Scientific publishing giant guilty of some shonky behaviour

It has been revealed that the academic publisher Elsevier has admitted to failing to meet its own "high standards for disclosure" when it produced a magazine that pretended to be an independent scientific journal but was actually a marketing front for Merck's anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx between 2000 and 2005.

The revelation came in the American magazine The Scientist last week which reported that Merck paid Elsevier to produce a journal called the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine which contained reprints or summaries of previously published articles, many with only one or two citations.

Copies of the journal apparently show that it only contained ads for Merck's osteoporosis drug Fosamax and arthritis drug Vioxx and in a civil suit currently being heard in court in Melbourne, Australian doctor George Jelinek has revealed that four of the 21 articles in one issue of the journal referred to Fosamax, and in a second issue 12 out of 29 articles referred to Fosamax and nine to Vioxx - but nowhere in the journal was it stated that Merck was the sponsor.

All that was apparently offered was an "honorary editorial board" of well-known Australian rheumatologists with some names mis-spelt.

This 'shonky' behaviour first came to light in the 'Australian' newspaper, where it was alleged that Merck recruited scientists and doctors to put their names to Merck's own research.

The CEO of Elsevier's Health Sciences division in the States Michael Hansen has now been forced to admit that the company's Australian office published six journals paid for by pharmaceutical companies and he has issued an apology.

Hansen has admitted in a statement that from 2000 to 2005, Elsevier's Australian office published "a series of sponsored article compilation publications, on behalf of pharmaceutical clients, that were made to look like journals and lacked the proper disclosures".

The fake journals have been revealed to be the Bone and Joint Medicine journal as well as Australasian Journals of General Practice, Neurology, Cardiology, Clinical Pharmacy and Cardiovascular Medicine but which pharmaceutical companies paid for them remains a mystery.

Hansen says this was 'an unacceptable practice' and says they are currently conducting an internal review but the individuals involved no longer worked for the company.

Hansen says he has affirmed Elsevier's business practices as they relate to what defines a journal and the proper use of disclosure language with their employees to ensure this does not happen again.

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