Blogs and email lists are buzzing with the latest news about Elsevier, the large STM publishing corporation. Elsevier publishes many highly respected journals like Brain Research Reviews and Biomaterials. Most of their journals are peer-reviewed and trustworthy.

The Scientist reports that in the first years of this decade Elsevier partnered with pharmaceutical companies to create “journals” that were actually advertisements. The editorial content was influenced by the sponsoring companies and the articles were reprints from other journals. Elsevier has acknowledged the problem and announced changes to its procedures.

When we talk with you about doing literature research, we try to emphasize the need to assess the authority and credibility of a source. The kind of marketing-masquerade that happened here is difficult to identify and discuss. If just the editorial content was influenced, are the research articles still considered unbiased? You need to know how the research articles fit in with the rest of the literature to make that sort of determination. Please talk with your liaison librarian if you have any questions about this aspect of literature research.

One thought on “Reader Beware!

  1. This points out the difficulty with teaching students a source-oriented approach. After all, recent articles have uncovered the extent to which drug-company entanglements have funded research published in the highest quality magazines for over a decade now. I try to emphasize for students that they need to evaluate the author and his or her arguments within the history of a debate, rather than simply a source. One increasingly can find excellent material on general Internet sites and increasingly questionable material infiltrating traditional channels of peer-review.

    It is tempting for professors and librarians to rely on sources, but creating savvier scholars means moving beyond theories of supposedly reliable gatekeepers and towards an approach of a network of reliable scholars, wherever they are found. This means that independent scholars and minor libraries, as well as various journals and internet sites, will increasingly be part of a web of trustworthy outlets. Peer review already appears less reliable than in the past as scholars sometimes support mediocre work coming out of big-name outlets. In this dynamic new world, the conference and online proceedings will take on new importance, perhaps. University libraries could serve a real purpose in forming moderated international forums for disciplines that help connect online journals, conferences and ongoing debate.
    -Jamie Magruder


    Thank you! You’ve provided an excellent summary of the current state of affairs, and offered some advice. Subject and institutional repositories may end up becoming those forums you describe.


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