I have just read the blog post by Derek Lowe ‘Publishing your work the Easy Way‘, which covers the case of M.S. El Naschie, who is Editor-in-Chief of the journal Chaos, Solitons & Fractals and apparently uses this position to publish tons of his own papers in that journal. Nature has also covered this case before, where it has been said that the papers are mostly of poor quality and that El Naschie might also have ‘improved’ his CV by using a wrong affiliation to a respectable institute. I am neither an expert on solitons or fractals (chaos maybe, if you consider the state of my desktop) and I am clearly not the one to judge the quality of El Naschie’s contributions. Check here for some scientific details.
Reading about this story made me think about how acceptable it is to publish stuff in a journal that you have founded yourself and where you are acting as editor-in-chief. Before knowing about the El Naschie affair, I would not have seen problems here. Sure, you could probably select your own reviewers or bypass peer review altogether. But editors-in-chief are typically prominent scientists (right?) and prominent scientists don’t behave that way. Or do they? Maybe I have been too naive. Obviously, I don’t have any fist-hand experience as I never founded my own journal and no publisher in their right mind would ask me to act as editor-in-chief of anything. On the other hand, I am on the editorial board of a few journals, and in this role you are typically asked by the publisher to ‘submit your best manuscripts’ to the journal in order to make the world a better place. And for increasing the impact factor.
Another reason for my somewhat careless attitude to ‘self-publishing’ is that I have seen several examples of excellent papers published in self-edited journals. Just by looking at the numbers alone, some journals might appear to be in a situation similar to Chaos Solitons & Fractals. Maybe not quite the same, if the amazing number of 321 El Nashie papers in ‘CSF’ mentioned in Derek’s post is true.
There is one journal in my area, which is dominated by papers from the chief editor: Biology Direct. Just look at the numbers: Since its inception in 2006, Biology Direct has published 24 papers from Eugene Koonin. This might appear small compared to 321, but if you consider that the journal has published only 131 papers altogether, Eugene Koonin has authored more than 18% of all the published manuscripts. Before you jump to wrong conclusions, there are several big differences to the El Naschie case: Eugene Koonin also publishes scores of papers in inconspicuous journals, including Nature and their ilk, he really works at the NCBI (I have proof of that), and his papers in Biology Direct do make sense (to me, at least). Most importantly, there is undeniable evidence that Eugene did not use his position to bypass peer review: Biology Direct has an open peer review policy, the reviewers’ comments are published with the papers!
Post scriptum: After checking out the web page of El Naschie, I have the strong feeling that there is some problem with this guy. Even without understanding a single equation of his E-learning E-Infinity theory, someone who sees himself as a ‘central figure in the field of fractal cosmology’ and at the same time publishes on how to slow the aging process cannot expect to be taken seriously.