When is a "journal" not a journal?

More misadventures in journal-based marketing--only this time, the publication may have looked like a journal, talked like a journal, and seemed like a journal, it wasn't really a journal. What's more, this "journal" was only one of a host of pretend journals produced by a marketing-devoted division of the publishing company.

Here's the story: Merck's Australian arm hired Elsevier to produce eight anthologies of scientific articles under the name Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine. The compilations were designed to look like an academic journal, and none of the issues disclosed the fact that Merck had paid for the publication (though later issues did refer to "company-sponsored" articles without naming the company. And which products did the scientific articles support? In one issue obtained by the New York Times, the articles discussed Vioxx, the now-withdrawn painkiller, and Fosamax, a Merck osteoporosis treatment.

The existence of the "Australasian Journal" came to light in an Australian class-action suit against Merck. The plaintiffs are trying to prove that the company used misleading and deceptive marketing techniques when touting Vioxx. In a statement given to the Times, Merck said all the compiled articles were reprinted from peer-reviewed journals and that it and Elsevier had agreed that the publication should be labeled as company-sponsored.

At In the Pipeline, Derek Lowe wonders which company deserves the greater share of his anger, Merck or Elsevier. Sounds as if he's settling on Elsevier, because it "shouldn't be doing this sort of thing at all." And it appears that Elsevier did quite a bit of it, with its Health Sciences Division CEO admitting that its Australian office published a series of sponsored compilation "journals." We may not have heard the last of this.

- read the NYT story
- see the analysis at In the Pipeline
- see Elsevier's apology and more at Libology