Saturday, March 8, 2008

Black sheep among Open Access Journals and Publishers

Please cite as: Eysenbach, Gunther. Black sheep among Open Access Journals and Publishers. Gunther Eysenbach Random Research Rants Blog. Originally posted 2008-03-08, updated (postscript added) 2008-04-21, 2008-04-23, 2008-06-03. URL: Accessed: 2008-06-03. (Archived by WebCite® at

Definition of Spam: The word "Spam" as applied to Email means Unsolicited Bulk Email. Unsolicited means that the Recipient has not granted verifiable permission for the message to be sent. Bulk means that the message is sent as part of a larger collection of messages, all having substantively identical content.
Source: Accessed: 2008-03-08. (Archived by WebCite® at

As a publisher and editor of the Journal of Medical Internet Research, a leading open access journal (and the #2 cited health informatics journal), I am (as many of my colleagues) usually very sympathetic to any new open access journal start-ups, and I know that some sort of marketing is necessary to attract submissions from top authors (luckily, JMIR has survived its first 10 years and now naturally attracts submissions from top authors). While JMIR never engaged or engages in any unsolicited bulk emails (we send out content alerts only to users who have opted-in), some other (in particular open access publishers) seem to betray the trust and sympathy bonus they receive by many researchers by relentlessly spamming researchers' email accounts asking for articles / submissions.

Several factors contribute to this plague, including (1) the ease with which author emails can be extracted from PubMed/Medline and other bibliographic databases, (2) the economics of open access publishing, where journals compete for authors (while subscription-based journals compete for subscribers/libraries) (3) the general goodwill of researchers/scientists associated with publishers (most want to keep good relations with publishers, as they know that they have to "publish or perish") and particular towards open access journal publishers.
Some spammers also use flattery as a technique - spam messages from Bentham actually contain the ridiculous note that "This is not a spam message, and has been sent to you because of your eminence in the field" - and some researchers are open to such flattery.

I fear that these practices of some black sheep among OA publishers will damage the reputation of OA journals at-large, so I decided - from now on - to publicly denounce any publishers (and others) engaging in this practice - in form of handing out a virtual spam award.

My first spam award goes to Bentham Publishers, a "publisher" of "over 200" author-pays open access journals. In the past couple of months I have received no less than 11 emails from Bentham, all mostly identical in text and form, all signed by "Matthew Honan, Editorial Director, Bentham Science Publishers" or "Richard Scott, Editorial Director, Bentham Science Publishers", "inviting" me to submit research articles, reviews and letters to various journals (I got one email per journal!), including "The Open Operational Research Journal", "Open Business Journal", "Open Management Journal", "Open Bioinformatics Journal", "Open Ethics Journal", "Open Analytical Chemistry Journal" and so on - all of them sent to me "because of your eminence in the field" (wow, I didn't know I was so eminent in so many fields! As an aside, the claim that "this is no spam because you are eminent" defies any commonly accepted definition of spam - a message is spam if it is bulk and unsolicited, whether the recipients are all Nobel prize winners or not is irrelevant).

All pleas and begging from my side to stop the spamming, as well as clicking on any "unsubcribe" links did not stop the spam plague from Bentham.

The bulk email "invites" me to submit articles and to pay for publication - "modest open access publication costs are usually covered by the author's institution or research funds.".

Buyers beware! There is a (limited) number of "serious" OA journals out there (such as PloS, JMIR, and others), where authors (or authors' institution) pay for the publication costs, but there are also throw-away journals out there from shady publishers trying to cash in on the current surge of interest in open access publishing.
Researchers who are in doubt about the reputation and scientific standing of a journal should check if the journal is Medline-indexed (none of the Bentham journals is actually Medline-indexed, although the spam emails suggest otherwise), and whether the journal receives any significant citations (check Web of Science or the Journal Citation Reports) before submitting to any Open Access journal.
And my recommendation for fellow scientists /researchers would also be to make it a principle to not submit anything to journals that engage in the practice of spamming.

Enough of these - PLEASE! (excerpt from one of a dozen spam emails I received from Bentham)

A couple of years ago, Biomed Central also engaged in quite aggressive marketing techniques, including spam emails (and even sending out emails which contained a preformulated praise of BMC, asking the recipient to send this email to colleagues). After I pointed out the (questionable) ethics of this to them (that was back in 2004), they seem to have stopped it - or was I only put on a blacklist, and others still receive this? Please contact me / comment here if you still receive those spam emails from BMC or if you know of any other spammers in this field.

Other spam examples from publishers

Postscript (added 21/04/08)

Richard Poynder, a journalist who also commented on this post, has taken up the issue and plans to publish an interview with Mr Honan, a publishing executive at Bentham. In this, Mr Honan denies any wrongdoing, and says "the complaints are unjustified. We are mailing researchers on a limited basis to try and kick-start a number of Open Access journals, as indeed are a lot of other publishing companies. (...) The recipients are able to unsubscribe from these publishers' mailing lists if they want to, just as they can from our list." (Mr Honan, quoted by Richard Poynder, personal communication, 21/04/2008).

To rebut these claims I am uploading screenshots of my (a total of 4) requests to stop spamming (I hate the term "unsubscribe" as it suggests that I subscribed to anything in the first place). The emails all contained my email adr (to which I believe the emails were sent) and were sent from my gmail account, so they had at least those two email addresses. My unsubscribe emails were sent on Oct 24, 2007; Jan 4, 2008; Mar 5, 2008; and Apr 4, 2008. So far I received spam emails on or around Aug 23, 2007; Oct 22, 2007; Oct 24, 2007; Dec 12, 2007; Jan 1, 2008; two emails on Jan 2, 2008; Jan 4, 2008; Mar 5, 2008; Mar 22, 2008, and Apr 8, 2008 (see figures below).

Figure 1: Spam emails from Bentham asking me to submit my papers to their new journals

Figure 2: My 1st request to cease spamming

Figure 3: My 2nd request to cease spamming

Figure 4: My 3rd request to cease spamming

Figure 5: My 4th request to cease spamming

As an aside, the onus is NOT on the spam victim to prove or trace which email addresses they used to spam to, or to send them unscubribe emails.

The law is clear, Bentham has been breaking the law, and their attitude "we haven't done anything wrong and everybody does it" is unbearable. Perhaps they really need a judge to tell them that, if they don;t listen to the community they are claiming to serve (researchers). Their conduct is far from being reasonable - I am not against a limited amount of emails inviting certain experts to contribute to a journal, but not as a bulk (if I do this, I usually know the researchers personally), and their flurry of emails clearly crosses the line (according to their bulk email they even contacted me as an expert for "Analytical Chemistry"). I didn't even have any other previous business relationship with Bentham (the same can not be said for Elsevier, Springer, and BMC, where I had previous business relationships, so I might be more forgiving when I get something from them, and a lenient judge may rule that it is not spam if a previous business relationship existed.

The attitude "everybody does it, so we'll do it too" is exactly what leads to the ever-growing amount of spam from publishers - a vicious circle which I wanted to break with my blog post and giving this issue some publicity. An official apology and pledge not to continue this practice would go a long way. Instead, according to the interview, they seem to hold on to their position that what they are doing is a legitimate way of doing business. It seems to me that they are asking for getting sued.

Postscript (added 23/04/08)

Richard Poynders' comment & interview with Bentham executive Honan has now been published [URL: Accessed: 2008-04-23. (Archived by WebCite® at]. In the interview Honan claims that researchers like myself who desperately tried to get off the mailing lists of Bentham were simply too stupid to inform Bentham about all their email addresses ("The particular people (...) have multiple email addresses. That means that when they asked to be removed from our list we removed them — as we always do when we are asked — but they continued to receive messages via their other email addresses. We can only completely remove them from our list if they give us all their email addresses."). Taken aside the issue that spam victims are under no obligation whatsoever to do the research on behalf of Bentham what other email addresses the company may have on file, and taken aside the issue that the very process of letting researchers "opt-out" rather than opt-in is illegal, his claim is also simply untrue, as can be seen in the screenshots above. I clearly sent at least 4 different email requests which contained both my gmail and my utoronto email address, yet the spamming continued to exactly those email addresses (no, there was no forwarding from other email accounts). Honan is lying, and is it unfortunate that Poynder let him get away with simply denying any wrongdoing and downplaying the at best unethical and at worst illegal nature of their business behavior. I pity the researchers who have lent their name to Bentham (Archived in WebCite here - and I note that my colleague Dr Furedy is still listed here despite - as Poynder suggests - repeated attempts to get his name removed from the Bentham website). I don't often wish Open Access projects to fail, but I have to say that I am getting increasingly concerned about the role of commercial open access publishers.

Postscript (added 03/06/08)
Matthew Honan from Bentham has sent me a formal apology (after I threatened to sue them and demanded dislosure of what personal information about me they have and with whom they share it):

We wish to apologise to you for the inconvenience the email messages we sent to you have caused. We admit we should not have done this especially since you had requested on several occasions not to receive further emails from Bentham Science. It was down to our error for failing to do this in a timely way for which we sincerely regret doing and apologise once again to you. You will never receive messages again from us. We are also going to stop such activity as much as possible from now.

We have no personal data on you on file. The reason for sending you the emails were for soliciting a paper to several of our new open access journals. We certainly would never forward your email details to any third parties or other classes of recipients. The source of your emails were located in the public domain at the following urls

We do not have a record of email addresses with specific dates we sent you the messages in the past other than the dates you cited to us. In my interview with Mr. Poynder I would like to make it clear that he did not discuss with me your complaint until several days after the interview and then after I did request him to state an addendum of apology to you from Bentham Science.

For now, this settles the matter for me - unless I am getting further emails from Bentham I will probably not take any legal action.

Meanwhile, I am continuing - partly as a result of the Bentham affair - my efforts to create interest for an Association of Open Access Publishers, which - among other objectives - will make sure that its members (gold OA publishers) adhere to some ethical principles, which includes responsible use of email. A "Bird-of-a-Feather" meeting will be held at ELPUB (see this post).

Postscript (added 09/07/08)
New spammers: Dove Medical Press and Libertas Academica, both based in Auckland, both published by Timothy Hill or Tom Hill (the same person?), also use relentless spamming techniques, flooding prospective authors with unsolicited emails as a marketing strategy. The issues are remarkably similar to the Bentham case: The marketing is not targeted - I received "invitations" to submit articles for journals which are not in my field (e.g. Bioinformatics and Biology), I have been unsuccessful to get off their mailing list, there are no automatic unsubscribe links (not to talk about the fact that I never subscribed to anything in the first place), and when I finally got through with my emails, publishers were unapologetic (for details see comments thread to this post).
Anybody receiving these kind of invitations should submit a complaint to the New Zealand Spam Complaint System

Postscript (added June 15th, 2009)
  • Bentham continues to be in the news with ethically questionable and unprofessional behavior. In April 2009, a Bentham editor (Professor Marie-Paule Pilen) resigned from her post after a Bentham journal published a controversial 9/11 conspiracy paper. She said she had not seen the paper before it was published.
  • As reported by The Scientist, Phil Davis, an ex-librarian, open access critic, and author of a study which claims that open access does not lead to improved citation impact, and Kent Anderson, executive director of international business and product development at the New England Journal, sent a computer-generated paper to Bentham, which was accepted in June 2009, with Bentham claiming that it had undergone peer-review (interestingly, Davis said one of the reasons why he did this to Bentham was the persistent spamming from Bentham - so despite my warnings to Bentham they seemed to continue it!)
  • Bambang Parmanto, a University of Pittsburgh information scientist and editor of the discredited Bentham journal which accepted Phil Davis' fake paper, subsequently resigned from his editorship at The Open Information Science Journal (TOISCIJ), claiming that he hasn't seen the paper
  • Fortunately (partly as a result of this blog entry and the subsequent discussions), the leading Open Access publishers have now gotten together and created the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (I am a founding member and on the Board of OASPA). OASPA membership can be seen as a qualiy seal, as members comit themselves to quality criteria such as peer-review, and OASPA will sanction members that behave unethically or bypass peer-review (Bentham is not a member of OASPA). OASPA responded to the Bentham affair on its blog here.

Postscript (added Oct 5th, 2013)
Perhaps not suprisingly, Bentham was one of the journals that accepted a obviously flawed spoof paper for its "Open Bioactive Compounds Journal" in the recent Science sting.

As an aside, I have not been maintaining my blog posts about unethical/questionable Open Access journals, partly because I just saw too many new questionable publishers spamming me (I couldn't keep track of it). But my early work on naming and shaming predatory publishers has been continued by Jeffrey Beall (a librarian), and I recommend his list, as well as my list of publishers/journals which accepted a flawed paper in the recent Science sting, for anybody interested in the OA underworld. The list of OASPA members is recommended for scientists looking for "serious" OA journals (though in my opinion Dove should not be an OASPA member).


Richard Poynder said...

I read this post with interest as it is a topic I have been following (see for instance this and this).

I am told that Scientific Journals International also engages in such tactics.

As I understand it, you object to these activities because you feel they are giving Open Access a bad name. So while you are not opposed to Open Access journals marketing themselves, or advertising their services, you feel that this should be done in a more subtle way.

Of course publishers have always engaged in these kinds of activities -- although, as you point out, historically it will have been mainly librarians who were targeted.

I wonder if perhaps all that has changed with Open Access publishing (in this regard) is that the commercial engine at the heart of scholarly publishing has become more transparent to researchers, and this is offending their sensibilities?

Or maybe you feel that Open Access raises the ethical bar, and demands a different approach when it comes to marketing?

Gunther Eysenbach said...

Richard Poynder said

"while you are not opposed to Open Access journals marketing themselves, or advertising their services, you feel that this should be done in a more subtle way."

I am holding the old-fashioned view that OA journals should have editorial boards and use the social network of the EB members to solicit articles from peers. Of course they can also use email to approach specific researchers they know to solicit articles etc. - as long as it is not "bulk", it does not meet the definition of spam. But spamming thousands of email accounts with brute force, automatically extracted from Medline, to compensate for the fact that the "journal" doesn't have any editorial board at all (as far as I can see, none of the 200 Bentham "journals" has an editorial board - they just created a journal title which starts with "open" and ends with any imaginable research area one can think of) clearly crosses the line.

Personally, for my journal, I did use "subtle" marketing techniques such as presence at conferences, publishing call for papers for theme issues, and approaching researchers I know directly. If a OA journal does not get any submissions without engaging in unethical (and illegal) techniques such as spamming then it deserves a quick death.

I agree with your comments

"Of course publishers have always engaged in these kinds of activities -- although, as you point out, historically it will have been mainly librarians who were targeted.

I wonder if perhaps all that has changed with Open Access publishing (in this regard) is that the commercial engine at the heart of scholarly publishing has become more transparent to researchers, and this is offending their sensibilities?

Or maybe you feel that Open Access raises the ethical bar, and demands a different approach when it comes to marketing?"

Open Access journals market themselves to researchers, while subscription journals market themselves to libraries. That's why for me - as a researcher - this becomes a visible problem if they engage in unethical practices. It also hurts the reputation of Open Access journals as a whole - in particular if publishers of new OA journals act as if they can do what they want because they are ethically superior no matter what they do.

It also seems to me that the competition between OA journals (to get the most/best articles) is more fierce than between traditional subscription journals. The economics of OA journals is that an author can publish his paper only once, while a library can subscribe to more than one journal. So the economics of OA publishing perhaps contribute to overzealous marketing activities.

Perhaps it's time to create an Association of Open Access Publishers which self-regulates our industry.

Richard Poynder said...

I agree with your last paragraph, although an organisation with a wider mandate than just gold OA would, in my view, be more appropriate.

As it happens, I predicted many of the problems we are seeing today back in 2003. And two years ago I suggested that the way to deal with them would be to create an Open Access Foundation -- an idea that Stevan Harnad also proposed last year, although he of course envisaged an organisation with a distinctly green flavour!

But who would create such an organisation? Who would fund it? And (in my view) most important, how could it be ensured that such an organisation had a wider mandate than just gold OA? For it should seek to encompass all flavours of OA surely?

Gunther Eysenbach said...

I would think that the needs and quality criteria for institutional repositories etc. ("green OA") are quite different from those of open access publishers / editors ("gold OA"), as OA publishers/editors handle things that go well beyond what publishers of repositories do, like peer-review, copyediting, typesetting, XML-markup, and the business-side of things such as marketing, community-building, sending out press-releases and handling press requests etc. These are the "values" that a gold-OA publishing process adds compared to a "green" process, and that's ulitmately what the authors pay for with their grants when they pay an article processing fee to a gold-OA journal. These value-adding processes are ultimately what sets gold-OA apart from green-OA, perhaps leading to a greater citation impact of gold vs green OA.
But authors deserve to get actual value for their money, and may wish to get some assurance that they are dealing with an OA journal that takes these tasks seriously, rather than somebody who just throws a paper into a repository, calls himself an editor, and charges for that.

Such bad apples among gold-OA journals may not provide the promised value, and damage the reputation of OA publishing as a whole.
So OA journals and publishers may consider to work towards quality control and self-regulation, not least to counter OA critics who may otherwise pick the few bad apples among OA publishers/journals and use them as examples that OA doesn't work or that OA threatens the integrity of science.
An Association of Open Access Publishers and Editors (let's call it AOAPE for short) may define some quality criteria and codes of conduct for these editorial/business processes, and audit and enforce them, so that researchers/readers/funders can be reasonably assured that accredited members follow a certain code, and meet some minimum quality criteria (e.g. in terms of timeliness of reviews, internal processes, peer-review, billing, acceptance rate less than 100%... etc.). The association should also set up dispute resolution processes, so that researchers and others have some sort of recourse if they feel an open access publisher violates certain standards or best practices.
Institutional repositories etc. might do the same in their area (for example set up quality criteria and enforce them), but I think the primary responsibilites, workflows and processes between repositories and journals are quite different, so this is a different community (librarians vs editors/publishers?), so perhaps a different "association" is needed.

For wider OA advocacy an OA Foundation with a broader mandate may be needed as well, but a) I would have thought there are already a few out there, b) creating a foundation with a too broad mandate (wich anybody who supports OA in principle can join) may not be focussed enough to serve the purpose of providing assurance to the public and to the scientific community that certain quality criteria of its members are met, e.g. may be too toothless to - for example - kick a member out if he doesn't follow a specific code of practice.

I'd be curious to hear more from others (e.g. researchers, publishers) on whether they think there is a need for an AOAPE. It may be argued that most researchers probably can distinguish between credible and less credible OA journals themselves, and that something like a "AOAPE-accreditated Open Access journal" is not really needed, as the market will weed out the bad apples. It could also be argued that there are already existing publishers/editors' associations out there which may fill that role. However, are they focused enough to deal with the particularities of the OA business model?

Right now, I am not sure what the answer is, so I am looking for more input from both OA publishers / editors and from researchers on that topic.

Richard Poynder said...

The problem with your proposed AOAPE is that, as you demonstrated in your post, publishers cannot be trusted to self-regulate.

And while your criticisms are surely valid, you will undoubtedly be seen to be partisan in this matter. After all, in your post you claim that there there is a limited number of reputable OA publishers, and then go on to name just two of these -- JMIR and PLoS. Since you are the founder and publisher of JMIR and a published PLoS author, people might question your objectivity in this matter. You also criticise BioMed Central. Does that mean that you would not envisage the largest OA publisher being a member of the organisation you propose?

Cynics might even conclude that your primary motivation for writing the post was to knock the competition, and that you are simply engaged in a negative marketing campaign. I am confident that that is not the case, and that your motives are of the highest, but you will perhaps see that some might question your impartiality?

All of this confirms me in my belief that what is needed is an organisation with a wider mandate, and one that represents the interests of all those within the OA community, not just a group of self-selected publishers and their editors.

Gunther Eysenbach said...

as you demonstrated in your post, publishers cannot be trusted to self-regulate.

I am not sure I "demonstrated" this. With self-regulation I do NOT mean to leave it to the individual publishers to "self-regulate". What I mean with self-regulation is that the players in the industry need to get together and as an industry / as a group set up guidelines/practices/codes of conducts and mechanisms to enforce them. There is currently no effective self-regulation because there is no "trade association" which could talk about, define, and enforce best-practices. Self-regulation along these lines is being done and works in many other industries as long as the players get together and actually decide to set up an association, build consensus on best practices, and jointly enforce them.

there is a limited number of reputable OA publishers, and then go on to name just two of these -- JMIR and PLoS.

I did not mean to imply that there are only two reputable OA publishers out there. If this is how it can be understood, then let me state it clearly: Most OA publishers are reputable and have the best intentions (I would assume). There are only a few black sheep in the family. And even those which are reputable and have the best intentions (e.g. BMC) occasionally do stupid things(such as those I've shown, and which date back 4 years) which could be avoided if we would get together as a group and talk about ethics and best practices.
I am sure I make plenty of stupid mistakes myself in running my OA journal, but there is little opportunity to get together with other OA journal publishers/editors to exchange ideas and "best practices".

You also criticize BioMed Central. Does that mean that you would not envisage the largest OA publisher being a member of the organisation you propose?
Of course this is not what I am proposing. What I propose is an association which is open to all open access publishers and editors which agree to adhere to certain standards, to be decided by the group. The group (association) would create mechanisms to self-regulate, i.e. the possibility to exclude/sanction publishers who do not follow best practices, and to resolve disputes between authors and publishers/editors. To decide who meets the criteria for membership would be a group process and has nothing at all to do with me as a person. I am sure BMC - being among the most innovative and experienced publishers in the area - would play a leading and valuable role in that association.

Cynics might even conclude that your primary motivation for writing the post was to knock the competition,
I don't even know if Bentham has any journals in the field of ehealth, so I am not even sure if Bentham could be called "competition" (judging by the absurd journal titles they asked me to submit articles to it doesn't seem they have a journal which overlaps with the scope of JMIR). And trust me, my journal gets more submissions than I can handle.

My post was motivated by frustration over the 11th illegal spam email I got from Bentham asking me to submit to "journals" which are not even in my field, and my concern over what these kinds of activities do to the "industry" and reputation of OA publishers as a whole. In that sense I freely admit that I am not objective, because a damaged reputation of OA journals as a whole also damages the reputation of the specific journal I am running.

Again, I would prefer if there would be an association / group that would be able to speak out, rather than me as a person, for exactly the reason you mention. Whoever speaks out in that matter - either from within or from outside of the OA publishing industry - can always be accused of having a hidden agenda. If it would instead be an association of OA publishers speaking out against one of theor members, then such perceived or real conflicts of interest are much less likely to be imputed and do not stand in the way of a constructive debate.

All of this confirms me in my belief that what is needed is an organisation with a wider mandate, represents the interests of all those within the OA community, not just a group of self-selected publishers and their editors

Perhaps. Perhaps not.
This would end up being a group of self-selected publishers, editors, librarians, authors, funders, research users etc., all presumably with vastly different agendas and heterogeneous interests. Some green OA "archivangelists" even speak of a rivalry between green OA and gold OA (something I personally don't buy. Any gold OA journal that can be replaced by a green OA venue deserves to be). I am afraid that this would just end up becoming a debate club on what the best route towards OA is, rather than solving the concrete issues within the gold OA route I am talking about.

David Solomon said...

I agree that we need separate green and gold OA professional organizations. That doesn't mean these organizations could not work together or have a loose affiliation. The needs of the two forms of OA and the issues they face are very different. There is probably some overlap in terms of advocacy but like Gunther I would be concerned that a lot of energy would be wasted in bickering over the best approach to OA. Stevan Harnad has the resources and the energy to get an organization going for supporting green OA and I wish him well however gold OA needs its own organization.

A professional organization focused on gold OA could serve several needs that are essential for successful development of OA journals including setting standards. The most critical need however is education. New journals are currently being added to the DOAJ at a rate of around 4 a day. Some of these journals are being developed by organizations that have the necessary expertise to operate a journal. Many journals however are being created by small groups of faculty or individuals who do not have the specialize knowledge needed to operate a peer-reviewed journal. A high percentage of these new journals fail giving OA a bad name and penalizing the authors who entrusted t their manuscripts to these new journals. I believe an organization that could provide the needed information, mentoring and support for groups of scholars planning a new OA journal could go a long way to avoiding this problem. An OA professional organization could also help organize small OA journals and take advantage of economy of scale for purchasing or providing technical help such as copy editing, XML conversion and typesetting.

Richard Poynder said...

Sure, let's by all means have an OA publisher organisation. But let us not pretend that it would act in the best interests of scholarly publishing.

One need only consider some of the self-serving actions and statements of the existing scholarly publisher organisations -- e.g. AAP, PRISM and STM -- to see how unlikely it is that any organisation representing the interests of scholarly publishers would be likely to act in the best interests of scholarly communication.

As I have pointed out to Gunther Eysenbach elsewhere, if scholarly publishers were capable of self-regulation then the research community would not have suffered the blight of the serials crisis all these years.

Gunther Eysenbach said...

Richard, to say that an association of OA journals devoted to setting standards and educate each other would not act in the "interest of scholarly publishing" is an interesting and pretty provoking statement (particularly for me, an idealistic "scholar-publisher", who sees himself primarily as a scholar, and only secondarily as a "publisher", and who went into this "business" exactly for the reason - to change scholarly communication to the better).
Your comment just reconfirms my belief that an "OA Foundation" would simply get lost in these kinds of discussions on what is "in the best interest of scholarly communication" and what isn't. I happen to work on and advocate on both fronts - (self-)archiving (green) and gold OA - and other than some archivangelists I see them as complementary strategies, rather than as rivals (in fact, the WebCite project can be seen as a project linking gold OA and green OA). I am quite happy to work on these projects within the respective communities (green/gold), but have little patience for unscientific, quasi-religious attempts of one fraction to undermine the efforts of the other side.
The view that "gold OA" is the enemy of "green OA" - implied by some "archivangelists" - is of course absurd. I think we all know who (and what economic mechanisms) the true enemies of universal green OA are - it is certainly not OA journals.
So if you can define (and provide credible evidence) what exactly you see would be "in the best interest of publishing", I am certainly all ears and happy to devote my life to this ... I am sure that the majority of OA publishers and editors (who are mostly academics who went into this business because they were unsatisfied with the traditional publishing model) would also be quite interested in this.
In the meantime, I will experiment with different complementary models and approaches and see what seems feasible, sustainable, and advances my scientific discipline, and I fail to see how getting together with like-minded people would not be in the interest of scholarly publishing, as you imply.

PS: As to the serials crisis - this was partly caused by a "the rich gets richer" phenomenon, with influential journals / publishers getting so important that they could raise their prices ad libitum. There is no question that something similar can happen in the OA world, with players like PLOS getting very influential and continuously raising their Article Processing Fees as their impact factors rise. I've written about this threat previously (though I should formally apologize to the PLOS proponents to use the inappropriate word "megalomaniac"), and I have said many times before that I believe PLOS should have stayed an advocacy organization. But this threat is perhaps one more reason for why we should try to strengthen and empower the smaller players in this field by forming an association, building economies of scale, and jointly trying to realize the dream we all share.

Richard Poynder said...

You ask a good and reasonable question Gunther: What do I believe to be in the best interest of scholarly publishing?

Before I respond to your question can you clarify for me the ownership details of JMIR, and whether you personally have any financial interest in the journal, be it in the shape of equity or any form of salary?

Gunther Eysenbach said...

JMIR is not an incorporated entity, so nobody owns shares or equity. What does ownership mean in the context of independent open access journals anyway? Our software is open source, and all articles are "owned" by their respective authors, so I guess one could say it's owned by the scientific community. But I don't know - the question of "ownership" never came up and I don't think it is important or even necessary for anybody to "own" anything. I am - at the end of the day - responsible for what goes up on the site, and I take "ownership" for the publishing process, but beyond that I have nothing that I could say I "own".
JMIR is funded through institutional and individual membership contributions, and through grants (such as the SSHRC/CRSH - Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council). Revenues are administered through a research account at my research institution and used to pay professional services such as typesetters, copyeditors, hosting costs, software developers, and other operating costs. I am a senior scientist and my salary is paid by my research institute. As I said above, I am primarily a scientist, publishing and mentoring (I guess editing could be seen as mentoring) is part of my job description as a scientist.

Richard Poynder said...

Ok, so let's move on to the question of the best interests of scholarly publishing, or more accurately perhaps scholarly communication — which is what we really mean when we talk about scholarly publishing I assume?

Personally I would think that the ultimate aim of scholarly communication should be to provide as fast and frictionless a process as possible for researchers to share their ideas and research conclusions with one another (so that they can build on one another's work). If that is correct, then I would think that anything that aims to facilitate that process could be said to be acting in the best interests of scholarly communication, and anything that impedes that process could be said to be acting against the best interests of scholarly communication.

(And I am assuming that the ultimate goal of research is to increase the rate at which we can create new drugs, find new cures for disease, and find solutions to the various other threats confronting mankind — e.g. global warming, poverty and hunger.)

If we can agree on that, then presumably we can move the debate on to the question of how we best provide a rapid, frictionless system of scholarly communication, and how we remove any impediments that might get in the way of achieving this.

It seems to me that in the paper age there were two major sources of friction: the costs and time associated with (paper) distribution, and the costs and time arising from peer review and editing. In the age of the Internet the costs and time associated with distribution as good as go away (particularly if you use Open Source software), and the costs (and to some extent the time) associated with the second source of friction must surely fall away, since peer review is provided to publishers at no cost, and its management can increasingly be automated — as can a lot of the editorial work perhaps? If that is right, then the costs of scholarly publishing should be falling in price as we migrate to an Open Access environment. I am not aware, however, that that is happening. You may disagree.

What we can agree on perhaps is that in the subscription environment costs have been (and remain) in the grip of constant price inflation.

In the OA environment the primary charging mechanism appears to be the so-called article processing charge (APC). Here again, however, prices (which currently range from $500 to $4,900 per article) appear to be constantly increasing, so the fear must be that the research community will continue to experience continuous price inflation, even though costs should have been removed from the system. Eventually, presumably, the cost of the OA model approaches and overtakes the cost of the subscription model.

In your letter to the BMJ that you link to above, by the way, you point out that PLoS was (then) charging three times more than JMIR (which at that time charged $500 per article). Am I right in thinking that JMIR's APC has subsequently increased by 300%, to $1,500 -- bringing it up to the then cost of publishing in a PLoS journal?

If we can agree on the above then I think the debate becomes primarily a discussion of a) what the "necessary" essential costs of scholarly communication are, b) who can best manage the process, and how, c) who pays how much for what, and d) how we manage the transition from a subscription-based model to an Open Access model, and in such a way that we can remove any costs from the system that need not be there.

Having done that I suspect we still end up with two key questions: is an Open Access model a more cost-effective model. And if not, why not? If it proves not to be then the research community will remain in the same invidious position it finds itself to be in today — unable to afford to communicate with itself!

You say, by the way, that JIMR is "owned by the scientific community." If that's the case, presumably you would want to protect that ownership on behalf of the community. But I wonder how you would do that if a large publisher — or one of the less reputable smaller players that you say are giving Open Access a bad name — were to set up a competing journal and call it The Journal of Medical Internet Research? I assume you would want to stop them from doing that, but if no one effectively owns JMIR how would you do so?

Gunther Eysenbach said...

As to your opinion that "the ultimate aim of scholarly communication should be to provide as fast and frictionless a process as possible for researchers to share their ideas and research conclusions with one another" - I agree that this is true for some kinds of communications, and a medium for "fast and frictionless communication" exists since decades (the 1960s), and it is the Internet. The Internet in combination with an one-click permanent archiving tool such as WebCite is presumably the model that provides the fastest and most frictionless mode for communication (which is exactly why I am working on that front too with the project). I've also previously written about the implications for how the role of the journals changes in this environment.

However, we should perhaps also acknowledge that for some other kinds of communications, "fast and frictionless" are not the only and sometimes not the primary value to aspire to. If I want something published fast and frictionless I throw it on my blog or self-publish on my webpage. I've done this many times myself. But for other kinds of communications authors are more interested in delivering a carefully vetted, refined message to a specific audience and community (and this process is almost antithetical to "fast and frictionless"), in which case they submit it to publishers/editors. Publishers and editors (at least those who deserve that professional designation) go through great lengths and invest a lot of time to increase the quality of the communication before it is formally published. And with "vetting" and "enhancing the quality" I do not only mean peer-review. Peer-review ( and we do experiment with some new ways of peer-review as well) is not the only aspect of increasing quality. (As an aside, the argument that peer-review is free is another myth). The technical aspects of "publishing" tend to be underestimated by those who haven't done it by themselves (even by many new OA editors, who jump into the field initially thinking they can run a journal with no budget). For example, marking up an article with XML (see example of a JMIR article as XML ), which includes the tedious process of checking all references and crosslinking them with other resources and databases, is a lot of work, despite being supported by software. Before we can even get there, our copyeditor puts many hours of work (and charges hundreds of dollars) to improve the format of the manuscript.

Surely one can argue that the authors could do all publishing processes by themselves and some do, but I would argue that for most it would be more efficient to invest time in writing the next grant proposal and conducting the next experiments, outsourcing these activities to publishers and "professionals", rather than becoming information scientists and publishers themselves.

If the researcher is happy with throwing a preliminary communication on the Internet, that's totally fine with me, - I am doing this with many of my ideas myself by using this blog and other venues. I even actively try to support the aspects of permanent preservation and citability with the WebCite project. Unlike some other (traditional, subscription-based) journals, which do not publish anything that has previously been published on the Internet, I also don't stop or discourage anybody doing this (quite on the contrary).

If however a researcher wants his/her message enhanced (not least by professional services such as copyediting, XML-typesetting (for better indexing), and wants a wide visibility among a specific community (e.g. the JMIR community/readership), then he/she submits it to a journal. What I (and any editor/publisher) offer is professional services to enhance the quality and visibility of an article at a very reasonable cost, and I do believe most researchers are completely able to understand the difference between throwing something on the Internet and having it published in a journal.

The revenues of JMIR are solely used for contractors and technical staff to perform these professional services.
As an aside, I should also say that we have been a major contributor to enhancing the open source software we are using (and feeding it back to the community), as described in the last section of this article (and I think I have to write a more detailed blog about this), so JMIR not only adds value to the manuscripts it publishes, but in the process it also builds and makes available publishing tools for the scientific community.

The idea that "professional" publishing (i,e. using all these "professionals" to enhance the process) comes at no cost is absurd. For my journal I can say that we are publishing probably much more leaner and more cost-effective than other journals (in particular those which have to create a profit margin to satisfy their investors), but to "remove" all costs from the system is a unrealistic goal if you want to have some sort of "professionalism" in the system, and I knew few scientists who are willing to become information and communication specialists themselves learning for example about the intricacies of XML, RDF, information linkage, communication and reporting standards etc. (even getting authors to submit something which remotely resembles our instructions for authors seems an unreasonable expectation, and to follow the number of reporting standards in medicine [WebCite Archive] alone you do have to be a professional editor).

Certainly, there might be a future where collaborative filtering tools can be used to alert different communities of important developments / communications in their field, and there may be automated software (and we are working on this) which is good enough to support or do things like peer-reviewing, copyediting, XML editing all by itself- in which case I would be the first to abandon the journal model altogether and to throw my efforts into integrating these ideas into WebCite. (again, as I said: every journal which can be replaced by an e-print server deserves to be ).

In fact, I think in the long term the tools may become good enough to cut out the last intermediaries (middlemen) and to enable complete apomediation, i.e. replacing functions of any sort of gatekeeper by group/networking processes, although I still think editors (who are scientists with a special interest/training in written scholarly communication) will always add value for example to make sure that what is published follows the reporting standards of science.

As long as I get submissions for JMIR (and they are increasing) I will support the present "duality" of scholarly communication - the "fast and frictionless" approach (supported by for example by WebCite), and the complementary approach, where I personally put countless hours of unpaid and largely unacknowledged work into enhancing the scholarly communications before they are "published", in cases where authors are more concerned about "quality" and "visibility" (for a certain audience) than "fastness" and "frictionless" communication.

A note about JMIR's APF: It has increased because we actually want to discourage authors to pay the APF on a per-article basis. Rather, our primary model is now institutional memberships, usually funded by the research grants of researchers and institutions who publish in the field of ehealth (I call these institutional members "Global Network of Centres of Excellence in eHealth and Internet research"). For $900 p.a. institutional members get one article publication per year. In fact, only 25% of the JMIR revenue comes from per-article APF. And an APF of $500 is simply not sustainable if our copyeditor alone charges 300-400$ for some articles (as an aside, in the same time the US Dollar has also lost 30% of its value against the Canadian Dollar, and JMIR is based in Canada and not in the US).

I am aware of the fact that not all OA journals - or all journals - go through similar careful publishing processes as JMIR, but with this we are back to the original arguments which triggered this blog and the comments, namely that not all OA journals offer "value for money", and that there are some black sheep. The argument that some journals do not offer value for money, therefore we should get rid of all journals all together, is absurd. Rather, as myself and David Solomon have argued, what's needed is a professional organization which uphelds certain quality standards, educates OA publishers, prevents unethical practices such as spamming, sets standards to prevent price-gauging, and reduces the costs through economies of scale.
I fail to see how this would not be in the interest of scholarly publishing.

Richard Poynder said...

You appear to have interpreted my suggestion that we need as fast and frictionless a process as possible for researchers to share their ideas and research conclusions as a call for them to self-publish. I am not sure why you read my words that way, but it was not what I was proposing.

Anyway, I list a few final points that I feel arise from our conversation:

1. The greatest source of friction in scholarly publishing is not peer review itself, but the uncontrollable costs that accompany the process of "publication". This appears to be as much of a problem with Open Access publishing as it is with traditional subscription-based publishing. The suspicion must be that peer review is too often the pretext for publishers to impose insupportable charges on the research community. After all, researchers undertake peer review without charging publishers. If this is not the case then publishers really need to provide much greater transparency with regard to where and how their costs arise, and explain why these costs are truly necessary.

2. You say that institutional membership is now JMIR's greatest source of revenue. I am not sure that that this is cause for celebration since such membership schemes appear to be susceptible to the same inflationary process as traditional subscriptions and APC charges. When Yale cancelled its membership of Biomed Central last August, for instance, the reason it cited was "skyrocketing membership costs".

3. Experience demonstrates that normal market forces do not work in the scholarly publishing market. In the subscription-based model the problem is that every journal is a monopoly, and researchers feel they need to have access to every paper that is published in their field -- so they expect their library to subscribe to every journal. In the OA model the problem is that every researcher wants all of his/her papers published, but they need to have them peer-reviewed as part of that process. As such, peer review becomes an essential tollgate that they have to pay to pass through, and publishers can apparently charge whatever price they want for the privilege.

4. You describe the serials crisis as primarily a phenomenon of "the rich get richer", with "influential journals/publishers getting so important that they [can] raise their prices ad libitum". What you miss out of this is the next step, where journals lower down the pecking order use the price increases introduced by those influential journals as an opportunity for them too to increase their prices, in a step-by-step process of inflation. We can now see that the same process occurs in the OA model. I must assume that that explains why JMIR increased its APC by 300% after PLoS entered the market with a much higher fee.

5. As you earlier pointed out, you have publicly characterised PLoS as a "megalomaniac organisation" intent on monopolising publishing. You have elsewhere described Biomed Central (BMC) as a "quasi-monopolist" that "threatens to put smaller truly 'independent' Open Access journals out of business". Yet now — with new journals entering the market beneath you — you want to join forces with the companies you formerly derided. It may be that some of these new publishers are using questionable — if not entirely reprehensible — tactics, but it is hard not to wonder why you now wish to work with publishers that you previously criticised (and which, in the case of BMC, you accuse of having engaged in the very practices you deprecate in the new entrants), and to assume that you are motivated more by self-preservation than the best interests of scholarly communication.

6. All in all, it is hard not to conclude that while an OA publishers organisation could provide some peripheral benefit, it wouldn't deal with the deep-seated problems that have for so long plagued the research community, and the fear must be that such an organisation would (like STM, PSP and PRISM) rapidly morph into a club intent only on protecting the interests of its own members, regardless of the best interests of scholarly communication, or the wider research community.

7. For that reason I continue to believe that it would far more helpful to create an organisation that could represent the interests of all the stakeholders of scholarly communication -- not just publishers but researchers, research institutions and research funders etc. Yes, that would mean opening the door to the green advocates too, and yes, David Solomon is right to point out that this would inevitably lead to a degree of "bickering". Consequently it would be a noisy, argumentative and difficult forum. But that's to be expected in any democratic organisation.

The fact of the matter is that the current crisis in scholarly communication can only be resolved collectively. The research community can no longer afford to leave it to a group of scholarly publishers to come up with a solution.

Gunther Eysenbach said...

you seemed to argue against publishers (including non-profit scientist-publishers) by making sweeping comments such as "publishers can not be trusted". From that I concluded that your proposal is to bypass publishers altogether. But perhaps you only meant specific publishers, or proposed to tightly regulate publishers, or to go only with non-profit publishers, or to mandate a certain price level? If this is the case, you didn't say clearly enough what you think "in the interest of scholarly publishing" is and what isn't.

1. As to your statement, The suspicion must be that peer review is too often the pretext for publishers to impose insupportable charges on the research community. After all, researchers undertake peer review without charging publishers., the notion that all what publishers do is sending out manuscripts for peer-review is certainly incorrect. I can only speak for myself, and I never used "peer-review" as an "excuse" for our article processing fees. I clearly explained why we
charge what we charge ($800-$1500 per published article) and I stand by what i said that these costs are entirely reasonable and hardly cover the actual costs of publishing, which includes hiring an external copyeditor, and employing a full-time technical person who handles XML tagging and running the site. With 40 articles published per year I believe anybody can do the math and see that we are operating with an extremely tight budget which doesn't even leave room to pay the editors. Peer-review itself is not what causes the costs, it is the internal processes to handle the manuscripts. And it is not peer-reviewers who screen submissions, and work with the authors to improve the manuscripts and bring them into a publishable form. From what I see, most OA smaller journals operate under similar conditions, and many don't charge at all, so I do not recognize my OA-journal colleagues in your characterization that "publishers impose insupportable charges on the research community" and doing everything to extract as much money as possible from the research community. Perhaps you should also be more careful in distinguishing between different types of publishers (e.g. profit vs non-profit), rather than making such sweeping comments. Though even among for-profit OA publishers I do not see many charging unreasonable fees.

2. "When Yale cancelled its membership of Biomed Central last August, for instance, the reason it cited was 'skyrocketing membership costs'." The price policy of BMC is not my business, and I assume that the rising costs are created by a rising interest in publishing in OA journals, rather than BMC moving their prices up. But if anything than this cancellation disproves your statement that "normal market forces do not work in the scholarly publishing market".
Market forces DO work in the OA publishing world, better than in a subscription world. Yale faculty and students will now gravitate to new cheaper OA journals or self-archive if the costs become to high. Yale couldn't have cancelled Nature no matter how high the subscription costs, because faculty NEEDS access to the information. But nobody NEEDS to publish in any specific OA journal. The notion that OA publishers can charge whatever they like is absurd.

3. see above

4. As to your statement "I must assume that that explains why JMIR increased its APC by 300% after PLoS entered the market with a much higher fee.", I believe I already said why our unsustainably low APF of $500 (which hardly covers copyediting costs) was increased in a stepwise process to todays' level (and hasn't moved in a while). Leaving aside general inflation and the fact that the US$ declined about 30% against the Canadian dollar, our costs are also directly related to the number of submissions we receive. Each submission creates costs in terms of having to provide technical and editorial support to submitters, having to screen/read every single submission, having to respond to each submission, etc. We do use the APF as a regulator to keep the number of submissions in a reasonable range. I can personally handle only about 150 manuscripts per year. If the number of submissions exceeds this, I either have to hire help, or start rejecting papers without even looking at them. So the rise of our APF has more to do with the success of my own journal and the general increased interest in Open Access, not so much with what other journals do. Supply and demand. Market forces at work. And as I said, a market entrance is relatively easy in the OA world (and the AOAPE association I was talking about would actually help new market entrants), so that I see little chance of publishers charging unreasonable charges without researchers gravitating away to another new journal. I think these kinds of market forces actually work perfectly in the OA world.

5. My comments on feeling threatened by well-funded publishers like BMC and PLOS date a while back and were inappropiate in terms of form and language (they were also made in response to specific comments made by these publishers, e.g. Eisen's comment on being "morally superior", and BMC's aspiration to be a platform for all "independent" OA journals. I still stand by my earlier comments that PLOS probably could have achieved more by remaining a advocacy organization and taking the 9 Million $ to develop and make available open source tools for grassroots OA publishing). In any case, the landscape today is a bit different with open source tools (to which my group contributed, funded by the revenues of JMIR) making in increasingly easier to create and sustain new OA journals, so today I am less concerned about PLOS and BMC creating a monopoly (or oligarchy). Still, their dominance (e.g. in the media or on the boards of publishing organizations) and the lack of representation of small OA publishers in certain organizations (e.g. Pubmed Central, Crossref, Scientific Commons etc.) remains a concern to me - which is another argument for a AOAPE, especially for one that gives primarily small and independent publishers a voice. Such an organization would presumably (as David Solomon also pointed out) fill an important gap in educating and helping new market entrants. Your comments on "self-preservation" are therefore quite absurd.

6. I hear your concerns on the AOAPE "rapidly morphing into a club intent only on protecting the interests of its own members". I guess this depends on how the association will be structured, e.g. small OA journals must have the same or more weight than larger for-profit OA publishers. My null hypothesis is that responsible and high-quality OA publishing will help scholarly communication as a whole, so cannot see how protecting the interests of (particularly small, independent, non-profit) OA publishers would harm the wider interests of scholarly communication.

As to your statement "the research community can no longer afford to leave it to a group of scholarly publishers to come up with a solution." I have to say that in our context (talking primarily about small OA journal publishers) you may be creating a false dichotomy between the research community on one hand and scholarly publishers on the other hand, as in most cases I know, small OA journals are very much part of the research community and created by active researchers/scientist, like JMIRs. As I said above, I am primarily a member of the research community. As such, publishing and mentoring is part of my job description. With creating JMIR and WebCite I am very much involved in the current transformation of scholarly communication, which clearly moves away from large for-profit publishers to a more decentralized and apomediated bottom-up research-community led environment. So I think you are barking at the wrong tree!

Gunther Eysenbach said...

PS: Just today I got another spam message from Bentham publishers, "inviting" me to submit to another new OA journal. This is spam message #12, despite repated requests to not send any further messages.

Dr. Mohamed Debouba said...

I have just now, received a spam from Bentham Open, and immediately i make a research on internet to check their reputation.

It's actually attractive for who needs to publish and progress in his career, just with a modest work and financially covered by the author's institution.

I think that a law could be made as follow: Journal must get an imact factor befor to be in OA. Then, journals could be in OA when they satisfay a number of parameters (credibility, citability...) under an inetrnational control of a designed commity (from international universities).
If not, every body can create an OA website and get 100$ per paper and make money.
Thank you,
(excuse me for my bad english)

Gunther Eysenbach said...

Another spammer:

On Thu, Apr 10, 2008 at 8:13 PM, Editor-in-Chief ( wrote:
> Dr Eysenbach
> We write to you in our roles as Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the
> International Journal of General Medicine (IJGM).
> I would like to invite you or your colleagues to submit an original research
> article, review, case report, symposium report, hypothesis formation,
> commentary or rapid communication to be considered by peer- review for
> publication in this Open Access, electronic-only journal in late 2008.
> IJGM is an international, peer-reviewed, Open Access journal that focuses on
> general and internal medicine, pathogenesis, epidemiology, diagnosis,
> monitoring and treatment protocols.
> In order to meet publishing commitments we need to receive a manuscript
> from you by late July 2008. Please let me know your response to this
> invitation, and do not hesitate to contact me if you have any comments or
> questions.
> Open Access papers appearing in IJGM are available via the Internet at no
> charge to readers. To recover our editorial and production costs we charge a
> publication processing fee.
> See for further details.
> Journal home page available at:
> Author guidelines are available at
> Yours sincerely
> Professor Scott Fraser and Timothy D Hill
> Editor-in-Chief of theInternational Journal of General Medicine and
> Publisher, respectively
> Dove Medical Press Ltd - Peer-reviewed Journals for Professionals

Anonymous said...

Another spammer to add to the blacklist:

On Thu, Jun 5, 2008 at 8:55 AM, Scholarly Research Exchange ( wrote:
> Dear ...,
> I am writting to invite you to submit a manuscript to Scholarly Research
> Exchange, which has recently been launched in order to publish original
> research articles in all areas of science using a transparent peer review
> process and an open access publication model.
> As an open access journal, Scholarly Research Exchange is freely available
> online to all readers without the need for a subscription, and readers are
> given the opportunity to evaluate and discuss published articles. In order
> for you to have a better idea about the journal, I would invite you to visit
> its web site located at
> Manuscripts should be submitted to the journal online using the journal web
> site. Once a manuscript has been accepted for publication, it will undergo
> language copyediting, typesetting, reference validation, and full-text XML
> markup. Scholarly Research Exchange does not levy any page charges or color
> charges on submitted or accepted manuscripts.
> If you have any questions about the journal, please do not hesitate to
> contact me.
> Best regards,
> Michael Fayez
> --
> ---------------------------
> Michael Fayez
> Journal Publishing Editor
> Scholarly Research Exchange
> ---------------------------

Gunther Eysenbach said...

Yet another spamming publisher / editor joins our little blacklist: Libertas Academica.
Note again that the "invitation" is not actually an invitation (as in "I invite you for dinner" - rather it is "I invite you for dinner, but you have to pay"), and is completely not in my topic of expertise (bioinformatics? biology?).
Unsolicited + commercial + bulk = spam.
These guys are damaging the reputation of Open Access journals...


from Libertas Academica
to Dr Eysenbach
date Wed, Jun 18, 2008 at 5:05 AM
subject Bioinformatics and Biology Insights

Dear Dr Eysenbach,

I am the Editor-in-Chief of "Bioinformatics and Biology Insights".

I would like to invite you to submit a paper by September/October for
peer review and publication later in 2008. If you need a different date
for submission please let me know and I will try to accommodate you.
Please note that if/when your paper is accepted for publication a
publication processing fee will be payable.


To review the Editorial Board:

Professor Bornberg-Bauer's Biography

Yours sincerely

Professor Erich Bornberg-Bauer
Editor-in-Chief, Bioinformatics and Biology Insights

PPs. This email has been sent in the belief that it will be of interest
to you. If you think this email has been sent to you in error, please
inform us and we will ensure that it does not happen again.

Gunther Eysenbach said...

Another persistent spammer is Dove Medical Press. See also my earlier comment, showing an manuscript solicitation for the International Journal of General Medicine on April 10th 2008. Despite sending back an immediate email asking not to get any further emails from this company, today I got an almost identical email for another Dove journal. Sounds like the Bentham brute force marketing strategy.

from Editor-in-Chief
to Dr Eysenbach
date Thu, Jul 3, 2008 at 3:19 AM
subject Psychology Research and Behavior Management
Dr Eysenbach

I write to you in my role as Editor-in-Chief of Psychology Research and Behavior Management (PRBM)

I would like to invite you or your colleagues to submit an original research article, review, case report, symposium report, hypothesis formation, commentary or rapid communication to be considered by peer- review for publication in this Open Access, electronic-only journal in late 2008.

PRBM is an international, peer-reviewed, open access journal focusing on the science of psychology and its application in behavior management to develop improved outcomes in the clinical, educational, sports and business arenas.

In order to meet publishing commitments we need to receive a manuscript from you by November 2008. Please let me know your response to this invitation, and do not hesitate to contact me if you have any comments or questions.

Open Access papers appearing in PRBM are available via the Internet at no charge to readers. To recover our editorial and production costs we charge a publication processing fee.

See for further details.

Journal home page available at:

Author guidelines are available at

Yours sincerely

Professor Robert J Gatchel

Editor-in-Chief, Psychology Research and Behavior Management

Dove Medical Press Ltd - Peer-reviewed Journals for Professionals

Gunther Eysenbach said...

I received an email from Lormé Coetsee (, who is responsible for the spam from Dove Medical Press (a company in New Zealand). They claim to be in compliance with the NZ Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act 2007, though I fail to see how they can claim compliance as the act clearly specifies that "A person must not send, or cause to be sent, an unsolicited commercial electronic message that has a New Zealand link." (Art 9). It couldn't be any simpler. Moreover, my request to stop sending me any further emails dated April 10th was ignored. In a brisk email in response to my second email to stop spammming in July, the Dove Medical Press editor did not apologize, but shrug off the incident with saying "Given that we read every email, and respond to them individually, I suppose the danger here is one of human error. ". Yes, I can imagine, that if you send out hundreds or thousands of spam emails without automated unsubscribe link you may be a bit overwhelmed by the responses...

What I also discovered is that testimonials from Dove Medical Press publisher Tim Hill are used to praise and promote a "bulk email marketing" (=spam) software, so spamming is not a one-time endeavor but seems to be part of the company strategy [Accessed: 2008-07-04, Archived by WebCite® at]. While Hill says he uses the spam software to "stay in touch with our customers, authors and editorial boards", I should stress that I am neither of those (neither a customer, not an author, nor an editorial board member), and the journals they asked me to submit articles to (and pay for them) are not even in my field. Also interesting is that the software does have "automatic subscribe/unsubscribe facilities", which Dove Medical Press decided NOT to use (instead they asked to reply by email if you don't like the spam - and sure enough they make an error by "accidentally" not removing you).

In any case, New Zealand has a spam complaint system, and I hope others who has been contacted by Dove Medical Press emails will file a complaint here. Again, the most disappointing aspect in this story is that there is no sense of wrongdoing on the part of Dove Medical Press - perhaps because the scientific community is just starting to become vocal about these issues.

Gunther Eysenbach said...

Libertas Academica also doesn't stop spamming and the volume and persistence has reached a criminal dimension. After having received spam emails from Libertas Academica on Jan 29, 2008, March 4th, March 23rd, April 21st, May 8th, Jun 10th, Jun 18th (see also my entry dated June 18th), I received the 8th spam email today advertising another one of their throw-away journals (they publish obscure vanity press journals such as “Analytical Chemistry Insights” “Biomarker Insights” “Bioinformatics and Biology Insights” “Cancer Informatics” “Clinical Medicine: Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Disorders” “Clinical Medicine: Cardiology” “Clinical Medicine: Circulatory, Respiratory and Pulmonary Medicine” “Clinical Medicine: Oncology” “Drug Target Insights” “Evolutionary Bioinformatics” “Gene Regulation and Systems Biology” “Integrative Medicine Insights” “Perspectives in Medicinal Chemistry” “Translational OncoGenomics”). I sent numerous requests to stop spamming (one was even confirmed on Jun 22nd).
Now the real surprise came when I checked the website to see who behind this company is listed as follows:

Libertas Academica
PO Box 302-624
North Harbour 0751
New Zealand

Editorial matters: Sandi McIver (Managing Editor)

New journal matters: Clara Bakker (New Journal Development Manager)

Business matters: Tom Hill (Publisher & Managing Director)

Tom Hill? Sounds familiar. Just a few days ago I blogged about another persistent spammer - who also happens to be in Auckland: Dove Medical Press [2 E, 3 Ceres Court, Mairangi Bay, (P O Box 300-008, Albany), Auckland, NEW ZEALAND]. I found a website where "Dove Medical Press publisher Tim (sic!) Hill" praises a spam software. I would assume Tom Hill (from Libertas Academica in Auckland) and Tim Hill (from Dove Medical Press in Auckland) are actually the same person...
Something fishy is going on here... Perhaps Mr Hill just changed jobs and took his email database and/or software with him, or he is actually involved in both "publishing" companies.
In any case, some criminal activities are going on in Auckland, and I just made another entry in the New Zealand spam complaint system - anybody getting emails from Dove Medical Press, Libertas Academica, Tom Hill or Tim Hill should file a complaint here.
And authors and editorial board members should consider if they really want to deal with any of these companies.

On Tue, Jul 8, 2008 at 1:50 AM, Libertas Academica wrote:

Dear Dr Eysenbach,

We note that you have recently published an article on topics within the scope of 'Medical Informatics Insights', and we would like to invite you to consider submitting a manuscript to a Special Issue of 'Medical
Informatics Insights'.

The special issue aims to provide a state of the art view across the
Medical Informatics field for practitioners, researchers, students, and those new to Medical Informatics.

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Gunther Eysenbach MD MPH said...

Interesting to read this blog post and the subsequent discussion again after 5 years - it anticipated a lot of the things we see today, including the formation of OASPA (Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association) and the quality problems with low-quality OA publishers, the extend of which has been quantified by the recent Bohannon Science article ( I also notice that the publishers we were concerned about 5 years ago (Bentham, Dove, ..) are still players today and published the Bohannon spoof paper with superficial or no peer-review.