The Emperor Has No Clothes: Predatory Publishers’ Days Are Numbered

 

With the exponential growth of the Open Access movement over the past decade, it is undeniable that major steps are underway toward broadening both the reach and availability of scientific research. But not every development has been a step in the right direction, and for some, Open Access has become synonymous with negative connotations. The most notable unfortunate byproduct of the boom in numbers and access to scientific journals has been the dramatic rise in predatory publishing.

Predatory Publishers can be defined as any publisher that operates on an exploitative business model, which can involve, among other things, charging fees to authors and other contributors without providing adequate peer review, misrepresenting personnel affiliated with the company, misrepresenting the company’s location, contacts , addresses, not providing archiving, plagiarism-checking, and not providing professional grade editorial and publishing services on manuscripts.

 The combination of the Open Access journal model along with an increased pressure for academics to prove their work by publishing more and being cited has created a prosperous environment for unethical practices looking to take advantage. By falsifying journal information, faking editorial board members, and hiding behind a general lack of transparency, predatory publishers have been able to prey upon the desperation of academics looking to act fast and get their names out there.  

With so many new journals flooding the field, it can be very difficult to tell the quality publishers from the fake.

In some instances, it is the authors themselves who are taking advantage of the system for their own benefit. With such a glut of new material, plagiarism of others’ easily accessible work has skyrocketed, and self-plagiarism, where an author uses one of the author’s own previously published articles as a template for “new” work with only minor changes is increasing.

As part of a mounting backlash against such practices, a growing movement on social media platforms works to highlight and inform the public on the actions and methods of predatory publishers. The twitter hash-tag #predatorypublishing has been effective in spreading the message through current events and academic articles relating to deceitful open access trends. Facebook is also becoming an instrumental battleground in addressing predatory publishing culture, with a dedicated watchdog group with more than 500 members that works to spread awareness of the problem and practices to academics from countries and backgrounds that might otherwise not know of such dangers.

The open platform of social media and blogs is helping academics to identify and root out the culprits. One of the most prominent leaders of this effort is Jeffrey Beall, a librarian and professor at the University of Colorado, Denver. His vigilant commentary on the scientific publishing field help many to stay abreast of the changes and developments at work, but perhaps his most important contribution has been in creating and maintaining a list of known predatory publishers for all to reference. Beall has established 52 criteria for determining if a publisher qualifies as predatory. These conditions range from distributing spam emails to falsifying details of journals’ editorial personnel. 

The open access movement in academic publishing is in a state of flux. The boom in growth, awareness, and access is founded in the needed press for all researchers to have a voice and platform through which to be heard and to learn. In time, a push for standards will establish an ethical and balanced playing field, and as more of these predatory publishers are identified every year, the honest and high-quality open access journals and publishers will become even more vital.  

"The Size of the Prize": Hidden Benefits of Open Data?

There is no question that Open Data brings enormous value to the scientific community worldwide. But Open Data can also provide myriad benefits to society at large, including significant economic growth in the private sector. That might seem counterintuitive in the business world, where proprietary information and “intellectual property” are zealously guarded. Yet it is the unmistakable conclusion of a study conducted by Capgemini Consulting for the European Data Portal (EDP).

 

The study, “Creating Value through Open Data,” provides compelling evidence of wide-ranging benefits accrued through the re-use of Open Data. And it confirms the wisdom of legislation that the European Union (EU28+) adopted in 2003, encouraging member states to pool metadata through the Public Sector Information (PSI) Directive.

 

Among the study’s findings is that member nations will gain almost 25,000 private-sector jobs by 2020 directly related to Open Data. As the data pool broadens and deepens, there’s an ever-greater demand for workers with the education, skills, and training necessary to manage it. In addition, by making this vast new pool of metadata easily accessible, the PSI Directive fosters innovation in a variety of industries, along with the development of new business models.

 

Open Data also provides benefits that transcend monetary value. Consider: The EDP study has concluded that access to Open Data leads to increased efficiency of public services, including traffic management. That could translate not only to improvements in the quality of life (the EDP study estimated that drivers could spend 629 million hours fewer hours per year stuck in traffic across the EU), but also to the actual preservation of life (improved traffic flow could result in 1,425 fewer fatalities per year in highway accidents).

 

The study also found that as many as 7,000 lives per year could be saved via quicker responses to medical emergencies that require resuscitation.

 

Among the study’s other notable conclusions is that “the workforce should be empowered to make the most of Open Data.” For that to occur, however, workers must have the necessary Information Communication Technology (ICT) skills. The current supply of recent graduates with such skills cannot meet the demand. That speaks to a need for universities to emphasize the importance of a baseline ICT education, regardless of a student’s professional aspirations.

 

Finally, the study emphasizes the importance of standardizing the way Open Data is analyzed, interpreted, and compared across different agencies and governments. In short, all countries need to use the same measuring stick. Only then can we collectively determine what a World Bank report on Open Data’s economic impact aptly termed “The Size of the Potential Prize.”

Buyer Beware: Are Some Impact Factors Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing?

One of the most important distinctions of an academic journal is the rate at which its articles are cited and shared by other academics in a particular year. In academia, this is called the “impact factor.” The impact factor of a journal is a measure reflecting the yearly average number of citations to recent articles published in that journal. The higher a journal’s impact factor, the better the chance that the articles will be circulated and the journal read.

It is best used as a broad measure of a journal’s validity, not necessarily used on an article-by-article basis. Newer journals can only receive a valid impact factor after three years of publication.  It is important to note that citation analysis is affected by field-dependent factors, which make comparisons across disciplines or between fields of research hard to validate.

But even with its limitations, impact factors remain the standard means the scientific publishing community currently has for comparing and highlighting the selective importance of certain research articles.

Unfortunately, along with the influx of predatory publications, the scientific community has seen the recent rise of fake impact factor companies, which attempt to manipulate impact factor numbers for selected publications. While falsifying a journal’s data may produce short-term results, using phony impact factors will eventually lead to permanent damage of a journal’s, publisher’s, and sometimes even an unwitting writer’s, reputation throughout the field.

As the world of Open Access continues to evolve and expand, falsified impact factor companies will continue to spring up and manipulate metrics to turn a profit. If enough of these companies form and operate undetected, it could significantly slow the successful progress of the Open Access movement and undermine the validity and purpose of impact factors in the first place. A key component of improving Open Access articles in the future is maintaining quality control. This is especially important in the scientific community, where new research can have a major impact on the global community.

Jeffrey Beall – a librarian and professor at the University of Colorado, Denver – is a leader in the academic watchdog community that works to monitor and identify these sham impact factor companies. He also runs and regularly updates a blog, Scholarly Open Access, which identifies more than a thousand publishers that he considers predatory and welcomes reactions from readers of the blog.

Although Open Access has come a long way since the movement began, predatory companies and an influx of false data provide serious obstacles to its progression. As long as sham impact factor companies attempt to skew the metrics of academic journals to turn a profit, academic watchdogs like Beall, the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA), and Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) are vital to keeping these corrupt influences in check. The more these unethical companies that can be identified and dismantled, the higher our quality of shared research and scientific discourse can be.

From Lemons to Lemonade — The Evolution of Open Access Publishing

When it comes to the production and publication of scientific study, we know two things to be true—there can be no substitute for properly researched, peer-reviewed, and ethically adherent papers; and Open Access is here to stay. There are many in the debate over the present state and future playing field of scientific journal publishing that would tell you that these two truths are mutually exclusive. After thirty plus years in scientific research, education, and consulting, we can tell you with utter assurance that they are not.

In the past few years, we’ve heard the Open Access movement referred to as the “wild west,” and as a “den of predators,” among other colorful epithets. At times, and in certain quarters, these are inarguably earned descriptors. The necessary unlocking of scientific reach and research has opened the floodgates for hucksters and conmen in both academic publishing and conferences from around the world. But the push for greater transparency and access to research has also opened the avenues of learning for countless scientists who had been disenfranchised and discarded based solely on their economic standing or country of practice. Now, and moving forward, anyone who has that brilliant idea might also have the opportunity to lend his or her voice to our mutual quest for knowledge.

So, what’s next? We’ve already seen the inevitable and necessary beginning of the crackdown on unethical practice in our field. This can and should continue as we mutually reach for a universal set of standards that begins to hold Open Access publishers to the same rigorous ethical codes as traditional publishers. We see the purpose of labeling certain journals and publishers as predatory, but see also that there are many journals and publishers that are learning and evolving as they grow. Some would strive for ethical practice if they could be shown the way, and the greater scientific community must be willing to give them a chance — if they’re openly committed to operating ethically — to earn their place among the hosts of respectable standards in research.

We believe that the “wild west” must be tamed, but that the vital resources that have been uncovered in that exploration can and will bring far more good than harm to our mutual endeavors. Out of yesterday’s manure grows today’s flowers…

The siloes of labs, universities, countries, and disciplines have begun to fall away as collaboration in study increasingly transcends the boundaries that historically stand between us.

After thirty years of our own research, teaching, and best practices consulting, and with the next thirty years in mind, we at Pro-Cure Health Design are excited and ready to do our part to help usher in the new era of scientific publication and partnership.       

"Bats Are really Cool Animals!" Teaching Academic Integrity

Great interview here from Retraction Watch (@RetractionWatch) about an adult submitting a child’s paper for publication (as an experiment) — and it being accepted: http://retractionwatch.com/2016/10/18/bats-are-really-cool-animals-how-a-7-year-old-published-a-paper-in-a-journal/.

The journal editor sent the manuscript back to the author to revise, and included plagiarized passages as suggested additions.

When do we start to teach academic ethics? In graduate school? In college? Either is probably far too late in life.

As a 6th grader (12 years old), my paper was plagiarized by a classmate. I suffered grave consequences, not the least of which was being accused of being the plagiarist.

Internally I must have made a vow to never let that happen to anyone again — probably why I became an editor, writing instructor, and consultant in best practices in publishing.

What’s noteworthy is that the incident was not used as a teachable moment about being ethical. No one asked why or how the plagiarism occurred. No one offered a code of acceptable behaviors in an academic community.

Some of us in the U.S. are old enough to remember the “Good Citizenship” modules in our elementary school classrooms. And for our parents, it was “Civics.”

That curriculum seems to have gone by the wayside — and if we look around us, we can see the gap that got created with its disappearance. Just check out our Presidential election.  *sigh*

What wasn’t included in that curriculum , though, was academic ethics and conscience.

How many academics will plagiarize unknowingly? How many knowingly, because they just don’t understand the gravity and impacts of it? How many editors and publishers will cut corners? How many will start unethical open access publishing enterprises because they haven’t learned how not to — or don’t care, and will take advantage of authors who haven’t been trained in what to expect from ethical publishers?

Let’s all look around us and see where we can be responsible for and support a higher level of integrity in the world of academic publishing.

It starts with each one of us.

"Bats Are really Cool Animals!" Teaching Academic Integrity

Great interview here from Retraction Watch (@RetractionWatch) about an adult submitting a child’s paper for publication (as an experiment) — and it being accepted: http://retractionwatch.com/2016/10/18/bats-are-really-cool-animals-how-a-7-year-old-published-a-paper-in-a-journal/.

The journal editor sent the manuscript back to the author to revise, and included plagiarized passages as suggested additions.

When do we start to teach academic ethics? In graduate school? In college? Either is probably far too late in life.

As a 6th grader (12 years old), my paper was plagiarized by a classmate. I suffered grave consequences, not the least of which was being accused of being the plagiarist.

Internally I must have made a vow to never let that happen to anyone again — probably why I became an editor, writing instructor, and consultant in best practices in publishing.

What’s noteworthy is that the incident was not used as a teachable moment about being ethical. No one asked why or how the plagiarism occurred. No one offered a code of acceptable behaviors in an academic community.

Some of us in the U.S. are old enough to remember the “Good Citizenship” modules in our elementary school classrooms. And for our parents, it was “Civics.”

That curriculum seems to have gone by the wayside — and if we look around us, we can see the gap that got created with its disappearance. Just check out our Presidential election.  *sigh*

What wasn’t included in that curriculum , though, was academic ethics and conscience.

How many academics will plagiarize unknowingly? How many knowingly, because they just don’t understand the gravity and impacts of it? How many editors and publishers will cut corners? How many will start unethical open access publishing enterprises because they haven’t learned how not to — or don’t care, and will take advantage of authors who haven’t been trained in what to expect from ethical publishers?

Let’s all look around us and see where we can be responsible for and support a higher level of integrity in the world of academic publishing.

It starts with each one of us.