Open-access trend has spawned for-profit journals of dubious merit
The subject line of the email seemed promising: “Invitation to submit/recommend manuscripts.” The message itself asked scholars to send or recommend papers to the Journal of Pro-poor Growth: An International Perspective, described as “a multidisciplinary referred [sic] publication dedicated to exploring contemporary forms of poverty.”
The sender was an online company, ESci Journals Publishing, and a check of its website revealed that it electronically publishes 10 titles on topics in disciplines ranging from entomology and virology to management and marketing. The geographical address for ESci is Defence [sic] Housing Authority, Islamabad, Pakistan.
Publishing to make money
The solicitation appears to be one of those open-access online publishers that librarian Jeffrey Beall identifies as “predatory.” Beall is the scholarly initiatives librarian at the Auraria Library in the University of Colorado, Denver, and he has gained international attention for identifying open-access scholarly journals that charge authors for publishing their work and have questionable peer review standards.
While page charges have been a tradition in academic journals for decades, they typically have been used to support exceptionally long articles or expensive illustrations, while the sponsoring society picks up most publishing costs. Predatory academic publishing differs in that the author is charged a fee for publishing the article and the publishers profit from the publication. The more articles they publish electronically, the more money they make.
Many of the publishers on Beall’s list are located in south Asia and West Africa. Some are located in Canada and the United States. He has identified and listed on his web site some 350 predatory publishing operations, as well as 200 stand-alone journals of questionable academic pedigree.
“It’s very easy to set up a publishing operation. There’s little upfront investment. All you need is a web site, unique journal titles, and an email address.”
Beall calls these operations the bottom tier of academic publishing, forgoing honest peer review and serving as vanity presses for unaware or pressured early-career scholars.
“These publishers have created a new kind of spam,” Beall said. “They locate a young scholar, praise an earlier work, and invite another article. It’s very effective.”
Agreed, says Holly Mercer, associate dean for scholarly communication and research services at UT Libraries. “It is absolutely true that there are a lot of publishers in the open-access environment who see an opportunity to make money. Faculty are sometimes desperate to publish, and some publishers take advantage of that.”
Poisoning scholarly communications
Librarians like Mercer and Beall have concerns about the impact predatory publishing will have on the academic enterprise. The articles the predatory journals publish will nonetheless appear in the databases of abstracting and indexing services like Scopus and Ebsco. The major database services, an industry unto themselves, do not make judgments about the quality of the research when they access and index scholarly articles.
“Predatory publishers threaten science and science education,” he said. “No peer review means that pseudoscience gets published. They are poisoning the scholarly communications system.”
Predatory publishing also threatens the careers of young academics who fall prey to these journals.
“Competition is generally healthy, but in their desperation to get published, competition can lead to ill-advised choices,” Mercer says. “Faculty have to understand and manage their online reputation. They need to ask themselves, ‘Is this publication venue where I want to have my name appear?’ “
UT’s Open Publishing Support Fund recently adjusted its rates to reflect the existence of for-profit publishers. Mercer notes that specialists at UT Libraries can help faculty identify legitimate venues in their disciplines.