A critical aspect of the research publication process is the integrity of everyone in the business. While one may sometimes have doubts whether particular editors are biased one way or the other, or that journals have a history of favoring certain people (see: JPE and especially QJE), publishing houses should not have any reasons to meddle in this process except to redress editors who venture out of bounds. But could a publishing house, a major one at that, actually hamper the integrity of research and its dissemination?
Yes, Elsevier managed to do just that, according to this article in The Scientist. Let me summarize for those who do not want to go through the free registration. Merck commissioned Elsevier to publish a "fake" journal, the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, stuffed with articles giving positive reviews of Merck drugs, in particular the troubled Fosamax and Vioxx. Now, nothing prevents a drug company to print brochures advertising its products, but Elsevier disguised this like a real journal, with editorial board, subscriptions and real articles (they were a selection of articles published elsewhere, plus fake review articles), all this paid by Merck and without any disclaimer.
This is a particularly nasty practice from a publishing house that has already drawn the ire from librarians and academicians across the board for its journal pricing practices and its predatory acquisitions in the academic publishing market. Closer to home, Elsevier is also trying to hamper the success of RePEc by preventing it to use its bibliographies for citation purposes, as I mentioned before. While the latter practice is not as vile as faking journals and charging researchers exorbitant prices to access their own research, it shows that this company cannot be trusted to be doing what is good for research. It also shows that the profit motive in academic publishing can lead to some pretty nasty results. Non-profit societies and open access outlets need to step up and take over, and we authors need to dump the commercial outlets.