Publishing ethics, open access, and OASPA

The recent case of a computer-generated prank paper reportedly accepted by a new open access journal, The Open Information Science Journal, published by Bentham Science, calls attention to the vital importance of sound and ethical editorial practice for all scholarly publishers.

Such good practice is clearly required whatever the business model of the journal concerned. Indeed, the inspiration for this particular prank was the well-known Sokal affair,  in which a deliberately nonsensical paper created by physicist Alan Sokal was accepted for publication in 1996 by the subscription-only journal, Social Text, published by Duke University Press.

The success of the open access publishing model has led to a profusion of new journals and publishers, which means that there is a particular need to ensure that authors and readers can have confidence in the editorial standards enforced by these new journals and publishers. This was one of the key drivers that led the foundation of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA).

Publishers which seek to become members of OASPA must demonstrate that their journals operate peer review, and that appropriate editorial processes are in place. The OASPA  code of conduct also requires that members are responsible in their marketing practices. OASPA’s mission statement reflects this:

“OASPA will…
Promote a uniform definition of OA publishing, best practices for maintaining and disseminating OA scholarly communications, and ethical standards.”

Bentham Science is not a member of OASPA.

While no system is perfect, and many reputable journals have experienced problems with scientific fraud, most publishers take the responsibility to vet articles before publication very seriously. Several OASPA members are active participants in publication ethics organizations such as the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), and the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME). We encourage all responsible open access publishers to participate in these organizations, to enforce their recommendations with respect to editorial good practice, and to apply for membership of OASPA.


  1. Deborah Malone says

    This is precisely the problem Geoffrey Bilder was getting at during his presentation at NASIG this past week

    3. What Color is Your Paratext?
    Sunday, June 7th, 11:15 am-12:30 pm

    Presenter: Geoffrey Bilder, CrossRef

    “How do we judge authority in a world where content is protean, provenance is vague and identity is cheap? This talk will propose some concrete steps that librarians and publishers can take in order to create a new epistemic infrastructure for identifying trustworthy content on the web.”

    Librarians look to “providers” such as the DOAJ to ensure the quality and trustworthiness of electronic content, as specified in the OASPA code of conduct and especially in open access journals.

    And yet, even though a publisher such as Bentham Science is not a member of OASPA, their journals are listed in the DOAJ . . .

    As an academic librarian who is always ranting to students that the library is the place to find quality, authoritative, peer-reviewed journal content, how can I now trust that the journals in the DOAJ fulfill that criteria?

    What plans, if any, does OASPA have to reconcile that contradiction?

    Deborah Malone
    Periodicals Librarian
    University of San Francisco

  2. Phil Davis says

    I would like to correct some errors in this post.

    Firstly, the OASPA frames the action as a “prank,” which is unfortunate because it misses what can be learned from the affair and attempts to blame the messengers for bringing news that OASPA doesn’t wish to hear — that an academic pay-to-publish model may be susceptible to commercial exploitation.

    Secondly, the OASPA believes that Alan Sokal was the inspiration for our experiment, which is clearly not the case. Sokal wished to see whether a human-generated paper filled with errors could be published in a post-modern humanities journal if it sounded scholarly.

    In our experiment, we wished to test whether a producer-pays OA journal maintains a credible peer-review system. In the case described, the publisher clearly failed the test.

    Lastly, unlike the Sokal hoax, we retracted our article *before* publication.

    I realize that you wish to use this affair to promote your own organization; however, it is important that you describe this affair fairly (as a “test”, not a “prank”), and do not ascribe erroneous inspiration.

  3. admin says


    Referring to the Sokal affair as a ‘hoax’ or to your own action as a ‘prank’ is simply a description of the form that the action took.

    By submitting a nonsense paper you inarguably succeeded in making a fool out of the publisher concerned, and so it meets the definition of a prank.
    That is not to say that pranks can’t be informative or scientific. Physicist Richard Feynman, for example, was a well known prankster.

    That your submission was ‘inspired’ by Sokal was suggested by the explicit reference to the Sokal affair in your March blog post:

    “I must admit that my “research” may be questioned on ethical grounds considering that I wasted the time of an editor and two reviewers. I took a little consolation in the fact that other respectable researchers have used this technique to test peer review. Many of you will remember the Sokal affair, in which a physicist tested his theory that a nonsensical article would be accepted by a postmodern humanities journal if it sounded good and flattered the editor.”

    Of course, the exact circumstances and methods varied somewhat between your own fake submission and Sokal’s. But saying that one was inspired by the other was of course not intended to suggest that the two were precisely identical in all respects.

    Lastly, if the intention of the submission was to be a scientific test, rather than a (potentially informative) prank, it would surely have been advisable to use a sample size of more than one, and some kind of control involving submission to comparable subscription-access journals? There is no question that the acceptance of the article demonstrates a flawed peer review process at the journal concerned – but extending from this one-off result to the broader suggestion that “an academic pay-to-publish model may be susceptible to commercial exploitation” is certainly an inappropriate generalization.

    Best regards,
    The OASPA Board

  4. Joseph says

    “The OASPA code of conduct also requires that members are responsible in their marketing practices”

    -the member must be responsible for their write-ups. make sense.


  1. [...] There was a bit of a buzz on the liblicense list about a hoax article that was accepted by an Open Access Bentham journal: the Open Information Science Journal (see Library Journal, “Hoax Article Accepted by “Peer-Reviewed” OA Bentham Journal“. This comes at an interesting time in the OA movement. On the heels of the “fake” journal debacle (well actually a journal paid for by the pharmaceutical industry), the calls for increased ethical standards are going to become stronger and stronger. An editor at Bentham has resigned over this hoax. The Open Access Scholarly Publisher’s Association posted on its blog about, “Publishing ethics, open access, and OASPA“. [...]

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