Date: Mon, 14 Jul 2008 10:42:48 +0100
Reply-To: American Scientist Open Access Forum
Sender: American Scientist Open Access Forum
From: Richard Poynder <richard.poynder@BTINTERNET.COM>
Subject: Help sought on OA publisher Scientific Journals International
Thanks to everyone who helped me when I was writing about Bentham Science
ml). I am now researching another OA publisher, and would be grateful for
any further help list members might be able to provide.
The publisher I am currently interested in is called Scientific Journals
International (http://www.scientificjournals.org/). Like Bentham, SJI was
brought to my attention by researchers concerned about the way in which it
appears to be recruiting its editors, and seeking article submissions. The
suspicion is that SJI is spamming academics in a scattergun way. Some of
those who contacted me argue that it is also unclear what (if any) peer
review takes place when papers are submitted.
While, for instance, SJI says that it has recruited 3,000 academics to its
editorial advisory body
(http://www.scientificjournals.org/editorial_board.htm) - including
researchers based at Yale, Oxford, Harvard and Cambridge - critics say that
it is not obvious what role (if any) these academics play in reviewing
papers, or indeed whether they have all knowingly volunteered to be on the
SJI editorial board in the first place.
The suspicion is, therefore, that SJI may be charging researchers $199.95 to
but not actually sending them out for review. Nor, argue critics, is it
clear that there any internal quality controls in place either, leading to
the suspicion that SJI is charging researchers simply for depositing their
papers in an online database.
Moreover, while the company claims to have more than 100 "peer-reviewed Open
Access journals for all disciplines," many of these journals don't currently
appear to exist. When visitors to the site click on a link to some of the
journals, for instance, they often simply get the message "Coming soon ..."
Last year some researchers became sufficiently suspicious that they began to
blog about SJI's activities. On May 2nd 2007, for instance, Dr Trey
Martindale reported that he had received a letter from SJI signed by someone
called Neil A. Anderson (http://teachable.org/blog/?p=172) inviting him to
submit a paper. Martindale's response: "What kind of quality can I expect
from a journal titled 'Journal of Electronic Book'? Not to be too harsh, but
it might be grouped with another journal such as 'Journal of Gooder
And on 24th January this year T. Scott Plutchak blogged about a letter he
had received from SJI inviting him to join its advisory board
(http://tscott.typepad.com/tsp/2008/01/who-are-these-p.html). While agreeing
that the advisory board clearly included "people from prestigious
universities with impressive titles - an Associate Vice-Chancellor from
UT-Austin, a Research Scientist from Berkeley, an Associate VP from the
University of Florida, an Associate Provost at Tufts and another Associate
Provost from Rice," Plutchak had evidently concluded that the wording of
the letter suggested academics were being recruited not in order to engage
in peer review, but simply to give SJI an aura of respectability, and so
attract paying submissions.
One of those commenting on Plutchak's post apparently agreed, "Certification
is the most critical aspect of scholarly publishing. And having a 20-page
list of non-participating participants doesn't equal quality peer review. I
didn't look through the content, but I'd be very wary if I were a
contributor or participant."
Plutchak also pointed out that there was a lack of transparency about the
ownership of SJI. "Nowhere on the website could I find any indication of who
is actually behind these journals," he wrote. "There's a business address in
St. Cloud, Minnesota, but no one is named."
In fact, SJI is an initiative of a St Cloud-based company called Global
Commerce & Communication, or GCCI (http://www.gcchq.com/. SJI's sister sites
include a web design operation (http://www.gcchq.com/web/index.htm), a site
called New Idea Trade (http://www.newideatrade.com/about_us.htm) - which
describes itself as "an award-winning one-stop global forum that allows
companies and individuals to license, buy or sell ideas, new inventions as
well as patents and trademarks" - and a dating site called Midlife Dating
The GCCI company spokesman is named as being a Neil Armand. It was Armand
who apparently sent out a press release announcing the launch of SJI in
&file=print&sid=91); and it is Armand who is named as author of a number of
articles about New Idea Trade (e.g.
another article published on the topic of web marketing
), Armand is described as an Internet marketing professional.
By now I too was suspicious. Eventually tracking down an e-mail address for
New Idea Trade I contacted the company, and received a reply from someone
who signed himself Dr. A. Niaz. Niaz was, he said, the founder and president
of the company (although he didn't state which company). The e-mail also
included a couple of phone numbers, so a few weeks later I called one of
them, which turned out to be the number of GCCI.
When I was put through to Dr Niaz I began by asking whether anyone at the
company had a publishing background. He responded by saying that he could
not hear me, and asked me to e-mail my questions instead. When I did so,
however, Dr Niaz replied that he was too busy and referred me to the SJI web
site where, he said, most of my questions had already been answered. I
responded that since a number of people had raised concerns about the
business practices of SJI, and the quality of the peer review it conducted,
it might help SJI clarify the situation if he were to answer my specific
To this I received a reply signed by a Professor Niaz Ahmed, who described
himself as Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Mass Communications,
Saint Cloud State University, and pointed me to his web site
(http://web.stcloudstate.edu/nahmed/). Ahmed drew my attention to a "Fraud
Alert" note that had been added to the SJI web site, and complained that SJI
had become a target for misleading rumours designed to discredit it. Then,
in a second message sent immediately afterwards, Ahmed accused me of not
introducing myself properly, for which reason, he added, he was "inclined to
believe that you are just another jealous or racist individual who is trying
to spread rumours about SJI."
Shortly afterwards I noticed an additional paragraph had been added to the
front page of the SJI web. This states that SJI operates "an innovative
quadruple-blind review system, where the referees, authors and editors
remain anonymous throughout the peer-review process." The new wording also
said that, "Names of the chief editor or associate editors are not published
on SJI Web site. Authors or reviewers cannot contact the editors to
influence the review process deliberately or unintentionally."
After several more emails Ahmed agreed to speak with me by telephone, but
only after he had returned from a trip (on July 9th). Unfortunately the
conversation never took place. I can only infer that this was because when I
saw the new text go up on the SJI web site I e-mailed Ahmed to ask him to
also provide me with e-mail introductions to a few members of the SJI
editorial board, some editors, and some researchers whose papers had been
rejected - again suggesting that this would be a good way of helping SJI to
address the criticisms that were being levelled at it.
The last message I received from SJI (on July 9th) was signed with the name
Alan. "We are in the process of updating our Web site. The Advisory Board
section will be updated with contact information of each board member," it
read. "The Reviewers section will not have any contact information as it
will defeat the purpose of a quadruple-blind review system. You should check
back within a few weeks to see if it has been updated. "
The e-mail continued: "By now, it is clear that you and your anonymous
'friends' are not knowledgeable about the transformation that is taking
place in the scholarly publishing world. Your intention is very clear now. A
few hostile, ignorant, and prejudiced individuals have asked you to do the
dirty work for them - spreading negative propaganda against SJI ... The fact
that you are relying on a few dishonest, ignorant and prejudiced individuals
to write a story, makes us wonder about your credibility ... And you ask us
to give you the names of three papers that have been rejected. This is very
childish, ridiculous, and unprofessional."
The message concluded, "More than 3,000 scholars are involved with SJI. Why
should we waste our time to worry about a few ignorant and prejudiced
individuals who have nothing better to do. Our founder is a very busy man.
Even though I am not as busy as he is, I do not have time to put up with
such nonsense and idiotic witch hunt ... We are thinking about sending a new
fraud alert about you and your friends to 3,000 scholars that are involved
with SJI. They will be asked to forward this warning to thousands of
additional scholars in their institutions across the United States and
throughout the world. We are currently negotiating with a number of leading
national publishers for possible merger. We just don't have the time for
such idiotic games you and your friends are playing."
In response I sent one final request asking Ahmed to confirm whether or not
he was willing to speak with me. I received no reply.
In the meantime, I had e-mailed around a dozen of the academics listed on
SJI's editorial board to try and establish what role they played. I received
only two replies. The first academic said that his name had been included on
SJI's list "accidentally" and that he had now had it removed. He declined,
however, to say how or when the mistake was made, or why and when he asked
for his name to be removed. He also declined to comment on the "innovative
quadruple-blind review system" that SJI utilises, or to express any views on
the company's policy of not making the names of its chief editors and
associate editors public. He did, however, confirm that during his time on
the Board he did not review a single paper.
The second researcher that replied to me asked what I was planning to write
about SJI, and then apparently put my name on her spam list - since a
subsequent e-mail I sent was returned to me with an automated message that
read, "This message appears to be unsolicited bulk mail".
Where does this leave us? Either SJI is, as Ahmed maintains, a victim of
disinformation and malicious gossip, or there are genuine reasons to ask
probing questions about the company's activities. If it is the former, then
would it not help if Ahmed were to speak publicly, and directly address the
concerns raised by some in the research community?
It seems to me that the key questions are these:
1. How exactly is SJI recruiting editors to its journals, and what is
their role once recruited?
2. How are papers being solicited, and what exactly happens to them
once they are submitted?
3. What are the merits and demerits of the quadruple-blind system that
SJI says it operates?
4. Likewise, what are the merits and demerits of not making public the
names of journal editors? Is there a lack of transparency in the system?
5. Why does SJI appear to have a large number of empty journals (while
claiming to have over 100)? Are there indeed separate journals, or is there
just one big online database? (And does it matter if it is just one large
6. Why would 3,000 academics want to be associated with a company that
responds to questions from journalists with accusations of racism, and
threatens to use the 3,000 researchers on its editorial board as a tool to
discredit anyone who questions the activities of SJI?
7. How do we interpret Niaz Ahmed's consistent refusal to be
I would be grateful if members of this list could help me answer the above
questions. One practical way of doing this would be for researchers to
review the list of names on SJI's Editorial Board
(http://www.scientificjournals.org/editorial_board.htm) and see if their
name is on the list. If it is, and they didn't volunteer to be on the board,
perhaps they could let me know. If they did volunteer, it would help if they
were to contact me and tell me exactly how SJI's peer review works, and why
it is so secret.
Likewise, if you see the names of colleagues, maybe you could point them to
this post and ask them if they can help me answer the above questions. Since
Ahmed is - for whatever reason (valid or invalid) - reluctant to speak to
me, would it not help SJI's credibility if a few editorial board members
and/or journal editors spoke publicly, and addressed the criticisms that
have (rightly or wrongly) been raised by critics of SJI?
Perhaps the other point to bear in mind is that since it is publicly-funded
researchers that SJI is asking to pay $199.95 a time to publish their papers
there is a public interest issue at stake here.
Thank you in anticipation.
PS: I should stress that Niaz Ahmed appears to have no connection whatsoever
with Dr Niyaz Ahmed (http://www.isogem.org/niyaz.html), an Indian-based OA
advocate, and section editor for PLoS ONE (http://niyazahmed.blogspot.com/).