Authors listing industry sponsorship are more than twice as likely to pay open access fees to make their work freely accessible. This bias could lead to preferential reading of pro-industry results.
The study, “And now, e-publication bias,” examined the funding source and access status of 216 extended reports published between 2007 and 2008 in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, a journal published by the BMJ Group. The letter was authored by three medical doctors, a biostatistician, and a research librarian.
The Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases operates under a subscription-access model but allows authors to purchase open access rights to their article. Titles that offer this service are often referred to as “hybrid open access journals.” To make one’s article freely available, The Annals charges US $3,145 (£1,700/€2,515 +VAT), which publishes one’s article under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 2.0 license. At present, the journal makes all articles published before 2006 freely available from their website.
According to the study, 17% (12 of 71) of industry-funded papers were made open access, compared to 8% (11 of 145) of papers not declaring industry funding. While the differences are significant, the size of the study was relatively small and limited to a single journal with relatively high article processing charges. It would be interesting to see whether e-publication bias exists in other hybrid journals.
Pro-industry bias is not new to medical publishing. Pharmaceutical and device companies often purchase reprints of favorable studies to distribute to doctors offices. Last year, we reported on how Elsevier published six “fake” journals — essentially compendia of reprinted articles and reviews which presented data favorable to Merck’s products. That industry would view author-pays publishing as an opportunity to promote favorable work is not entirely surprising. The authors of the study write:
Our results show that author-paid open access publishing preferentially increases accessibility to studies funded by industry. This could favour dissemination of pro-industry results.
Hybrid journals are not the only journals at risk for biased dissemination of research results. BioMed Central, a commercial company that specializes in the publication of full open access journals, lists many of the world’s top pharmaceutical companies as institutional members. If you are a researcher at Pfizer, Novartis, Sanofi-Aventis, or Bayer Schering Pharma, your company has already pre-paid Biomed Central to cover your future article processing charges. Details of these arrangements are found on these companies’ BMC websites:
Do you realize that you can now publish in journals published by BioMed Central without directly paying any article-processing charges? Payment of your article-processing charges is covered by your organization’s Prepay Membership. Read more information about publishing your articles with BioMed Central.
Perhaps I’ve read enough.