May 18, 2022

Scholarly Publishing: “Hoax Reveals ‘Wild West’ of Open-Access Science Journals”

Note: We’ve updated this post with responses from several organizations. Links below.  

The study discussed below was done by John Bohannon, a Science magazine contributor and biologist at Harvard. A link to the research article and an interview with Bohannon is found at the bottom of this post.

From The Star (Toronto):

Over the past year, a study describing the astounding anti-cancer properties of a chemical found in lichen was submitted to hundreds of open-access scientific journals.

There was just one problem. The study was garbage — riddled with blatant errors, meaningless graphs and ethical red flags — and its authors were imaginary.

The paper was a hoax designed to flush out journals that charge authors a fee for publishing their work but fail to perform any peer review, the process of blind evaluation designed to screen out bad science.


Of the 304 journals where the paper was submitted, 157 accepted it for publication. Only 36 provided reviewer comments identifying the study’s glaring flaws; among those journals, 16 accepted the paper anyway.


Jeffrey Beall, an academic librarian at the University of Colorado Denver, curates an online list of “predatory” open-access journals, many flagged by irate academics who see their manuscript accepted and are then informed they owe money for its publication.


PLOS ONE, arguably the highest-profile open-access journal, rejected Bohannon’s paper and was the only one to flag its potential ethical problems.

Read the Complete Article

Direct to “Who’s Afraid of Peer Review? (Research Article by John Bohannon Discussed in Story)
Appears in Science (42 no. 6154 pp. 60-65) ||| PDF Version

Audio: Listen to a 10 Minute Interview with John Bohannon

Responses to Article

UPDATE October 9 Science investigation highlights flaws in peer-review, not Open Access (via Canadian Association of Research Libraries)

UPDATE October 7 SAGE Responds To Open Access “Sting” Article

UPDATE October 5 DOAJ’s response to the recent article in Science entitled “Who’s Afraid of Peer Review?”

UPDATE October 4 Science Magazine’s Open Access Sting
Comments by Heather Joseph at SPARC

UPDATE October 4 Open Access “Sting” Reveals Deception, Missed Opportunities (via The Scholarly Kitchen)

UPDATE October 4 Open access publishing hoax: what Science magazine got wrong (via The Guardian)

Thanks to @jenfoolery for assistance with this post.

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.