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FEATURE Predatory Journals

Predatory practices pose problems for new publishing models

New developments in technology and business are frequently followed by attempts to abuse the system. Librarian Jeffrey Beall from University of Colorado Denver, USA, uses his blog to track and report on journals and publishers that abuse open access. Interview by Siân Harris

How did you become interested in so-called predatory journals and publishers?

I’ve been an academic librarian since 1990 and have always been interested in scholarly publishing, the organisation of knowledge, book reviewing, and the sciences. In 2009, like most academics whose email addresses are available on the internet, I started to receive spam email solicitations from publishers that immediately seemed questionable to me. The emails contained prominent grammatical errors and seemed otherwise unprofessional. I’ve done a lot of scholarly writing and I was keenly interested in exploring new venues for my research and writing. However, these publishers immediately struck me as strange, and I began to track them.

What do you see as the biggest risks and challenges with such scholarly practices? Honest scholars bear the greatest risks. Predatory publishers aim to get money from them any way they can. Many researchers – especially those just starting their careers – are still unaware of predatory journals, so they are being victimised by them. Predatory publishers are very skilled at tricking people into thinking they are legitimate, but eventually the honest scholars realise they’ve been fooled. A dilemma occurs when honest scholars publish good research in very poor journals. It is next to impossible to withdraw the work and get it accepted in a better venue. Another unfortunate scenario involves a predatory publisher quickly accepting a paper and then surprising the author with an unexpected invoice. There is a risk is to science itself too. Much junk science is being published, a practice that is damaging to the cumulative nature of research. I recently documented an article in a journal published by a firm called Science Publishing Group that claimed Einstein’s

4 Research Information AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2014 Jeffrey Beall

‘Money on the author side will increasingly play a role in determining what science gets published in the top journals and what is relegated to the others’

famous equation, e=mc2 the equation really should be e=1/22mc2

, is wrong, and that .

The article also claimed to confirm the discovery of the nature of dark energy by a collaborator of the author, writing in another journal. Both assertions are false, yet they were published in what appears to be a legitimate journal distributed by what appears to be a legitimate scholarly publisher. Or, to use a phrase coined by Nicoli Nattrass, they were published ‘bearing the imprimatur of science.’ Yet the article is a clear example of pseudo-science.

Given that such articles are published open

access and available to everyone, how will the lay public, lacking scientific expertise, be able to differentiate the authentic science from the fake? I pose this question especially in the context of the open-access movement’s goal of making research freely available ‘to everyone,’ including the taxpayers who supported it. The scholarly record is becoming increasingly polluted with junk science, yet few are raising any alarms.

How much do you see open- access publishing as a factor in dubious publishing practices? Open access removes the voice of the reader, the consumer of scholarly research. The subscription model provides a valuable, community validation function, because when readers or subscribers are unhappy with a journal because of low research quality, poor editorial standards, and the like, they cancel their subscription. Then, when enough subscribers cancel, the journal becomes unprofitable and shuts down. Publishers of successful subscription journals are constantly trying to keep the readers happy so they will maintain their subscriptions. They do this in many ways, including publishing only top-quality research, innovating, and always trying to meet the needs of the readers and the subscribers.

Gold open-access journals aim to please the authors, their customers. We now have many hundreds of gold OA publishers, all competing for the authors’ money. To increase the proportion of acceptable articles, many journals have introduced ‘peer review lite,’ accepting works that are methodologically sound but lacking in novelty or importance. Thus we have a profusion of ‘warehouse journals’ that publish many thousands of articles of meagre quality, importance, and impact. The authors get the publications they need for their CVs, but the readers are left with an increasing number of papers to filter through.


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