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Sep 6 / Clayton Hayes

FTC Files Complaint Against Publisher OMICS Group, Among Others

On August 25, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a complaint against three related academic publishers, OMICS Group, iMedPub, and Conference Series, along with their president and director,  Srinubabu Gedela. The complaint provides a laundry list of extremely concerning behaviors on the part of the publishers, most of which involve lying to submitting authors. After investigating these complaints, I’ll take a brief look at what this filing means for the world of scholarly publication.

The FTC filing claims that Gedela participated in deceptive business practices in order to solicit academic articles from authors. These publishers claimed that their journals had academic experts on editorial boards and serving as peer reviews, had high impact factors, and were indexed in reputable databases such as PubMed Central. Authors whose work was accepted by these journals, operating under the impression that they had submitted to legitimate academic publishers, would then be informed of previously undisclosed fees that needed to be paid before publication. These fees would range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, and authors attempting to withdraw their manuscripts from publication would not be allowed to do so. Once an article has been accepted for publication, it is against academic practice to submit that article elsewhere, meaning that articles submitted to these journals were essentially stuck.

The claims made by the publishers were, in this case, false. Academics listed as editors or peer reviewers had no affiliation with journal, the impact factors provided by the publishers were not calculated by Thompson Reuters, and the journals did not show up in PubMed Central or other reputable databases. The publishers were, in essence, luring academics in under false pretenses and trapping their articles in limbo until exorbitant fees were paid.

This behavior was not limited to publications, however. The FTC filing also alleges that Gedela would organize conferences and claim that certain leading academics would be in attendance or participating in some way. Unsuspecting academics would register for these conferences, often paying large registration fees, only to discover that none of these experts had ever agreed to participate.

So what does this mean in the larger world of scholarly publishing? First and foremost it indicates that the FTC is growing more willing to pursue legal action against so-called “predatory publishers,” publishing companies that claim to adhere to usual academic standards but do not, in fact, do so. Though this problem is not a new one, but the FTC’s reaction is new. As Ioana Rusu, a staff attorney for the FTC, stated in an interview, this filing serves as a sort of announcement that the commission will be paying closer attention to the field of scholarly publishing. Though it does not have the resources to pursue action against all unscrupulous publishers in operation, the FTC does plan to target key offenders in order to set a precedent.

Though OMICS, iMedPub, and Conference Series were ostensibly Open Access (OA) publishers, it should be kept in mind Gedela and his ilk are not representative of OA as a whole. Many OA publishers are indexed in reputable and well-known databases and many do have impact factors. Smaller OA publications that are not indexed in large databases or do not have impact factors can nonetheless implement thorough peer review. This FTC action should, in fact, allow authors to feel more secure submitting to OA publications, as those publishers operating under false pretenses may no longer feel that it’s worth running their scam under the threat of federal legal action.

I’ll end here for now, but look for another post soon that will provide some simple actions that can help authors avoid falling prey to publishers like OMICS.