Have you heard of “Science Omega Review”?

I’ve just taken a cold call from a young man claiming to be from Science Omega Review. He was offering me the opportunity to publish a paper on research in lifelong learning. Apparently the Review was just about to go to the printers, with an editorial on Michael Gove’s policies towards lifelong learning research. Would I be interested in writing a companion article?

We agreed that I knew about the topic, and that I would be willing in principle to write something. At that stage, it emerged that the Review wanted to be paid for carrying the article. I said that I wasn’t willing to proceed on that basis. ‘So’, he said, ‘you don’t believe in open access?’

The conversation didn’t last much longer. As I’d never heard of the Science Omega Review, I searched a few websites, and found an organisation called Public Service. Along with conferences and other commercial services, it publishes a magazine called Public Service Review, which included papers by a number of decent academics, so presumably they or their institutions listened to the same sales pitch that I interrupted, and decided it was worth their while to pay in order to get their research to a wider audience.

I’d be very interested to hear what other people think about this. My own judgement is that it’s a potentially worrying development, as academics under pressure to engage with ‘research users’ will be wondering how best to communicate their findings with policy makers and other non-academic audiences. Sales calls might sound appealing to some researchers – but surely there are better options, like blogs?

Meanwhile, who is behind this company, and does it really offer a quality service? And who actually reads its publications?

15 thoughts on “Have you heard of “Science Omega Review”?

  1. I had one of these calls a few months ago – funnily enough, the Review was just about to go to the printers then as well! Only the focus was on higher education then. It took them some time to get to the crucial point about having to pay ‘page fees’ – and when I demurred, I was asked the identical question ‘so you don’t believe in open access?’ . I agree that it’s worrying. It seems to me that they are exploiting academic anxieties in the run-up to the REF by offering speedy publication with an ‘impact’ flavour, though not (as far as I can see) peer-reviewed. The ‘open access’ issue is a complete red herring and seems pretty cynical when they are basically selling the opportunity to publish. They obviously have some respectable contributors and I’m quite mystified by this. I’ve never heard of their publications anywhere else, and certainly never seen a printed copy. I too would be interested to know if anyone reads them – perhaps your blog will flush out the readership!
    Dr. Janice Malcolm, Director, Centre for the Study of Higher Education
    UELT Building, University of Kent, Canterbury CT2 7NQ, UK
    (+44) 01227 824579

  2. I can still remember when I was paid by journals in my field for pieces. Then it became book tokens, then pay disappeared. But that’s fine – I am paid by my employer to engage in research, which I also find personally rewarding, and I would like my work to be disseminated, but recognise that the realities of funding models require that dissemination be in a certain form (such that, for example, self-publishing on line remains problematic). In China, a system with which I engage extensively, a large part of academic publishing is paid for by the authors, and I assume (as after 25 years in the system I have become somewhat pessimistic) that it is only a matter of time before some publishers in the UK seek to recoup costs through authors. It might be quite difficult to do so as I think many would have the same reactions as set out above (although I have to confess to paying a (good) publisher for the preparation of an index for my most recent book). On the other hand I can, sadly, think of many PhD candidates looking for their first job who would pay to secure publication, and hence a boost on their CV.

  3. Same here today. Exact same story about last minute, Gove etc. Also a load of rubbish about not having web access and phone access so not knowing my exact area of expertise. Realised early on where it was going but shocked at the ridiculous shirty minor threat about open access. Clearly the same script – young man with Irish accent?

  4. And I had a similar experience. I was asked about contributing a piece about Energy Materials against a very tight deadline with an immediate response needed i.e. in the same phone call. I hadn’t previosuly encountered the organisation and so I explained that I can’t commit to spending money (especially research funds i.e. in this case taxpayers money) with a private company without some clear evidence of public use.
    I am in favour of open access, and can see that payment has to come from somewhere – but I agree that there is certainly scope for exploiting REF anxiety. It also seems peculiar to be running a model based on pagination fees in an era self-publication via the internet is so straightforward.
    Dr Eddie Cussen, Dept of Chemistry, University of Strathclyde

  5. I had a very similar conversation today (21st Jan 2013). Someone called Ruairidh Stewart from a company called Science Omega.com phoned Birmingham University this morning, about finalising a document to be used by the Government on public engagement in science. He had said his call was urgent, & I duly rang him. He said that science omega prepares briefing reports for government, and that they were just finishing one on public engagement with science for Michael Gove; he said he didn’t know much about me, but would I be interested/able to provide some copy for them – pretty urgently; I said my experience was mor with PE in universities rather than secondary education. Then he then said, “there are costs involved… we work with people on the basis that they pay us £3k to be a co-author”! I said I wasn’t interested, and he said “well, it’s a matter of principles” (!) and that was the end of the conversation.

    As an academic passionate about public engagement with research, I think this a worrying phenomenon.

    Physicist Andrew Jaffe of Imperial has commented on this company:

  6. Hi everyone, I got the same call today (28 jan 2013) about an hour ago, by a woman. We agreed that I was a 3D printer expert and that it could be good for my statup company to gain visibility. Then the price to publish our company profile with our latest research results came up: 4500 €. I found in the past that it is very efficient to get rid of salesman to tell them the product is good but that I just don’t have the money. So i did that and after “talking to her manager” meaning we were both waiting like idiots behind the phone, I knew it, she knew it, she knew that I knew and I knew that she knew that I knew… but well after waiting the price went down to 3000€ woooww my girlfriend would certainly have told me: you are winning 1500€ here jump on it, but well i have a scientific rational mind and I am a man, so i can only see the lost of 3000€ out of my startup R&D. Well i said no, lost one hour of my precious time on it, learn some interesting selling Technics, so I hope you are still on the phone when you read this so that you can say NO too 🙂 Cheers -Jeremie

  7. Ok let me explain how it works. Science Omega – is the same as The Public Service Review. But what happened was that the public service review got such a bad reputation that the company had to re-brand in an attempt to start fresh. Just google Public service review and you will see many blogs about the company. The selling technique is bases around urgency e.g. ” A last minute piece of editorial has been PROPOSED for X discussing research and funding priorities in Y” Now X and Y can be changed to who and what they like depending on what subject you are researching and who funds you. Note that the word proposed is always used, this covers their backs, as all calls are recorded, PROPOSED obviously is not the same as confirmed. Because of this they can propose anyone, if you, the client then says yes, then the edit team swing into action and try and get the person that has been proposed to write, for free of course. Normally its just some generic press release on a broad subject matter that they get from a PR rep. Now, where do they get your number from? That’s easy! Google! Try it your self – say we want some one in the health section. Think of a subject then a country/city and the words research, or center, department. For example cardiology research sweden brings you to this http://cmr.gu.se/ then all you need now is the number of the director or head as he holds the budget. Jan Borén
    E-mail: jan.boren@wlab.gu.se
    Phone: 46 (0)31-342 29 49

    Now this is a lead, he is the the director of a big center involved in research. So the sales staff would now cold call him, and attempt to pitch and close him. The searching of numbers is all done at home in the sales staff spare time. Then everyday we would come in and pick up the phone to call the numbers we found the night before.

    The price is always quoted high at first 9000Euro if in the EU or 6000 pounds in the UK. Then the haggling begins, sales rep pretends to put you on hold to rush over to his director to try and work out a better deal for you. its all an act that the staff rehearse every morning and afternoon. Its called objection handling, a normal part of any sales process.

    So scientists be on your guard, but really the thing that keeps this company going is the ego of you scientists, stop wanting to be famous and concentrate on doing your fantastic work. If its great fame, projects, money will come.

    I wouldnt say its a scam – but the impact is nothing, who makes a descion on funding from something they read in a magazine? we laugh about it in meetings all the time. The sales staff are great, money hungry young individuals looking to get on in life. However, they certainly dont give two hoots about your research or career.

  8. Exactly the same scenario for me today (14-02-13). Very persistent – first call I was about to start a PhD viva examination as internal examiner and was having the pre-exam meeting in my office with the extern. The caller got offended when I told him I couldn’t take the call at that time. Second call was exactly as reported above: publication deadline imminent, had to check with his supervisor whether my work could still be slotted in, and then €3,000 page charge. The hook was that this report would be going directly to Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust (I do research on infectious diseases). A complete and utter scam – I am going to tweet the link to this page.

  9. They seems to be getting desperate. I’m not even an academic (far from it) but I used to be a journalist specialising in IT Security, I now run my own content agency. At first they I thought it was a genuine call looking for paid contributors – that’s what I’m used to. Then he dropped the bombshell that I would pay £3000 to have my article published. I pay THEM? I’ve never heard of such a thing! The same silver tongued Stewart character mentioned above garbled something getting the money back, I was on a train so couldn’t hear properly. Anyway not being one to discount anything I told him to ring back later so I could check out the operation. Like others though the website was surprisingly professional looking bit the whole concept still sucks. I never took his later call. I guess you have to very rich or desperate for exposure to do this. Very strange!

  10. I run an IT strategy and advisory firm, and had the same call from Mr Stewart leaving a message regarding a government project – seems they are expanding their net but using the same bait. First step was to check the website, in this case ScienceOmega.com , which revealed the underlying company name PublicService.co.uk , and Google brought me here pretty quickly.

    Am used to conference organisers hoping for sponsorship, which is run of the mill, but this does smack of desperation and scamming.

  11. Same here today.
    It is so urgent, and I am so famous, they really need my contribution to release the publication that was almost on the way to the printer. “You gain so much visibility, so many people will notice your excellent work.” Well, our work IS excellent and the resceptive people in the EU DGs exactly know my expertise. So, why would I need this? Funding is at the edge than we can reasonably manage.
    And then she said: 4500 Euro page fee. I first thought she tells me that she will pay me that money and I found this really attractive.
    When it turned out she wants ME to pay, the business concept was quite clear immediately.
    Was fun to see then how she desperately tried all the well known tricks to get me involved and to agree to a completly nonsense business (at least for me).
    “It is so urgent!” – If it is so urgent, then, ok, I help you out, but for free.
    “It is open access!” – you have finished 250 pages already, you said its just about the last two (from me) that are missing, so: I help you, but I dont pay!
    “I can ask for a discount” – yes, but please 100%, and send me your contact details by e-mail
    “I have no internet access” – but you have a phone connection? Where are you ? Outer Hebrides?

    Well, it was funny. And scary the same time.

  12. the company has now been bankrupt and gone into administration.

    no one will ever call you again – this blog had a part to play in our downfall.

  13. yes we did have doubts. always urgent. using pressure to close a deal … very 1980’s. this urgent way of doing things worked before the digital age as people couldnt blog! .. i dont solely blame the blogs, of course the terrible management, poor staff retention, and method of approach to our clients all played a massive part in the downfall of the company. i actually think the idea of a semi scientific publication targeting industry and policy makers is potentially a great one. ide like to set a new one up my self but bring the sales pitch into the 2000’s, any investors 🙂 ???

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