Would a publisher accept a completely nonsensical manuscript if the authors were willing to pay Open Access publication charges? After being spammed with invitations to publish in Bentham Science journals earlier this year, I decided to find out.
Using SCIgen, a software that generates grammatically correct, “context-free” (i.e. nonsensical) papers in computer science, I quickly created an article, complete with figures, tables, and references. It looks pretty professional until you read it. For example:
In this section, we discuss existing research into red-black trees, vacuum tubes, and courseware . On a similar note, recent work by Takahashi suggests a methodology for providing robust modalities, but does not offer an implementation .
The manuscript was given two co-authors, David Phillips and Andrew Kent. Any similarity to real or fictitious, living or dead academics is purely coincidental, as was their institutional affiliation: The Center for Research in Applied Phrenology based in Ithaca, New York. If the acronym didn’t reveal the farce right away, phrenology is the pseudoscience of reading personality traits from the lumps on one’s head.
Bentham confirmed receipt of my submission the very next day (January 30, 2009). Nearly four months later, I received a response — the article was accepted. The acceptance letter read:
This is to inform you that your submitted article has been accepted for publication after peer-reviewing process in TOISCIJ. I would be highly grateful to you if you please fill and sign the attached fee form and covering letter and send them back via email as soon as possible to avoid further delay in publication.
The letter was written by a Ms. Sana Mokarram, the Assistant Manager of Publication. She included a fee schedule and confirmation that I would pay US$800, to be sent to a post office box in the SAIF Zone, a tax-free complex in the United Arab Emirates. The manuscript was subsequently retracted:
Dear Ms. Mokarram,
I’m afraid that we have to retract this article. We have discovered several errors in the manuscript which question both the validity of the study and the results.
I have yet to receive a response. What is surprising is that the assistant manager claimed that the article went through peer-review although there is no evidence that it actually did. Anyone with English proficiency — with or without a degree in computer science — would recognize that this manuscript makes absolutely no sense. Had it gone through peer review, I should have received reviewer comments. If you are skeptical that I might be misreading the response of someone whose first language is not English, I clarified the decision in a previous email with the simple question, “Does this mean that our manuscript was accepted for publication?” Her answer was the above quote.
From this one case, we cannot conclude that Bentham Science journals practice no peer review, only that it is inconsistently applied. Earlier this year, I reported on a case in which a nonsensical article submitted to another Bentham Science journal was rejected after going through peer review .
While one should be careful not to generalize these results to other Open Access journals using similar business models, it does raise the question of whether, at least in some cases, the producer-pays-to-publish model may unduly influence editorial decision-making. One may also question whether publishers like Bentham see a lucrative opportunity from the OA movement, considering that academic libraries are establishing author publication funds to pay Open Access charges.
 Adventure in Open Access Publishing (March 12, 2009). The first manuscript, “A Study of Wide-Area Networks” was submitted to the Open Software Engineering Journal. No other submissions to Bentham journals were made.