The Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) has placed Sage's membership "under review" for six months, after one of its journals accepted a hoax article during a controversial "sting" conducted by a journalist from Science magazine.
The flawed paper was accepted by 157 of the open access journals which it was submitted to, while just 98 rejected it.
Sage's Journal of International Medical Research accepted the hoax article for publication, despite its major flaws. So also did two other OASPA members' journals: Clinical and Eperimental Medical Sciences, published by Hikari, and Drug Design, Development and Therapy published by Dove Medical Press.
OASPA has concluded that "there was a lack of sufficient rigour in editorial processes at all three of the journals in question" and has now terminated the memberships of Hikari and Dove Medical Press and will not reconsider them for membership for a year.
Sage has been placed "under review" for six months, with a view to readmitting it as a full member thereafter "if there is evidence that its processes have been sufficiently strengthened".
OASPA said the different course of action taken with Sage reflects the fact that the editorial process at the Journal of International Medical Research is "very unusual and not typical of any of the other journals at Sage"; that a later editorial process at the Sage journal was likely to have identified problems with the hoax article; that Sage acted promptly to cease taking submissions to the journal once aware of the problem; and that the publisher has "a very strong and longstanding reputation for responsible and ethical publishing practices".
The lesson to be learned from the hoax, said OAPSA, was: "a lack of expert editorial accountability for key decision points: the assignment of reviewers; assessment of review comments and decision letter; and the final acceptance decision. Robust editorial processes require an engaged editor (usually an experienced academic researcher, but occasionally a suitably qualified staff editor) to take responsibility for these key decision points."
OASPA is also to strengthen its own membership procedures, it said.
In a statement, which can be read in full here, Sage said it welcomed the OASPA investigation and had already taken steps to ensure that the peer review process of the journal in question was "much more robust". "Any paper with similar flaws would not get through either stage of the peer review process of JIMR today," it said.
The publisher added that it was "extremely concerned" that a paper with fundamental errors got through the initial stage at JIMR. "JIMR is a long-established, respected journal that has been publishing quality research for 41 years. It is JCR-listed and its rejection rate was 62.5% in 2012. JIMR operates with complete editorial independence and the Editor has no financial inventive to accept papers," it said.
"Professor Malcolm Lade PhD, MD, FRC Psych, F Med Sci, emeritus professor, King's College London is the editor of the journal and has been for the last 25 years. The journal has a world class editorial board… Sage is committed to ensuring that the peer review and acceptance process for all of our journals, whether traditional subscription-based or open access, is robust, and to working with OASPA to ensure this."