Quoth Elsevier: “Whoops, I did it again.” (Six times, actually)

Remember about a week ago, when I lamented how scientific publisher Elsevier had created a fake journal for Merck that reprinted content from other Elsevier journals favorable to Merck products in a format that looked every bit like a peer-reviewed journal but without any disclaimers to let the unwary know that it wasn’t a peer-reviewed journal?

Whoops, Elsevier did it again. Six times:

Scientific publishing giant Elsevier put out a total of six publications between 2000 and 2005 that were sponsored by unnamed pharmaceutical companies and looked like peer reviewed medical journals, but did not disclose sponsorship, the company has admitted.

Elsevier is conducting an “internal review” of its publishing practices after allegations came to light that the company produced a pharmaceutical company-funded publication in the early 2000s without disclosing that the “journal” was corporate sponsored.

The allegations involve the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, a publication paid for by pharmaceutical company Merck that amounted to a compendium of reprinted scientific articles and one-source reviews, most of which presented data favorable to Merck’s products. The Scientist obtained two 2003 issues of the journal — which bore the imprint of Elsevier’s Excerpta Medica — neither of which carried a statement obviating Merck’s sponsorship of the publication.

So far this appears to have occurred only in Australia–that we know of. I still can’t help but wonder whether other divisions of Elsevier other than the the one in Australia have engaged in this deceptive practice. Once again, I can’t emphasize just how bad this looks for Elsevier. We expect drug companies to do whatever they can to try to sell their products. It’s what they do. It’s in their nature. However, a publishing house that publishes peer-reviewed scientific literature is expected, well, to publish peer-reviewed scientific literature. Such behavior as that of Elsevier risks turning its journals into advertising arms of the pharmaceutical companies. Even if these six journals are all there is, and this is, as the company claims, an “isolated” incident that no longer happens, the stain on Elsevier’s reputation is dark and deep. Even worse, Elsevier has provided yet more ammunition for the enemies of scientific medicine.