Publishing group OMICS International hit with $50 million fine for dubious publishing practices

Publishing group OMICS International hit with $50 million fine for dubious publishing practices

India-based publishing group OMICS International has been ordered to pay over $50 million due to its dubious business practices. On March 29, a U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, Nevada, upheld the allegations made by the U.S. consumer protection agency, Federal Trade Commission (FTC), against the publisher.

OMICS, which publishes about 700 science journals, was accused in 2016 by FTC for its deceptive, or what is commonly referred to as ‘predatory’, practices. FTC provided evidence to the court regarding the following:

  • Peer review process: OMICS claims to have a rigorous peer review process. However, several authors have reported that they failed to receive any peer review feedback and articles were approved for publication quickly after submission.
  • Publication fees: Authors have reported a lack of transparency with regard to the article processing charges levied by the publisher. The fees are not clearly mentioned on the journals’ websites. Moreover, if authors wished to withdraw their submissions, their requests were ignored, thus preventing them from submitting the manuscript to any other journal.
  • Editors and reviewers listed on the site: The publisher’s website displays the profiles of over 50,000 editors and peer reviewers. Many of them, however, have stated that they never agreed to work with the publisher and their profiles continue to be listed despite their requests to the publisher to remove them.  
  • Scholarly conferences: The publishing group also arranges scholarly conferences. Although these conferences announce the presence of distinguished academics, in most cases, these academics were unaware of the inclusion of their names. Moreover, those who signed up for the conferences have expressed disappointment about the quality of the events.
  • Impact factor: OMICS does not have an impact factor, but the publishing group has assigned itself one based on the data they have collected from Google Scholar searches. The group also asserts that their journals are indexed in PubMed Central and the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Medline, which is a false claim.   

To come to a decision, the federal judge also relied on the experience of John Bohannon, a researcher and a writer for Science magazine. In 2012, Bohannon conducted a sting operation wherein he submitted two articles to OMICS. Despite these papers containing obvious flaws, they were accepted for publication with no peer review.

Defendants did not participate in an isolated, discrete incident of deceptive publishing, but rather sustained and continuous conduct over the course of years,” the judge remarked. In addition to charging a $50 million fine, the ruling prohibits OMICS from continuing many of its activities.

FTC requested the court for a summary judgement without a trial to avoid the time and expense. To avoid this verdict, the defendant would have had to “indicate that either some of the facts presented by the FTC were in dispute or there was something legally unsound about the charges.” However, since OMICS failed to raise any issues, the court granted a summary judgement. The case was heard in Nevada because OMICS is illegally listed as a company in the U.S. although it is based in India.

Gregory Ashe, who handled the case as FTC’s representative, stated that the agency “is closely monitoring this industry, and we’re hoping that the decision sends a warning shot across the bow of would-be predatory or deceptive publishers to tread carefully.” Reacting to the court ruling, Jeffrey Beall, who worked as a librarian at the University of Colorado and maintained a list of questionable journals and publishers, said, “It’s great news.

In response to the ruling, OMICS’ lawyer Kishore Vattikoti stated that, “The defendant will go for an appeal against impugned order.” As yet, it remains unclear whether OMICS intends to pay the fine or appeals against the ruling.

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