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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
Content-Type: multipart/alternative;

Dear All,

Thanks to everyone who helped me when I was writing about Bentham Science Publishers ( 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 ( 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 ( - 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 publish papers (, 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 ..." (e.g.

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 ( 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 Grammar'."

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 ( 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 ( SJI's sister sites include a web design operation (, a site called New Idea Trade ( - 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 Network (

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 2005. ( <> &file=print&sid=91); and it is Armand who is named as author of a number of articles about New Idea Trade (e.g. In 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 questions.

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 ( 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 database)?

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 interviewed?

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 ( 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.

Richard Poynder

Freelance Journalist

PS: I should stress that Niaz Ahmed appears to have no connection whatsoever with Dr Niyaz Ahmed (, an Indian-based OA advocate, and section editor for PLoS ONE (


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