FTC Charges Journal Publisher OMICS Group with Deceiving Researchers

September 8, 2016

The FTC alleges OMICS Group made false claims and failed to disclose steep publishing fees.

Much to the chagrin of legitimate academic journals, a swarm of “predatory” journals has increasingly come to prey on unwitting researchers and ingredient companies hoping to publish their studies in respected, peer-reviewed publications. Predatory journals often e-mail potential authors to solicit submissions, promote false claims of academic credibility, lie about their expert backers, and may even charge high hidden costs upon publication.

But on August 26 the FTC fired a shot across the bow of the predatory publishing community by filing a complaint against OMICS Publishing Group and two affiliated companies, which the FTC says have published “hundreds of purported online academic journals” that deceive researchers about their true nature and hide publication fees. The defendants listed in the complaint are OMICS Group Inc., iMedPub LLC, and Conference Series LLC, as well as their president and director, Srinubabu Gedela.

According to the FTC, the defendants falsely claimed their journals had high “impact factors,” which describe how frequently articles are cited in other research. The FTC also alleges these publications lied in telling researchers their journals were indexed in federal research databases, such as the National Institute of Health’s PubMed and MEDLINE services, and falsely claimed to have tens of thousands of academic experts affiliated with their various journals. On top of that, once researchers submitted their work to the defendants’ journals, they were often charged hundreds to thousands of dollars in hidden publication fees.

“The defendants in this case used false promises to convince researchers to submit articles presenting work that may have taken months or years to complete, and then held that work hostage over undisclosed publication fees ranging into the thousands of dollars,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in the complaint announcement. “It is vital that we stop scammers who seek to take advantage of the changing landscape of academic publishing.”

Additionally, the FTC’s complaint alleges the defendants regularly deceived consumers about academic conferences they organized, including listing the names of prominent researchers as conference presenters when those researchers had not in fact agreed to participate in the events. The defendants also charged consumers registration fees of more than $1000 to attend these deceptively promoted events, according to the FTC.

 

Signal for Other Predatory Journals

In filing its complaint against OMICS Group, the FTC has targeted one of the biggest such predatory publishers currently in operation, explains Alexander G. Schauss, PhD, FACN, CFS, CEO and senior director of research for AIBMR Life Sciences Inc. (Seattle). Schauss, who wrote a Nutritional Outlook story in 2014 that details the threat posed by predatory journals, says the FTC’s complaint could send a signal to other questionable publications.

“It has placed similar predatory publishing entities on notice that FTC may have already started an investigation against them,” Schauss says. “This might send a strong signal to those publishers of predatory journals who have previously worked at OMICS Group and started their own predatory publishing houses by using the same deceptive business model.”

While Schauss suggests it’s hard to say how many predatory journals currently exist, he points to the online reference Beall’s List of Predatory Open Access Publishers, which has counted 923 predatory publishers in 2016, compared to just 225 in 2013 and 18 in 2011. Hopefully, he says, the FTC will begin targeting other publishers similar to OMICS.

“Having taken action against the largest of such predatory entities, it would not be surprising to see FTC pursue numerous other such firms engaged in such practices,” Alex said. But he notes that the effectiveness of FTC’s enforcement action against predatory publishers will ultimately “depend on whether the agency is able to win a permanent injunction against them and have the defendants pay fines, refund of monies, pay restitution, disgorge ill-gotten monies, and turn over assets.”

 

Hijacking Legitimate Journals

In addition to the advice Schauss offered companies looking to avoid predatory publishers in his 2014 article, he says there’s now a new type of malicious publishing activity to be wary of.

“Watch out for a new category of predatory publishers that hijack a legitimate journal. Yes, hijack a journal,” Alex said. “This new phenomenon, virtually unknown when I wrote the article for Nutritional Outlook in 2014, occurs when someone has created a counterfeit website to steal a journal’s identity and then proceeds to solicit articles for submission. Since first discovering this activity, over 100 such websites now exist on the Internet.”

To ensure you’re getting the bonafide legitimate journal, avoid journals that demand to keep the copyright to an author’s work and search for publications of the editors and board members associated with the journal, Schauss advises. He also notes that print journals may be a safer option, as “to date, journals that produce both print copies as well as open-access online publications have yet to be labeled predatory.”

As far as resources to find legitimate journals, Schauss says JournalGuide offers useful tools to search, filter, and sort through legitimate scholarly publications, while the Canadian Association of Research Libraries has this article on avoiding predatory publishers.

“In my opinion, the framework to analyze where a scholarly open-access publisher and journal is legitimate and truly scholarly in nature is to view one of several documents readily found on the Internet, for example, Journal Citation Reports, published by Thomson Reuters, to determine the journal’s impact (“impact factor”) in its field,” Schauss suggests. He adds that the Committee on Publication Ethics has also published a code of conduct for journal publishers and a principles of transparency and best practice in scholarly publishing.

 

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Michael Crane
Associate Editor
Nutritional Outlook Magazine
michael.crane@ubm.com