This post is a follow-up to my similarly titled post Academia Milestones: My First Invite from a Predatory Conference. Here I document another pitfall of academia where predatory companies mislead researchers into paying to publish work in a low-quality journal.
Last year, I was invited to speak at a real conference as part of the young investigator contest. It was a great opportunity to share some of the details of my research with other academics. It also proved to be valuable in the sense that we were able to glean more ideas about future directions that the work may take from the talks given by other researchers. By contrast, my liver is thankful that the conference is over!
There are no proceedings associated with the conference. For any internet user who is interested, the book of abstracts* is publicly available for download. In principle, open access of scholarly work is an excellent initiative in terms of fostering innovation where research is accessible to individuals and organisations regardless of their financial situation. However, it is also important that only high quality work is published in order to maintain public confidence in science. Thus many legitimate open-access publishers will charge publication fees as part of keeping the lights on.
Where things get tricky is that charging researchers for publication changes the dynamics of academia completely. It has been in the best interests of academics to publish as many articles as possible since career progression has been heavily metricised** by the administrative dullards in charge of academic institutions and funding bodies. It is now also in the self-interest of open-access publishers to publish as many articles as possible in order to maximise profits. This is done at the expense of the review process that should ensure all accepted work is of sufficient quality. Legitimate publishers can avoid this temptation since: (1) it is an illegitimate and unethical practice, and (2) they’re already making massive profits. However, there is now room for predatory publishers to step in.
Without peer-review, anything could make it into the academic literature, truthfulness be damned! Hence open-access journals produced by predatory publishers are of no academic value due to the uncertainty surrounding the fidelity of the work that they publish. The predatory publishers themselves know this, which is why they make up fake impact factor scores for their “journals”.
In terms of strategies predatory publishers use, I’ve already talked about the OMICS corporation that uses a scatter-gun type approach to snare researchers. But following last year’s conference, I found out that other companies are much more sinister. In my spam filter was an email from David Publishing who were inviting me to publish my talk in one of their “journals”. This one was more convincing as it included the title from the talk that I gave at the conference (view email at this link).
Given the unsolicited nature of the email and the poor grammar, it was still clearly a scam email. But it’s a much more advanced scam than the one OMICS puts out. The attempt at personalising the email makes it much more likely to successfully mislead a researcher. Of course, all the sender would have done was trawl the book of abstracts and sent out emails to everyone who had an abstract in there.
It would have been nice if the conference organisers had emailed all authors to warn against this danger. If any of the work at the conference was published in a low quality journal, the authors would not be able to publish it in a real journal since double submission is frowned upon. That would be a shame.
A cursory search on the Google revealed that David Publishing is a predatory publisher. Amusingly, there was once a message on their front page claiming:
Recently, some authors have been cheated by another company (who told sent the emails in the name of our company but in fact it is not). In case more authors are cheated, please send your paper to us via the submission link as following: …
Understandably they are outraged by another company cheating authors, that’s supposed to be their job!
How do you avoid get sucked in? By doing your research. The very fact that a publisher is emailing you should be a sign of concern. Notice how all of the top journals don’t invite you to submit papers? That’s because they don’t need to. You should check the background of a journal that you are considering submitting to. Ask your supervisor and colleagues what they think. A whole raft of lists exists such as DOAJ, Publons, Think, Check and Submit and Open Access Journal Quality Indicators. Normally I would include Beall’s list, but it has been taken down and I discovered that he holds some un-nuanced views about open access:
Beall published an article arguing against the whole of open access publishing and not just predatory open access, claiming it to be an “anti-corporatist” [sic], “collectivist”, “cooperative” movement which wishes to “replace a free market with an artificial and highly regulated one”.
Beall has it backwards: predatory publishers are the inevitable result of the corporatist free market where self-interested individuals seek enrichment at any cost. Academic publishing is supposed to be cooperative and highly regulated. Articles usually have multiple authors, while peer reviewers voluntarily and anonymously scrutinise articles for quality. Legitimate open-access publishers should and do have these same basic features as closed-access publishers.
So long as predatory publishers are allowed to exist, researchers will continue to get caught out and the public will continue to lose confidence in science. Predatory publishers enable policy makers to use false information to make decisions or to validate their false ideologies. It is critical that all predatory publishers are named, shamed and denied our submissions. Governments and regulatory agencies must decisively try to shut them down for the good of society.