The Elsevier scandal, for those of you who don’t know, is a a clear case of pharmaceutical puff masquerading as serious academic peer-review. Elsevier, a publisher of medical journals, published six journal-like publications that were fronts for the pharmaceutical companies to present data in favour of their drugs and thus, presumably, influence doctors to prescribe them. It’s a terrible thing, one that does nothing to improve the image of Big Pharma whatsoever, and seems like a clear case of Conspiracy, with a cabal of, for the ‘The Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine’ Elsevier,’ the publisher and Merck, the maker and supplier of Vioxx, a drug that the ‘The Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine’ devoted its issues to.
[T]he interesting question for me as an academic, is how we should treat Elsevier journals going forth? I really think that the base presumption has to be that if Elsevier was pulling manifestly dishonest stunts like this, it has also been up to lots of borderline unethical activities too. When you see the creation of a complete line of astroturf journals, presumably with the sign-off of senior executives in the company, you arenâ€™t just talking about a couple of bad apples. (Crooked Timber)
The notion that Elsevier is up to other malfeasance isn’t really mere conspiracy theorising; Elsevier has been taken to task for its support of the weapons industry, for example (something that the medical profession in the UK has gone on record about, what with it going against the Hippocratic Oath, an ideal they believe a large medical publisher should also subscribe to).
So what to do?
Finally, I am quite attracted to the idea of registering disapproval when one cites to work that has been published in Elsevier journals. Some boilerplate language along the lines of
Timewaster(2009) finds x to be the case. Although these results were reported in a journal published by Elsevier, the company responsible for deliberately publishing pseudo-journals such as The Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that these particular findings are problematic.
might usefully serve to communicate to academics that publishing with Elsevier is a net reputational negative.