Elsevier already has an awesomely wonderful reputation as an academic publisher, but even by their standards, this (free reg. required) is pretty extraordinary.
Merck paid an undisclosed sum to Elsevier to produce several volumes of a publication that had the look of a peer-reviewed medical journal, but contained only reprinted or summarized articles—most of which presented data favorable to Merck products—that appeared to act solely as marketing tools with no disclosure of company sponsorship.
…The Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, which was published by Exerpta [HF-sic] Medica, a division of scientific publishing juggernaut Elsevier, is not indexed in the MEDLINE database, and has no website (not even a defunct one).
… In testimony provided at the trial last week, which was obtained by The Scientist, George Jelinek, an Australian physician and long-time member of the World Association of Medical Editors, reviewed four issues of the journal that were published from 2003-2004. An “average reader” (presumably a doctor) could easily mistake the publication for a “genuine” peer reviewed medical journal, he said in his testimony. “Only close inspection of the journals, along with knowledge of medical journals and publishing conventions, enabled me to determine that the Journal was not, in fact, a peer reviewed medical journal, but instead a marketing publication for MSD[A].”
He also stated that four of the 21 articles featured in the first issue he reviewed referred to Fosamax. In the second issue, nine of the 29 articles related to Vioxx, and another 12 to Fosamax. All of these articles presented positive conclusions regarding the MSDA drugs. “I can understand why a pharmaceutical company would collect a number of research papers with results favourable to their products and make these available to doctors,” Jelinek said at the trial. “This is straightforward marketing.”
… Lurie, in examining two of the issues for The Scientist, agreed that one particularly strange element of the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine is that it contains “review” articles that cite just one or two references. “I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” he said. “Reviews are usually swimming in references.”
Elsevier acknowledged that Merck had sponsored the publication, but did not disclose the amount the drug company paid. In a statement emailed to The Scientist, Elsevier said that the company “does not today consider a compilation of reprinted articles a ‘Journal’.”
“Elsevier acknowledges the concern that the journals in question didn’t have the appropriate disclosures,” the statement continued. “It is worth noting that project in question was produced 6 years ago and disclosure protocols have evolved since 2003. Elsevier’s current disclosure policies meet the rigor and requirements of the current publishing environment.”