We’ve beat up a bit on Elsevier a number of times on this blog, but this time they’ve really made it too easy: they’ve admitted to publishing journals that are un-peer-reviewed advertisements for drug companies.
Let that sink in for a moment; a supposedly respectable academic publisher put their imprimatur on Merck propoganda disguised as scientific journals. They even had the nerve to claim that they weren’t journals, even though one is called The Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, and is printed to look like any other Elsevier journal.
So, any time you hear people from the publishing industry blathering about how for-profit journals are necessary to maintain peer review, keep this story in mind. The drive for profit is undermining the integrity of peer review, and Elsevier is on the forefront of doing so.
EDIT: Let me elaborate a little, in response to the excellent comment of Greg below. I agree with most of what Greg said, and I think we’re coming from roughly the same position, but putting a different emphasis on things. I absolutely agree that our current publishing system is broken, and needs to be changed.
The present journal system is essentially 19th century in character, except with shorter travel times, and has done very little to capture the free-floating information on the web. But part of building support for moving to a new model is pointing out how deeply flawed the previous model is, and how badly it’s failing us. While this and El Naschie are extreme cases (one could also include the bizarre events around the breakup of K-theory), they’re also vivid illustrations of how unreliable our current system is. I think people are somewhat conservative by nature and are very reluctant to drop a model long after it has become extremely suboptimal. If one is to prod them into considering something new, I think loudly pointing out the failure of the current regime is very necessary, if not at all sufficient.