Monday, August 31, 2009

"Merck published fake journal"

I've been wanting to blog about this for a while, and it's a story that I don't think should die. Merck is a major pharmaceutical manufacturer who requires no introduction. Elsevier probably requires no introduction to most readers of this blog, but if you are not familiar it is a publishing company that owns an enormous swathe of scientific journals, including top-ranked titles such as Cell and The Lancet. Chances are, if you've done research in science you've linked through the Elsevier or ScienceDirect sites.

According to an article in The Scientist:
Merck paid an undisclosed sum to Elsevier to produce several volumes of a publication that had the look of a peer-reviewed medical journal, but contained only reprinted or summarized articles--most of which presented data favorable to Merck products--that appeared to act solely as marketing tools with no disclosure of company sponsorship.
From the Nature News article
In a statement released on 7 May, Michael Hansen, chief executive officer of Elsevier's Health Sciences Division, acknowledged that, between 2000 and 2005, an Australian office of Elsevier had distributed promotional periodicals that were packaged as journals, without disclaimers clearly marking them as industry-sponsored products.

[...]

During the trial, George Jelinek, a member of the World Association of Medical Editors, testified that the publication would be commonly mistaken for a peer-reviewed journal, even though it was sponsored by Merck and contained only articles that drew positive conclusions about Merck products.

Additionally, the publication listed an "honorary editorial board." One of the listed members, Australian arthritis specialist James Bertouch, reportedly testified that, until recently, he did not know of the journal's existence.
This sort of thing is rather disturbing. To me, it speaks of the dangers of letting a small number of corporations own the bulk of scientific publications. What is equally disturbing is the relative lack of press this story got. This story first appeared in The Scientist and Nature following the report of a lawsuit against Merck. I've seen remarkably little about this elsewhere and it would be a shame if the story died. I'd be interested if anyone could post their own or links to further commentaries about this.

1 comment:

kaizen said...

This makes me uneasy. It's really an example of unfettered greed, which, unfortunately, is encouraged and rewarded in today's society. I'm optimistic that eventually we'll progress to a point where these types of exploitative occurances will only exist in history.