The Federal Trade Commission recently filed suit against the publisher of online academic journals that the agency accused of deceiving academics and researchers.

OMICS Group, president and director Srinubabu Gedela, and related corporate defendants claimed that their online journals followed "rigorous" peer-review practices and used editorial boards with prominent academics when selecting items to publish. But the FTC said many of the articles were actually published with "little to no" peer review and that some of the individuals represented by the defendants as affiliated with the editorial board were not really involved with the publications.

The defendants also made deceptive statements by describing their journals as having a high "impact factor," the agency alleged. This term—used to describe the frequency that articles are cited in other research—is the widely accepted industry standard and proprietary to Thomson Reuters, the FTC said. OMICS, however, did not use this metric and instead calculated its own impact scores, but failed to disclose this fact to academics.

Persons who indicated their interest in being published were made to pay "significant" fees, the agency added—ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars. The defendants did not inform them about the cost until an article was accepted for publication. This failure caused considerable problems for academics, the agency noted, as they are bound by ethical standards that generally forbid them from submitting the same research to more than one publication.

The researchers were effectively held hostage, the FTC alleged, by making their research ineligible for publication in other journals and then hitting them with a sizable fee.

The Nevada federal court complaint charges the defendants with multiple violations of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.

To read the complaint in FTC v. OMICS Group, Inc., click here.

Why it matters: "The defendants in this case used false promises to convince researchers to submit articles presenting work that may have taken months or years to complete, and then held that work hostage over undisclosed publication fees ranging into the thousands of dollars," Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. "It is vital that we stop scammers who seek to take advantage of the changing landscape of academic publishing."