Monthly Archives: September 2009

“Fake” journals and recent CMAJ article on librarians

“Fake” Journals

In late April, when the Scientist broke the “Merck/Elsevier fake journal” story, my initial reaction was cynical surprise that this story was getting so much attention.

Honestly, we see “fake” (i.e. sponsored) journals and “fake” (i.e. ghostwritten) articles all the time. Every week.

And that’s not even mentioning the articles that are “merely” subject to gigantic conflicts of interest (disclosed or undisclosed). This is so prevalent that I can’t even really bring myself to call this literature “fake” (without disclaimer quotation marks) because it’s out there, every day, not limited to one publisher/imprint or one (or six) journal(s), or one drug company.

In any given sub-field, it’s rarely that difficult to know which journals are “sponsored” by parties with vested interests, and which take an approach which is more classically considered to be “scholarly.”

So when Exerpta Medica claims, on their website:

“Does EM publish fake journals?
No. EM currently publishes scientific journals

Does EM publish sponsored journals?
Yes, one currently – Insulin”


They have a point. Is Insulin more egregious than many other sponsored journals out there? Perhaps, but perhaps it’s better, since at least now they are being transparent about the sponsorship.

I mean, anyone who knows much of anything about medical publishing will recognize Excerpta Medica for a propaganda machine. But they don’t really try to hide it (although parent company Elsevier cannot necessarily claim the same), stating right on their homepage:

“Excerpta Medica is a strategic medical communications agency. We partner with our clients in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries to educate the global health care community and enable them to make well informed decisions regarding treatment options.”





The role of librarians


Back to the “Elseveier fake journal” story, though…

When I looked at the scanned PDFs (here and here) of issues of the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, posted online by the Scientist, the question I asked myself, as a  health librarian, was:

Would I know, just by looking at this journal, that it was not “real”?

I felt relieved to be able to say “yes,” despite the lack of disclosures of a number of conflicts of interest, largely because of the “Honorary Editorial Board” listed in the front matter of the journal. Like every other librarian not at the State Library of New South Wales, I would never have subscribed to this virtually unheard-of journal that didn’t even have a real editorial board.

However, assuming I wouldn’t have this journal in my collection, it’s entirely possible that my researchers would request an article via ILL. Deprived of it’s context – as so much information is these days, from music tracks without album packaging to articles without journal front matter – would I have flagged one of these articles as “fake” and warned the patron who ordered it? Honestly, I would probably have passed it along without a thought to the matter.

This thought has been nagging at me all summer.

No, it’s not always a librarian’s job to give a critical appraisal of the info s/he’s passing along to researchers. When it is appropriate, however, we should be careful to do a good job. And in light of raised public awareness of “fake”/unethical medical publishing, perhaps this very type of critical appraisal is something we should be marketing.

CMAJ article

Fortunately the CMAJ just put out a nice little article based on interviews with several awesome Canadian health librarians, which highlights several things for all of us to keep in mind when assessing journals. It’s short; go read it. (ETA citation now that it’s no longer an “early release”: Collier, R. Medical journal or marketing device? CMAJ September 1, 2009 181:E83-E84; doi:10.1503/cmaj.091326.)

If you can’t even spare the time to read a short article on the topic, here’s my list of things they identify as red flags for possible “fakeness” in journals:

Things you don’t need the journal in hand to assess:

  • Not being indexed, anywhere
  • Not having a journal website
  • Not having an editorial board
  • Not having submission instructions for authors
  • Not having an ISSN
  • Not having an impact factor (<- I don’t really agree with this one, particularly if you’re talking about non-US content, as many of our “real” Canadian journals are not ISI-indexed)

Things you can assess with a look at an article/journal:

  • Are the researchers prominent people (<- I also quibble with this one, as ghostwriting often uses prominent individuals as “authors”)
  • Do the same authors appear too frequently (how frequently is too much depends a bit on discipline, but it can get ridiculous)
  • Are the article citations largely to the same journal, or to obscure websites

I think these items are a great beginning for a pamphlet or something to warn/educate researchers about “fake” journals…and maybe to market the skills of health librarians in cutting through the chaff of sponsored scientific publications to the actual scholarly kernels in the literature.

Anything else you would add to the above lists?



Filed under ethics, Health, publishing, The Profession

My copyright consultation submission

Jumping on the blogger bandwagon, I am posting the text of my copyright consultation submission here. Nothing much here that others haven’t said better already, but it seems like this type of public recording may be a good idea.


To Whom it May Concern,

Thank you for providing this special opportunity for Canadians to make our voices heard by our lawmakers. Please find below my responses to the questions posed on the Copyright eConsultation Website:

1. How do Canada’s copyright laws affect you? How should existing laws be modernized?

As a librarian, university instructor, researcher, writer, musician and parent to an avid young media consumer, copyright affects me in multiple ways, every day.

As a librarian I frequently instruct others on legal use and re-use of books, articles, music, video, and other media. One thing I notice all the time is how confusing and unclear copyright is to the average person. People need to be able to understand the basics of copyright; no one should need a law degree to understand if they are acting within the law while watching a video or photocopying a poem.

As a university instructor I experience the frustration of my students as they face long waits for inter-library loans that their friends at U.S. schools do not experience, and when they cannot access materials that would benefit their work. My students and I need to be able to access various types of media for educational use and re-use. Copyright law should encourage open dissemination of scholarly research and fair dealing for educational use of media.

As a researcher and writer I publish both scholarly and creative works. These works are very different in terms of my copyright needs as a creator, as my scholarly works benefit me not by paying me royalties for copies sold, but rather by raising my reputation and profile in the scholarly community; thus as a scholarly writer I aim for maximum dissemination, not maximum profit.

As a media consumer and parent to a burgeoning media consumer, I am wary of legal threats by large recording companies, and at the same time wary of wasting money purchasing media that will become obsolete or unusable at some point in the future (due to DRM/TPM/digital “locks” that restrict legal use of media). I am also quite concerned about threats to our family’s privacy that are inherent in some technological protection measure. I recoil in horror at the stories from the US about single mums, teens and college students being targeted by lawsuits brought by large media companies because of non-commercial online music sharing, and would hate to see Canada brought down this same ridiculous path.

2. Based on Canadian values and interests, how should copyright changes be made in order to withstand the test of time?

Copyright law should be based on strong basic principles, not complicated exceptions and loopholes. It should distinguish between commercial and non-commercial infringement, and promote legal re-use and re-mixing of Canadian material.

People accused of infringement should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and third party companies such as Internet service providers (ISPs) should not be asked to enforce the law.

Strong fair dealing provisions protecting library/archive/educational use of media are crucial to preserving Canadian national heritage.

In order to encourage use and dissemination of Canadian resources, government publications should be public domain, not subject to restrictive Crown Copyright licenses.

Copyright law should acknowledge that people own a device or copy of media once they pay for it, and any legal use of that media/device is legal, regardless of the technology they use to play or read it.

Finally, in order to stand the test of time, copyright changes should remain technology neutral as much as possible  — For example: while a decade ago we used to exchange “mix CDs” with friends to share and promote our favourite music, today’s youth naturally and natively communicate via the Internet; our old-fashioned understanding of media use should not criminalise our children’s same use of materials using different technology. One element of this involves the “blank media levy” from the late 1990’s, which is inconsistently applied to today’s technologies and should either be expanded as the Canadian solution to dealing with right-to-copy or taken off the books all together.

3. What sorts of copyright changes do you believe would best foster innovation and creativity in Canada?

In order to best foster innovation and creativity in Canada, we should put public (government) publications into the hands of the people by publishing all Canadian government publications directly into the public domain (as in the US), rather than publishing them under Crown Copyright. Similarly, the Berne Convention standard term of life of the author plus 50 years is a sufficiently long copyright period to stimulate new creative works, while keeping them out of the public domain for longer (as some countries have chosen to so) inhibits creativity that can spring from derivative works.

Canada should broaden “fair dealing” to include parody and satire (as in the US), in order to encourage free expression.

Copyright law should allow all legal use of media, without laws specifically targeting DRM/TPM circumvention.  If someone is circumventing digital locks for criminal purposes, that criminal use is already illegal. Criminalizing DRM/TPM circumvention is akin to criminalizing physical lock-picking, even if the lock-picker is merely trying to enter their own house.

Canada should explicitly support a diversity of licensing options, to allow fine-tuning of rights management (I personally like to publish under Creative commons licenses, whenever possible) so creators can freely allow certain uses of their works.

4. What sorts of copyright changes do you believe would best foster competition and investment in Canada?

Copyright law should maintain a “notice and notice” rather than “notice and takedown” (or 3-strikes) rule for potential copyright infringement. Putting ISPs in charge of policing users’ content not only changes the ISPs’ role, making them deal inappropriately with content rather than focusing on infrastructure, but also creates a hostile environment to creativity, innovation, and free expression, discouraging investment and competition in Canada.

Remaining technology-neutral, and basing policy on over-arching principles of copyright, encourages innovation, competition and investment. Specifying particular formats and technologies such as VHS, mp3, or PVRs in copyright law not only makes a law become obsolete very quickly in today’s world, it discourages future innovative use and development of these and other technologies.

Swift dissemination of information facilitates innovation, and encourages uptake and discovery of Canadian innovations in the marketplace. Supporting a diversity of licensing options to facilitate freer and more open communications and reuse of media, and putting government publications directly into the public domain, are ways to encourage openness and quick dissemination of innovations, supporting Canadian innovations.

5. What kinds of changes would best position Canada as a leader in the global, digital economy?

All of the above. To summarize, new Canadian Copyright law should maintain Canadian values and promote Canada as leader in the digital age by:

  • Being comprehensible by “regular” people
  • Limiting fines for non-commercial copyright infringement
  • Being based on longstanding principles, not specific technologies
  • Expanding “fair dealing” to include parody and satire, as well as strong educational/archival/library exemptions
  • Eliminating Crown Copyright, making Canadian government publications public domain
  • Avoiding anti-circumvention measures
  • Avoiding “notice and takedown”/3-strikes measures, functioning rather with “notice-and-notice” provisions when infringement is alleged
  • Supporting finely-tuned copyright options such as Creative Commons licenses, to allow creators to better manage their rights and encourage maximum legal reuse of media

Thank you for this opportunity to respond to these pressing questions via the Canadian Copyright e-Consultation, and for your consideration of all the responses.


Filed under copyright, government

Caron’s LAC Modernisation message: huh?

(aka the blog post wherein I probably blow any and all future chances of working in government…)

Making the rounds of Canadian LIS (and presumably archives) listservs today has been Librarian and Archivist of Canada Dr. Daniel Caron’s “Message from the Librarian and Archivist of Canada: Modernization.”

As far as messages go, it’s kind of an odd one.

The message begins by promising to share the course for LAC he has charted, and ends by saying LAC should do what it was set up to do. Truly radical. Maybe some of this makes more sense to people with more inside knowledge of LAC? To me it sounds rather like the teacher from the Peanuts cartoons. (“Wa wah wa wa…”)

On my first skim through I was numbed by all the vague references to generally-unspecified issues, challenges, harmonizing and togetherness. The “today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday” business in the middle was somewhat amusing, and the reiteration of LAC’s mandate (repeat after me: acquire, preserve, access; lather, rinse, repeat) and praise for LAC’s “brilliant past” were a nice acknowledgment.

On my second read through I realized that Dr Caron must be reeeally worried about LAC being seen as “relevant.” I mean, he mentions this concern no fewer than 4 times in the 9 paragraphs (which is, incidentally, the same amount of times he used the word “library” in the message):

1.      “Today, digital technology has radically changed our practices and expectations and, to remain relevant, we will need to tackle the issues, communicate and collaborate more than ever before with others who share our goals.” (para 1)

2.      “Our relevance in the medium and long term is also called into question in this new environment.” (para 3)

3.      “How do we remain relevant in an increasingly fragmented and to a certain extent uncontrollable environment?” (para 5)

4.      “…our relevance depends on our ability to implement the best work procedures and marshal the most effective and efficient combinations of available expertise.” (para 8 )

(all above emphasis mine)

What’s weird is that exactly the things he seems to see as threatening LAC’s relevance (digitization, preservation challenges, information overload, social media…) are the exact things that I see as making the case for the relevance of information professionals.

Nu? This is really the man in charge of our national library & archives?

I accept that I am of a different generation, cultural background, and academic discipline than Dr. Caron. I, for example, don’t feel “condemned to live in both worlds, analogue and digital, at the same time,” (<-emphasis mine; and I would say something more like privileged to live at this time of straddling the aforementioned worlds); nor do I feel especially burdened by the “daily challenges” of unspecified “social transformations” (unless by that he means corporate globalization? I do feel kind of daily challenged by neocolonialism, come to think of it…).

However, I do know a fair number of librarians and archivists from backgrounds pretty different from my own, and when they send me messages, I generally feel like I have a decent clue what they’re trying to communicate.

This, well, what can I say? It’s a totally weird message. Maybe Caron’s trying to prove that he really does get libraries and archives,  while just totally missing the mark?

…or at least that’s what I’d like to think, since the alternative would seem to be that he’s basically paving the road for privatization of LAC…


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Filed under digitization, globalization, government, government information, preservation, privatization, The Profession

Are hate speech laws unconstitutional?

There’s been lots of press coverage this morning of a fairly confusing issue: The Canadian Human Right Tribunal has ruled that Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act is unconstitutional, as it contravenes Section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

What does this mean?

Good question. In short, it means that the CHRT has declared that the Canadian Human Rights Commission can’t penalize people for hate speech, because that conflicts with the fundamental right to freedom of expression enshrined in the charter.

Now, since the CHRT doesn’t in and of itself have the power to strike down a federal law, I’m not exactly sure what this means in terms of the future of Sec 13 of CHRA.

Parliament, I believe, would have to change the law, and this (basically allowing hatemongers their right to spew hate) doesn’t seem like a really popular vote-winning issue in my mind. However, it does seem to indicate that any future prosecutions under Sec 13 are pretty much going nowhere. I’ll keep my eyes open for more informed analysis as they roll out in the coming day and beyond. (If you’ve got one, leave a comment with a link!)

This ruling came out of the ongoing legal wrangle between Richard Warman and Marc Lemire. Lemire is a white supremicist who has written a lot of really disgusting stuff and was extensively involved with the neo-Nazo group Heritage Front. Warman is a lawyer from Ottawa who has filed a whole lot of human rights complaints, often against hate groups who have published hate speech on their websites. And he wins, almost always. Warman has been incredibly successful in winning human rights rulings, with financial penalties attached, against Internet hate sites. Warman has also sued a bunch of people and organizations, ranging from David Icke (the lizard conspiracy book dude) to  a provincial library association (see para 23 in this article), for libel and/or defamation of character.

Suffice to say these are both polarizing characters here.

Anyway, Warman complained that Lemire has posted stuff that was “likely to expose identifiable groups to hatred or comtempt” and Lemire countered by challenging the law itself, and the upshot is that the trubunal decided that the law isn’t working the way it was intended anway (has become punitive rather then preventative, as it was apparently intended to be). So even on the one count on which he found in favour of Warman, tribunal chair Athanasios Hadjis did not levy fines.

My thoughts:

I have been fascinated with Canadian laws and legal record related to freedom of expression since I had the fortune to take Ann Curry‘s class on intellectual freedom some years ago.

Unlike the US Government, with which I am more familiar due to having grown up south of the border, the Canadian govenment does not hold Freedom of Speech as quite so strong a core value (not that Free Speech is inalienable right in the US either). Canada also tends to be more paternalistic in approach, which has led to some odd case law (see R. v Butler, a somewhat misguided effort to protect women against the oppression of pornography, for example).

In general, I do subscribe to the idea that speech is speech, writing is words, and these are somehow different from actions. There is a grey area in there, though. When do words become actions? I used to work in domestic violence — when do words become abuse, for example?  How can we provide law courts with effective guidance on this? I have written before on the Westboro Baptist Church. When are their homophobic and racist rallies merely speech and what would it take to cross over into inciting a riot or other violence?

These are tough questions, and I find it quite interesting and challenging to consider things that are particularly abhorrent to me, for example holocaust denial, and think about whether I can maintain my free speech convictions in the face of that.

For me, a test of whether something is too restrictive of expression, is whether it seems too restrictive when I apply it to an issue I feel strongly the other way about.

For example, I argued that homophobic demonstrators should not be turned away at the Canadian border because god-hates-fags signs are visible in their car, because I would not want gay rights demonstrators heading to California to protest Prop 8 turned back at the American border because of their pro-gay-marriage signs.

Yeah, from some perspectives one of these is about hate and another about love, or one is about curtailing rights and another about expanding rights, but perspective is not universal. And I certainly cannot assume all lawmakers and border guards do or will share my perspective. It’s hard to think of one, but I’m sure there’s a way, now or in the future, that Internet sites I believe in could be charged as hate-promoting.

Back to Sec 13 of the Canadian Human Right Act, and the Tribunal’s decision that it’s unconstitutional. Is this a good ruling? I think so. Will it “stick”? I don’t know. It seems unlikely that parliament would repeal it. It seems unlikely that the Tribunal will enforce it? It also seems unlikely to me that Warman will just let it lie in limbo for too long. There is an “out,” an escape route of sorts, in the fact that there is criminal code (sec 318 & 319) that also outlaws hate propaganda, making the human rights code sec 13 somewhat redundant (although I think the barriers to criminal code prosecution may be higher). Maybe the politicians will be able to “eliminate redundancies” by removing sec 13(1) without looking like neo-nazi supporters?  Twill be interesting to see in the days to come…


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Filed under censorship, government, Intellectual freedom