Here at Gradifying, we have been discussing the topic of academic publishing for the last three weeks. If you’ve engaged in the publication process, you’ve likely struggled with each of the issues that we’ve discussed: figuring out how to think about the impact factors; whether to publish in an open-access or paid-access journal; and what in bloody hell are these cover letters we sometimes have to write when we want to submit a manuscript. There’s another issue that has probably slid right past your radar. In fact, you might just think I’m being silly because academia is a place of integrity. Perhaps it is true that there is some objective level of integrity in academia that surpasses other areas, but there is a new buyer-beware warning: Not only are there unscrupulous journals, some are just downright fake. This post is going to explore the underbelly of peer-viewed journaling, and we’ll close out with a couple of tells that will help keep you from supporting an unethical business at best, and at worst wasting your money (… actually, we could debate which is worse).
Open-access journals have been gaining prominence for a decade. As of 2011, articles submitted in fully open-access journals constituted 11% of all articles published worldwide (Van Noorden, 2013). The fundamental goal of open-access journals is to create access to science without cost to the reader. However, publishing does not happen for free and the predominant model is for the author to pay a fee to publish. This, unfortunately, opens the door for journals to exploit the process. The result is a high number of journals that tout the peer-review process, but do not in practice evaluate and screen manuscripts. In an effort to expose fraudulent journals Bohannon, using a made-up name affiliated with a made-up institute, submitted a bogus article with flaws so flagrant that “any reviewer with more than a high-school knowledge of chemistry and the ability to understand a basic data plot should have spotted. Its experiments are so hopelessly flawed that the results are meaningless” (Plunk, 2013). He submitted his sham article to 304 open-access journals, 157 of which accepted it. Of the 106 journals that performed a review of the paper, 70% accepted it with only 36 of them providing any review comments.
There are a lot of startling findings from Bohannon’s sting operation. The question for us then becomes, how can we avoid these predator journals? Esfe, Wongwises, Asadi, and Akbari (2014) give several suggestions for identifying fake journals. For example:
1. The website looks shabby and the submission format is simplistic.
2. The scope of the journal is either very broad or all together unspecified.
3. They don’t have a revision or peer-revision process.
4. The elapsed time between manuscript submission and acceptance is very short.
5. They don’t mention the fee to publish up front, but rather notify the author(s) in a separate letter.
The peer-review process is by no means perfect. However, good science breeds good science, and it is all of our responsibility to uphold the integrity of the process. That now includes being responsible about where we seek to disseminate our research.