to more readers, there are many acceptable self-publishing and/or open access options. If you want to get academic credit beyond the qualification gained from publishing the thesis then there is no short cut: you need to publish with peer-reviewed journals or book publishers. See for example Resta et al. Publishing a Master’s Thesis: A Guide for Novice Authors. J Genet Couns. 2010 June; 19(3): 217–227  (free to access).

Find a reputable publisher and do not simply copy your thesis word-for-word - otherwise, don't be surprised to see your own academic reputation suffer.


Update, March 2014:

Lambert Academic Press continue to offer their "services" under a number of different names - Scholars' Press, Omniscriptum, GlobeEdit, the Spanish-language Editorial Académica Española (EAE) and Publicia, the Italian-language Edizioni Accademiche Italiane (EAI), the German-language Akademikerverlag, Südwestdeutscher Verlag für Hochschulschriften, and Saarbrücker Verlag für Rechtswissenschaften, the French-language Éditions Universitaires Européennes and Presses Académiques Francophones, Palmarium Academic Publishing, the Polish-language Wydawnictwo Bezkresy Wiedzy - and unwary authors continue to "publish" with them, but this blog post and others like it at least serve to warn some academics of the nature of their business. One of the latest is the delightfully titled "Please do not publish my thesis" by Eva Amsen, aka easternblot.

I was interviewed earlier this year by a journalist, Joseph Stromberg, based on this post.

"plenty of people consider the company’s strategy predatory—and in his research, Hodgkinson uncovered a curious pattern that lends credence to this" 
As well as interviewing me and Thorsten Ohm, the CEO of VDM, Joseph 'took one for the team' and "published" his own thesis with LAP, discovering in the process that LAP do a hard sell on their new authors to try to make them purchase copies, something I believe is a new angle on their business model.

"LAP Lambert’s real plan finally became clear: They make money not by selling arcane tomes to readers, but by selling the books back to their authors after they’ve already signed away the rights."
His fascinating piece, "I Sold My Undergraduate Thesis to a Print Content Farm", was published by Slate.

p.s. I noticed that Betascript, an imprint VDM uses to sell their collections of Wikipedia articles, uses the name "Lambert M. Surhone" for one of their fake editors. Someone at VDM obviously likes the name "Lambert".

9 Sep 2012

Will the real Wulfenia journal please stand up?

In mid-August, the AuthorAID mailing list came up with an intriguing case. An author asked "Can you help me? Is this journal is true or fake: "WULFENIA" http://www.wulfeniajournal.at/editorial.html".

The response on the list was clear: "I searched an article from their archive entitled 'Decision making-- Eastern and western style: A way to synthesize the best of each' by Felix Kaufmann. This is a real article but it was published in 1970 in Business Horizons, vol. 13, issue 6, pages 81-86. It looks like they pinch stuff from elsewhere to seem legitimate." The journal purported to be run by "Editor in Chief: Prof. Dr. Vienna S. Franz" at Landesmuseum Kärnten, Austria, but - though the institution was genuine - nobody by that name could be found. PLOS ONE Academic Editor Jack Gilbert also gave reason to be certain that this journal was fake: "Wulfenia - a fake journal using myself and others as 'editorial board members' that makes you pay for all 'articles'".

The author who queried the validity of wulfeniajournal.at let wulfeniajournal.com know, and this site posted a warning:

 "To all scientists about www.wulfeniajournal.at : 
Wulfenia journal has not a website, and it is published as hard copy. Wulfenia journal does not publish online and www.wulfeniajournal.at is a fake site. All http://sciencesarchive.com , www.sciencerecord.com and www.wulfeniajournal.at are for one person that he/she is a hustler. If you check 2009-2011 issues of this journals, You know that all published papers are for another journals which he/she used them for your trust and fraud. Wulfenia just publish as hard copy and just publish Biology science articles NOT ALL SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING. www.wulfeniajournal.com is made just for informing you about this fraud and does not accept any papers for reviewing."
I emailed the Landesmuseum Kärnten to let them know that "Your museum's name is being used by a fake journal", tweeted about it, and thought that would be the last of it. Yet one commenter on the AuthorAID list noted that: "Even the more legitimate journal is a bit suspicious".

He was right.

Roland K. Eberwein, Editor-in-Chief of Wulfenia Journal emailed me last week to say that "The site www.wulfeniajournal.com is a criminal site too!". Wulfenia, as it turns out, is an annual print journal in botany. As the real Wulfenia notes on its website:
"The websites http://www.wulfeniajournal.at and http://www.wulfeniajournal.com ARE NOT the official websites of the journal "Wulfenia: Mitteilungen des Kärntner Botanikzentrums" published by the Regional Museum of Carinthia. Both websites criminally usurp the identity of the official journal. They fraudulently use false informations, a false editorial board and false publication requirements to encourage authors to submit articles and to transfer page fees to a bank account in Yerevan (Armenia). The Regional Museum of Carinthia is not liable for any offence undergone by potential authors who would have submitted articles via the websites mentioned above. Download of articles from these websites which were published in the official journal Wulfenia is illegal."
He let me know that "You can find 'Wulfenia' at http://www.landesmuseum.ktn.gv.at/210226w_DE.htm?seite=15".

I asked about issues with indexing of the journal, and he replied that "I got an e-mail from Thomson Reuters. They told me that they are only indexing the printed journal."

The journal is treating this as a criminal case: "We have a meeting at the police to involve the Austrian Agency against Cyber Criminality. We want to close the website www.wulfeniajournal.at. It seems that this is possible. The site www.wulfeniajournal.com is not hosted in Austria - in this case, we have no chance".

http://www.wulfeniajournal.com is currently down, while the fake http://www.wulfeniajournal.at/index.html is still accessible.

Jeffrey Beall has also written about this and he notes that print journal Archives des Sciences has also been hijacked.

My advice - before sending money to any journal, be sure who you are dealing with. Watch for poor spelling, editors with no academic record, claims to be based in one country but requesting money to be sent to another. And other print journals without an online presence should get one before they get their identity stolen too.

31 Jan 2011

Who are WebmedCentral?

"It is our effort to instill more rapidity, accountability, and transparency into biomedical publishing". WebmedCentral

It is essential in biomedical publishing to be transparent and accountable. Indeed, this is something with which the publishers of WebmedCentral agree. However, on their website they only say that "We are a group of medical and management professionals with no affiliation to any major biomedical publishing group." As posted on their YouTube video by Larry Weisenthal,
"Transparency begins at home. This is one of the most opaque, allegedly scientific web sites I've ever seen. Can you imagine submitting a serious scientific paper to a black hole, where it's impossible to learn the names of the publisher, editors, contributing editors, etc.?"
We know what WebmedCentral is, but who are they?

Their address is Suite 250, 162-168 Regent Street, London W1B 5TD, UK, but this is a P.O. Box set up by completeformations.co.uk. The whois details reveal nothing because the domain was registered by Luxembourgian company PrivacyProtect.org. More searching reveals their IP address, hosted by Liquid Web Inc. in Lansing, Michigan. WebmedCentral are on Twitter, but have only tweeted twice and give no more details. Messages were posted to newsgroups on behalf of WebmedCentral in August 2010 by a Michael Carr and a John Williams, but no contact details are given and searching for people by those names does not turn up any leads.

WebmedCentral advertised for freelancers on Elance, where they revealed in June 2009 that "We are a group of doctors based in Newcastle upon tyne." A small lead, but we can do better. Companies in the UK are registered with Companies House, and WebmedCentral is no exception. Their operating name is WEBMED LIMITED, aka WEBMED PVT LTD. and they have the registered number 07436770. This company gives the same address as given on the website, confirming that it is the correct organisation. Companies need to file certificates of incorporation and to name directors. Indeed, Webmed Ltd. was incorporated on 10 November 2010.

In the interest of transparency and accountability, I can reveal the names of the directors of Webmed Limited. These directors also run WebmedCentral, as confirmed by the contents of test manuscripts visible via Google. They are three NHS hospital doctors and a management consultant based in the North of England:
Publications and comments like Kumar G, Mahawar KK. The number of authors in articles published in three general medical journals. National Medical Journal of India 2007 Mar-Apr; 20(2): 101-2, Peer Review Practices in Biomedical Literature: A Time for Change?, Who publishes in leading general surgical journals? The divide between the developed and developing worlds, this reply to an article, and a letter to the Lancet show that they've obviously put a lot of thought into how to reform peer review and publishing.

Drs Mahawar, Malviya, Kejariwal, Mr Jain, you should be proud of launching a site that aims to reform biomedical publishing. Why hide away?

What is WebmedCentral?

Loosely following the style of Jeffrey Beall's assessment in The Charleston Advisor of various OA startups, here is an assessment of WebmedCentral, a new post-publication review biomedical journal.

WebmedCentral is a post-publication review biomedical web portal launched in July 2010. It aims to "eliminate bias, increase transparency, empower authors, improve speed and accountability, and encourage free exchange of ideas." There is no pre-publication screening, although the instructions for authors imply some oversight for issues such as patient consent. Authors may submit revised versions. Articles can be read for free on the website, where they may be reviewed both by reviewers solicited by the authors and by readers. There is a list of "Scholarly Reviewers" on the site. Readers may also rate articles. Biomedical videos are also published. The journal has ISSN 2046-1690, but articles do not appear to have DOIs. It is not indexed in PubMed, but the articles are indexed on Google Scholar. The site aims to host other open access, open peer reviewed journals.

Content: Primary scientific research, case reports, and reviews make up the bulk of the articles, alongside opinion, hypotheses, and outright fringe science. None have been peer reviewed before publication.

Usability: The site has a category listing, browse by date, featured articles, popular articles, most reviewed articles, RSS feeds, basic and advanced search, latest reviews. The PDF is only available via a Javascript link.

Cost: Free to read and publish, unless the author pays the US$50 Premium Upload fee.

Licensing: Authors retain copyright. Personal non-commercial use, digital archiving and self-archiving are allowed, though no standard license is used and details are confusing

Address: Suite 250, 162-168 Regent Street, London W1B 5TD, United Kingdom
Phone: None given
Fax: None given
Email: contact@webmedcentral.com or http://www.webmedcentral.com/Contact_Us
URL: http://www.webmedcentral.com

Free to read and publish, the journal aims to receive income from advertising and sponsorship. They offer a "premium upload service" for $50 per article that allows authors to simply email their submission to the journal. Scholarly Reviewers who post three reviews can obtain a free "premium upload".

The simplest formulation is that "Authors keep copyright to the article but our readers will be freely able to read, copy, save, print and privately circulate the article." However, the details are less clear. At one point they say authors "are free to publish it elsewhere" but also say elsewhere that "we require ... an exclusive license". They also say that users have a "free, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual right of access for personal non-commercial use, subject to proper attribution of authorship and ownership of rights" but then say users may "view or download a single copy of the material on this website solely for your personal, non-commercial use". But they allow self-archiving: "WebmedCentral allows the final version of all published research articles to be placed in any digital archive immediately on publication. Authors are free to archive articles themselves." The precise freedom all this gives to users to reproduce the text is unclear, but calling WebmedCentral "open access" would be misleading.

The approach of WebmedCentral is reminiscent of Google Knol, which is where PLoS Currents is hosted, or of a preprint server, except there is an active post-publication peer review system.

Open peer review and community peer review are not new ideas. A similar approach to that of WebmedCentral was tried by Philica in recent years without great success; the site rapidly filled with crank publications. Another was 'E-Biomed', which was stifled and instead became PubMed Central. Although anticipated a decade ago, biomedical publishing has been wary of preprints and other proposals to remove or reduce pre-publication peer review. BioMed Central's Genome Biology had a preprint server, but it closed in January 2006. A humanities institute is experimenting with community review on Shakespeare Quarterly, though they are using a hybrid model rather than abandoning invited pre-publication review. More generally, MediaCommons argue for community peer review in their book "Planned Obsolescence". They are far from naïve, noting that
'Too many digital publishing experiments, like Philica, have lagged due to an assumption that might be summed up as "if you build it, they will come."'
The journal requires appropriate ethical approval for human and animal studies and will remove studies if they find that they fail to meet ethical standards. Articles may also be removed in cases of scientific misconduct or plagiarism. They suggest that authors use statistical advice, and ask authors to adhere to reporting standards such as CONSORT. They ask authors of clinical trials to adhere to the Good Publication Practice guidelines, but do not specifically mention trial registration. They endorse the ICMJE criteria for authorship and the use of medical writers should be declared. Funding and competing interests should be declared, though there is no definition of a competing interest. They ask authors to suggest at least three reviewers and to not only pick "friendly reviewers", and say they may invite further reviewers. How these policies are enforced and who enforces them is not clear.

Technical issues:
Previous versions of an article should be linked to, but this fails. The journal allows digital archiving and digital preservation by LOCKSS members. Some test articles can be found as Word documents that are not visible via the search, which raises questions about site security. The presentations of figures is in a sidebar and sometimes without even a thumbnail, though the pop-up view is user friendly. The referencing could be improved, with clearer formatting and hyperlinks down to the references. Some of the formatting of the reviews is poor, with changes in font and font size, and several reviews are double posted.

Publication volume:
There are 366 published articles as of 30/01/2011. Submission rates appear to have peaked following publicity in August, and have since declined (see figure).

There is currently no indication on the articles that they have received no pre-publication review. As might be expected given the lack of pre-publication review, some of the articles are fringe science: aliens, homeopathy, prayer, and telepathy are all represented. There is an account of chiropractic care of a patient with fibromyalgia, an opinion article on the evidence for homeopathy in acute upper respiratory tract infections by Peter Fisher and colleagues, a study linking 'emotional quotient' and telepathy that has the obligatory mention of quantum theory, an article on the hunt for alien life that takes in the Higgs Boson, the Bermuda Triangle, and alien implants , a virtually content-free account of acupuncture in rats, and an intercessory prayer study. The latter is, thankfully, a deliberate satire.

When you get this kind of opportunity of publishing without a filter, sex always seem to come to the fore: step forward, a hypothesis on why women don't sleep with the first man they see when they ovulate, two case reports of priapism, an institutional review of Peyronie's disease, and a case report of penile fracture. As pointed out by two reviewers, it contained the unfortunate typo in the title of the corpus callosum (in the brain) rather than the corpus cavernosum, hence it was republished (demonstrating that the article version system is not working).

Many of the articles are unpublishable in any biomedical journal: a rant about academic exploitation; a review of the biological activities of a herb that the author seems to have forgotten to write; an account of a trauma registry that is confused and sketchy; a review of oral health and inequality for which the recommendations section appears to be lifted verbatim from Nunn et al. 2008, who are not cited. How many more of the articles will contain plagiarism would be interesting to see.

On the more positive side, there are a series of interesting articles by three authors: Leonid Perlovsky has published a series of mainly hypothetical papers, e.g. on language and cognition; William Maloney, a New York dentist, has published a series of overviews and historical accounts, e.g. the medical legacy of Babe Ruth; Uner Tan has published a series of articles of his observations and theories of quadrapedal locomotion in humans, e.g. these two cases.

Other interesting reads are a survey of the role of hairdressers and bartenders as informal emotional support following the 9/11 attacks and their responses to this role, a study by Robert Dellavelle on how journals don't require ethics approval for meeting abstracts, and a series of witty anecdotes by an Israeli psychiatrist of cases of "curing demons" in his patients.

Around a quarter of the articles are case reports. The insatiable demand of hospital doctors to publish case reports has clashed with a reluctance of medical journals to publish what are often "me too" publications offering little generalisable insights, and which are often poorly presented and incomplete. The recent trend of open access case report journals - BMJ Case Reports, Cases Journal, Journal of Medical Case Reports, Clinical medicine insights. Case reports, Case Reports in Ophthalmology etc. from Karger, Case reports in Medicine from Hindawi and the American Journal of Case Reports (free, not OA) - doesn't appear to be matching demand.

There are also 58 reviews, 31 opinion articles, and at least 15 of the "original articles" are not research articles; less than half of the articles on WebmedCentral are primary research.

Some of the reviewers are published researchers, but they usually have only a handful of publications and they would be unlikely to be selected as peer reviewers by a mainstream biomedical journal editor – this could be seen as a positive or a negative. There are pages listing reviewer details, but the reviews by a single reviewer are not listed.

Relatively few articles have received an insightful review or comment. Around 55% (201 articles) have received a review of some kind, and the most any article has received is six reviews (see right hand panel of the figure). 138 reviews were unsolicited and 211 were solicited by the authors. The quality of the reviews is usually low. Just over half of both solicited and unsolicited reviews contain critical analysis, i.e. at least some mention of improvements the authors could make to their article, meaning that probably less than 25% of all articles receive any degree of critical analysis. Many reviews are sycophantic, for example one case report is said to be "the best ever article publishe[sic] so far". Many merely state what the articles is about - one author-invited reviewer spends 358 words reiterating what the article says and telling us that it is a "must read" - or give the views of the reviewer on the subject rather than the article - another reviewer devotes a mere 23 words of a 430 word review to even mentioning the paper. Most reviews are very short: the average is only ~115 words for both author-suggested and unsolicited reviewers; the longest is just over 1500 words (see left hand panel of the figure for the length distribution). Comments with critical analysis are much longer (~175 words) than those without (~50 words). If I were to see reviews like most of those on WebmedCentral during standard peer review, I would never use that reviewer again.

Some of the reviews include comments such as "this is suitable for publication" or "I hope it is accepted", which indicate a lack of awareness of the publishing model.
One author has even reviewed his own paper. An article I consider unpublishable received the reviews, and I quote them in full, "good" and "No comment".

There are some examples where robust review has taken place. The concerns raised by the reviewers on this paper, including a lack of mention of ethics or consent, would lead most editors to reject such a paper – but WebmedCentral has no routine mechanism for doing this. Authors responded to reviews only on a handful of papers. A lively debate developed around a physician's self-case report, but this was a rare exception. I found one example of what appears to be functional peer review, with the authors revising their work and the reviewer stating that they are happy with the revisions.

In Bambi, Thumper's parents taught him that "If you can't say something nice... don't say nothing at all", but I think that the opposite applies in peer review. If you can't come up with critical comments about a paper, you're probably missing something: every paper has something wrong with it. The sycophantic nature of many of the reviews in WebmedCentral might be inherent to open (named) peer review, but in my experience and according to published studies, open peer review increases the length of reviews and makes them more polite, but has no effect on review quality. Another factor may be that many of the authors and reviewers of WebmedCentral are from India: R. A. Mashelkar argued in Science that "India must free itself from a traditional attitude that condemns irreverence", and Nikhil Kumar and Shirish Ranade argued in Current Science that "it is a preponderance of obsequious reverence and sycophancy that has placed the science in the country on a downhill slope." Are we seeing this unwillingness to criticise in action?

Overall assessment:
This is an interesting experiment in post-publication peer review, which both indicates the possibilities – instant publication, open community review – and the perils – unsound science, unbalanced opinion, and substandard writing being presented as part of the scientific literature.

Building a functioning publishing platform from scratch is no easy matter, and several hundred publications in seven months is an impressive figure. There has been a noticeable engagement from the community, with over 365 submissions and a total of nearly 350 reviews in seven months, 40% of them by reviewers not suggested by the authors. However, the submission rate is declining and the coverage and quality of reviews is not nearly high enough to functionally replace pre-publication review.

The onus is on the authors to obtain reviews: the journal states that it will obtain reviews, but this is not in evidence - just under half of the papers have no reviews, and 30% have only one review. More effort needs to be put into gaining reviews from qualified experts.

Reviews are essentially worthless if nobody pays any attention to them, be that an editor, the authors or the readers. Pre-publication peer review is not merely a filter, but it also acts to improve articles. On WebmedCentral there is no pressure for articles to be revised in accordance with any critical reviews, perhaps other than author embarrassment. As reviewers see a lack of response to their comments, they may lose enthusiasm.

Without a clear indication that reviewers have criticised an article and no indication that the articles are not peer reviewed, readers may view the work uncritically. If reviewers state for instance that the work is not sound, this should be clearly flagged up to readers near the top of the page, and articles should be sortable based on the answers given in the review from and the rating given by reviewers and readers. Another layer should be added, allowing articles to be promoted by agreement from their 'Scholarly Reviewers' to a "publication standard" level, giving authors an incentive to revise their work. "Featured articles" do exist, but the criteria used are not revealed. WebmedCentral are forming an "Advisory Board" of "eminent scientists"; perhaps this board will increase the rigour of the site.

Without the oversight of an editor choosing diverse reviewers and because most scientists are unaware of the site, it may become a closed community of the same authors positively reviewing each others' work – the precise opposite of the aim of the journal. Unless the process is reformed, WebmedCentral is likely to remain a "Cargo Cult science" journal, which in the main publishes articles that only superficially resemble the peer-reviewed literature, and that are reviewed in a manner that is only a pale imitation of pre-publication peer review.

Other commentary on WebmedCentral:
WebmedCentral and ginger pee on Pleion, a discussion on Ramy Aziz's FriendFeed, a blog review, a response to receiving an email from them, a brief welcome, a mention by Jenny Rohn in a Guardian comment thread, a comment by an author, an assessment in a sports science magazine, a mention in Lab Times, a critical appraisal of an article by PJ of Pyjamas in Bananas, a blog reaction in French, and a few Twitter comments.
But who runs this site?
"We are a group of medical and management professionals with no affiliation to any major biomedical publishing group" is all they say, but who runs the site shall be revealed in my next post: "Who are WebmedCentral?".