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The Hefty Price of Predatory Publishing

The US Federal Trade Commission has won a $50.1 million court judgment against an India-based scientific publishing group and associated conference organizer for "unfair and deceptive practices."

The judgment was filed late last week in the US District Court for the District of Nevada against OMICS Group, iMedPub, and Srinubabu Gedela, who runs the companies. The FTC brought its case against Omics Group and its affiliate in 2016, alleging violations of the FTC Act, which covers deceptive and unfair business practices. The judgment includes not only the hefty fine, but permanent injunctions against activities carried out by the firms from which they profited.

The 40-page ruling from the court lays out the many violations cited by the FTC in its filing, including OMICS Group making "numerous misrepresentations regarding the nature and reputation of their journals." According to the FTC, its evidence suggests OMICS's peer-review practices are a sham; the publisher used the names of scientists and researchers on its website as editorial board members, even though many of those people never agreed to be affiliated with OMICS Group; and the publisher self-calculated impact factors for its journals, among other deceptive practices.

The concerns about predatory scientific publishers have been discussed for years. For example, writing in The Scientist in 2015, Kailash Gupta noted an explosion of online scientific journals, some focused on making money with little regard for quality control. Some publications skipped the peer-review process but still presented themselves as scientific journals and targeted researchers who only wanted to publish their work — a practice that has continued over the past few years.

As John Timmer reported for ARS Technica yesterday, while "OMICS Group claims that its publications are peer reviewed, two different journalists have submitted nonsense papers to its publications and had them accepted without revision. Scientists who have submitted articles indicate that they came back from review in a matter of days … [and] in some cases, the manuscript was simply published without warning after submission."

Even though the court found in the FTC's favor in this case, ARS Technica notes that many of the predatory publishers are small and based outside the US, which makes it uncertain how the agency will collect.