BMJ letter: Cash for publication is discriminatory, unscientific, and dangerous

17 May, 2019

Below are the citation and extracts from 'Letter of the Week' in this week's print BMJ (18 May 2019). We are not given the name of the 'prestigious journal' in question, but it would be highly damaging to the cause of Open Access if leading journals were found to be biased in this way. The details below suggest the offending journal is actually a hybrid journal and not a fully open-access journal.


Cash for publication is discriminatory, unscientific, and dangerous

BMJ 2019; 365 doi: (Published 13 May 2019)

Cite this as: BMJ 2019;365:l1915

Andrew N Bamji, retired consultant rheumatologist

Email: bamji AT


I submitted a paper to a prestigious journal. It was rejected. I don’t get hung up about rejection; one is always convinced by the brilliance of one’s own work. I suspect many people have suffered similarly. But the journal suggested that, were I to submit it to the open access version of the same journal, it would probably be accepted.

I don’t have the $3000 (£2300; €2700) needed to follow this course. But I thought peer review was peer review. If it’s not suitable for the journal, it’s not suitable for any version of that journal. Clearly not. Pay and be published, it seems.

I resubmitted the paper to another prestigious journal. The same thing happened (except I got reviewer feedback). But again I was offered the opportunity to submit to the open access version. It cost less—about $1500.

Cash for publication is discriminatory, unscientific, and dangerous. The potential for bias is stupendous. Your article is not worthy of inclusion in our important journal—but it is if you pay. An individual might not be able to fund publication, but a research department might, and a drug company certainly will. Researchers need publications in journals with high impact factors to maintain grants and prestige. Drug companies might want to promote positive studies of their own new drugs. Naturally, they will pay. But if a journal with a high impact factor has dual acceptance standards for its main and open access versions, this disadvantages the individual. Equally it raises serious questions about peer review. Are the reviewers different? Are they given different standards to meet? Which reviewers are right in deciding to accept or reject? How is it good enough for the online edition when it isn’t for the print edition?

I don’t need more papers on my CV. I am not applying for any jobs. At the age of 68 the job market is small, though I fancy the House of Lords. But can one really trust the work published in paid-for journals?


Best wishes, Neil

Coordinator, HIFA Project on Access to Health Research

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: