Help sought on OA publisher Scientific Journals International

From: Richard Poynder <richard.poynder_at_BTINTERNET.COM>
Date: Mon, 14 Jul 2008 10:42:48 +0100

Dear All,


Thanks to everyone who helped me when I was writing about Bentham
Science Publishers(
ml). I am now researching another OA publisher, and would be grateful
for any further help list members might be able to provide.


The publisher I am currently interested in is called Scientific
Journals International ( Like
Bentham, SJI was brought to my attention by researchers concerned
about the way in which it appears to be recruiting its editors, and
seeking article submissions. The suspicion is that SJI is spamming
academics in a scattergun way. Some of those who contacted me argue
that it is also unclear what (if any) peer review takes place when
papers are submitted.


While, for instance, SJI says that it has recruited 3,000 academics
to its editorial advisory body
( - including
researchers based at Yale, Oxford, Harvard and Cambridge - critics
say that it is not obvious what role (if any) these academics play in
reviewing papers, or indeed whether they have all knowingly
volunteered to be on the SJI editorial board in the first place.


The suspicion is, therefore, that SJI may be charging researchers
$199.95 to publish papers
but not actually sending them out for review. Nor, argue critics, is
it clear that there any internal quality controls in place either,
leading to the suspicion that SJI is charging researchers simply for
depositing their papers in an online database.


Moreover, while the company claims to have more than 100
"peer-reviewed Open Access journals for all disciplines," many of
these journals don't currently appear to exist. When visitors to the
site click on a link to some of the journals, for instance, they
often simply get the message "Coming soon ..." (e.g.


Last year some researchers became sufficiently suspicious that they
began to blog about SJI's activities. On May 2nd 2007, for instance,
Dr Trey Martindale reported that he had received a letter from SJI
signed by someone called Neil A. Anderson
( inviting him to submit a paper.
Martindale's response:  "What kind of quality can I expect from a
journal titled 'Journal of Electronic Book'? Not to be too harsh, but
it might be grouped with another journal such as 'Journal of Gooder


And on 24th January this year T. Scott Plutchak blogged about a
letter he had received from SJI inviting him to join its advisory
board (
While agreeing that the advisory board clearly included "people from
prestigious universities with impressive titles - an Associate
Vice-Chancellor from UT-Austin, a Research Scientist from Berkeley,
an Associate VP from the University of Florida, an Associate Provost
at Tufts and another Associate Provost from Rice,"  Plutchak had
evidently concluded that the wording of the letter suggested
academics were being recruited not in order to engage in peer review,
but simply to give SJI an aura of respectability, and so attract
paying submissions.


One of those commenting on Plutchak's post apparently agreed,
"Certification is the most critical aspect of scholarly publishing.
And having a 20-page list of non-participating participants doesn't
equal quality peer review. I didn't look through the content, but I'd
be very wary if I were a contributor or participant."


Plutchak also pointed out that there was a lack of transparency about
the ownership of SJI. "Nowhere on the website could I find any
indication of who is actually behind these journals," he wrote.
"There's a business address in St. Cloud, Minnesota, but no one is


In fact, SJI is an initiative of a St Cloud-based company called
Global Commerce & Communication, or GCCI (
SJI's sister sites include a web design operation
(, a site called New Idea Trade
( - which describes itself
as "an award-winning one-stop global forum that allows companies and
individuals to license, buy or sell ideas, new inventions as well as
patents and trademarks" - and a dating site called Midlife Dating
Network (


The GCCI company spokesman is named as being a Neil Armand. It was
Armand who apparently sent out a press release announcing the launch
of SJI in 2005.
and it is Armand who is named as author of a number of articles about
New Idea Trade (e.g.
In another article published on the topic of web marketing(
), Armand is described as an Internet marketing professional.


By now I too was suspicious. Eventually tracking down an e-mail
address for New Idea Trade I contacted the company, and received a
reply from someone who signed himself Dr. A. Niaz. Niaz was, he said,
the founder and president of the company (although he didn't state
which company). The e-mail also included a couple of phone numbers,
so a few weeks later I called one of them, which turned out to be the
number of GCCI.


When I was put through to Dr Niaz I began by asking whether anyone at
the company had a publishing background. He responded by saying that
he could not hear me, and asked me to e-mail my questions instead.
When I did so, however, Dr Niaz replied that he was too busy and
referred me to the SJI web site where, he said, most of my questions
had already been answered. I responded that since a number of people
had raised concerns about the business practices of SJI, and the
quality of the peer review it conducted, it might help SJI clarify
the situation if he were to answer my specific questions.


To this I received a reply signed by a Professor Niaz Ahmed, who
described himself as Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Mass
Communications, Saint Cloud State University, and pointed me to his
web site ( Ahmed drew my
attention to a "Fraud Alert" note that had been added to the SJI web
site, and complained that SJI had become a target for misleading
rumours designed to discredit it. Then, in a second message sent
immediately afterwards, Ahmed accused me of not introducing myself
properly, for which reason, he added, he was "inclined to believe
that you are just another jealous or racist individual who is trying
to spread rumours about SJI."


Shortly afterwards I noticed an additional paragraph had been added
to the front page of the SJI web. This states that SJI operates "an
innovative quadruple-blind review system, where the referees, authors
and editors remain anonymous throughout the peer-review process." The
new wording also said that, "Names of the chief editor or associate
editors are not published on SJI Web site. Authors or reviewers
cannot contact the editors to influence the review process
deliberately or unintentionally."


After several more emails Ahmed agreed to speak with me by telephone,
but only after he had returned from a trip (on July 9th).
Unfortunately the conversation never took place. I can only infer
that this was because when I saw the new text go up on the SJI web
site I e-mailed Ahmed to ask him to also provide me with e-mail
introductions to a few members of the SJI editorial board, some
editors, and some researchers whose papers had been rejected - again
suggesting that this would be a good way of helping SJI to address
the criticisms that were being levelled at it.


The last message I received from SJI (on July 9th) was signed with
the name Alan. "We are in the process of updating our Web site. The
Advisory Board section will be updated with contact information of
each board member," it read. "The Reviewers section will not have any
contact information as it will defeat the purpose of a
quadruple-blind review system. You should check back within a few
weeks to see if it has been updated. "


The e-mail continued: "By now, it is clear that you and your
anonymous 'friends' are not knowledgeable about the transformation
that is taking place in the scholarly publishing world. Your
intention is very clear now. A few hostile, ignorant, and prejudiced
individuals have asked you to do the dirty work for them - spreading
negative propaganda against SJI ... The fact that you are relying on
a few dishonest, ignorant and prejudiced individuals to write a
story, makes us wonder about your credibility ...  And you ask us to
give you the names of three papers that have been rejected. This is
very childish, ridiculous, and unprofessional."


The message concluded, "More than 3,000 scholars are involved with
SJI. Why should we waste our time to worry about a few ignorant and
prejudiced individuals who have nothing better to do. Our founder is
a very busy man. Even though I am not as busy as he is, I do not have
time to put up with such nonsense and idiotic witch hunt ... We are
thinking about sending a new fraud alert about you and your friends
to 3,000 scholars that are involved with SJI. They will be asked to
forward this warning to thousands of additional scholars in their
institutions across the United States and throughout the world. We
are currently negotiating with a number of leading national
publishers for possible merger. We just don't have the time for such
idiotic games you and your friends are playing."


In response I sent one final request asking Ahmed to confirm whether
or not he was willing to speak with me. I received no reply.


In the meantime, I had e-mailed around a dozen of the academics
listed on SJI's editorial board to try and establish what role they
played. I received only two replies. The first academic said that his
name had been included on SJI's list "accidentally" and that he had
now had it removed. He declined, however, to say how or when the
mistake was made, or why and when he asked for his name to be
removed. He also declined to comment on the "innovative
quadruple-blind review system" that SJI utilises, or to express any
views on the company's policy of not making the names of its chief
editors and associate editors public. He did, however, confirm that
during his time on the Board he did not review a single paper.


The second researcher that replied to me asked what I was planning to
write about SJI, and then apparently put my name on her spam list -
since a subsequent e-mail I sent was returned to me with an automated
message that read, "This message appears to be unsolicited bulk


Where does this leave us? Either SJI is, as Ahmed maintains, a victim
of disinformation and malicious gossip, or there are genuine reasons
to ask probing questions about the company's activities. If it is the
former, then would it not help if Ahmed were to speak publicly, and
directly address the concerns raised by some in the research


It seems to me that the key questions are these:


1.      How exactly is SJI recruiting editors to its journals, and
what is their role once recruited?


2.      How are papers being solicited, and what exactly happens to
them once they are submitted?


3.      What are the merits and demerits of the quadruple-blind
system that SJI says it operates?


4.      Likewise, what are the merits and demerits of not making
public the names of journal editors? Is there a lack of transparency
in the system?


5.      Why does SJI appear to have a large number of empty journals
(while claiming to have over 100)? Are there indeed separate
journals, or is there just one big online database? (And does it
matter if it is just one large database)?


6.      Why would 3,000 academics want to be associated with a
company that responds to questions from journalists with accusations
of racism, and threatens to use the 3,000 researchers on its
editorial board as a tool to discredit anyone who questions the
activities of SJI?


7.      How do we interpret Niaz Ahmed's consistent refusal to be


I would be grateful if members of this list could help me answer the
above questions. One practical way of doing this would be for
researchers to review the list of names on SJI's Editorial Board
( and see if
their name is on the list. If it is, and they didn't volunteer to be
on the board, perhaps they could let me know. If they did volunteer,
it would help if they were to contact me and tell me exactly how
SJI's peer review works, and why it is so secret.


Likewise, if you see the names of colleagues, maybe you could point
them to this post and ask them if they can help me answer the above
questions. Since Ahmed is - for whatever reason (valid or invalid) -
reluctant to speak to me, would it not help SJI's credibility if a
few editorial board members and/or journal editors spoke publicly,
and addressed the criticisms that have (rightly or wrongly) been
raised by critics of SJI?


Perhaps the other point to bear in mind is that since it is
publicly-funded researchers that SJI is asking to pay $199.95 a time
to publish their papers there is a public interest issue at stake


Thank you in anticipation.


Richard Poynder

Freelance Journalist



PS: I should stress that Niaz Ahmed appears to have no connection
whatsoever with Dr Niyaz Ahmed (, an
Indian-based OA advocate, and section editor for PLoS ONE

Received on Mon Jul 14 2008 - 12:37:54 BST

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