Apr 09 2013

The dark side of open access journals?

The New York Times has an article on the rise of predatory, fake science journals — these are journals put out by commercial interests with titles that sound vaguely like the real thing, but are not legitimate in any sense of the word. They exist only for the resource that open access publishing also uses, the dreaded page charge. PLoS (a good science journal), for instance, covers their publishing costs by charging authors $1350; these parasitic publishers see that as easy money, and put up cheap web-based “journals”, draw in contributors, and then charge the scientists for publishing, often without announcing the page charges up front, and often charging much, much more than PLoS.

Nature has also weighed in on problematic journals, again emphasizing that it’s a bad side of open access. I think that’s the wrong angle; open access is great, this is a downside of the ease of web-based publishing, and is also a side-effect of the less than stellar transparency of accreditation of journals. There are companies that compile references to legitimate journals, and they are policing the publishing arena by refusing to index fake journals, but that isn’t going to be obvious to the reader.

One really useful resource, though, is this list of potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access journals. I notice that our old friend, The Journal of Cosmology, is listed, deservedly (I wonder if Jeffrey Beall, the author of the list, has had his face photoshopped onto pictures of obese women in bikinis as a reward?) It’s missing De Novo, the fake journal created by Melba Ketchum specifically to publish her Yeti DNA paper — but maybe that one isn’t threatening to sucker in authors, since it’s more of a vanity project.

I also notice that the major creationist journals aren’t on the list: Acts&Facts, the Answers Research Journal, and BIO-Complexity. Maybe it’s because they’re real journals?

Ha ha ha ha. Sorry, couldn’t resist. Scientist humor.

Maybe it’s because they’re so obviously fake and associated with such blatant ideological nonsense that no real scientist would be tempted to publish there.


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  1. 1

    My favorite from the list of fake journals was the ridiculously specific Inernational Journal of Innovative Research and Studies.
    I canot resist quoting their entire mission statement; it’s gold:

    International Journal of Innovative Research and Studies (ISSN: 2319 – 9725) is a brisk multidisciplinary educational research platform providing those individuals an ideal intricate opportunity to accomplish their desires who long for a refined betterment in their respective arenas. Designed to usher the sublimity around the globe we engage our noble efforts for the enlightenment of multidisciplinary issues contemplatively. We bring forth this electronic journal monthly and promote the vivid research entries with precise and apt touches and by bridging the gulf between perception and the inception.Join us to sail beyond horizons or to ride beyond stars for bring off contouring destinies.

    Sounds like science to me.

  2. 2

    Elsevier has an entire division that specializes in this sort of thing. I took an interview with them a few years ago — but the whole thing made me queasy, so it didn’t go anywhere.

    I call them “ham sandwich” journals, because you can get darn near anything published if you pay for it — just like ordering a ham sandwich at a restaurant.

    Elsevier touts these as “rapid turnaround” journals — 6 weeks from manuscript to publication. Peer review? Oh sure — just not too much “review”. They also had a lot of “volume 1, number 1″ journals, for which there was never a “volume 1, number 2″ issue. So many, in fact, that they took to numbering the first issue of such journals randomly — “volume 3, number 4″.

    Pharma companies would use them to get out results of studies that were important to their marketing plans, but not really all that scientifically interesting. Like the pharmacokinetics of a “me too” drug in healthy volunteers. Not bad science per se — just boring, repetitive, and sorta unnecessary.

    There is big money in this stuff. Huge. And Elsevier, of course, charges you $30 for each and ever article you want to download of this drek.

    They’re not the only offender in this regard … just the worst.

  3. 3
    UnknownEric the Apostate

    I guess I missed my opening to launch “The Journal of The American Association of Journaling Journal,” huh?

  4. 4
    chigau (違う)

    They claim to be publishing in English.
    [I wonder what it feels like to have your destiny contoured.]

  5. 5

    Just to clarify…determining the pharmacokinetics of a “me too” drug in healthy volunteers is required by the FDA as part of the drug approval process. It’s just unnecessary to publish those results in a peer-review journal. It has to be part of the package sent to the FDA, and it will appear in the drug label. But publishing the results? Meh. Only if there’s a “superiority” claim that the marketers want to make.

    Didn’t want to leave the impression that I thought Phase I clinical trials of drugs were not needed.

  6. 6

    Maybe it’s selection bias, but many of the science articles I’ve read from the NYT have been of questionable quality (I rarely read NYT). I can’t help but laugh as the pot calls the kettle black and wonder which important details they glossed over this time.

  7. 7
    PZ Myers

    Intricate opportunities, ushered sublimities, and contoured destinies? Fuck me, I want to read that journal.

  8. 8
    UnknownEric the Apostate

    contoured destinies

    I have one of those, right next to my Craftmatic Adjustable Bed.

  9. 9
    David Marjanović

    I regularly get spam that tells me to consider publishing in a journal with a ridiculously broad scope (say, science, humanities, and business).

    It’s remarkably short-sighted. Why would I want to publish in a journal with no impact factor (if only because it’s so new), a journal my colleagues don’t know and therefore won’t read, a journal with such a broad scope that pretty much nobody will read it, and then pay for the privilege?

    Elsevier touts these as “rapid turnaround” journals — 6 weeks from manuscript to publication. Peer review? Oh sure — just not too much “review”. They also had a lot of “volume 1, number 1″ journals, for which there was never a “volume 1, number 2″ issue. So many, in fact, that they took to numbering the first issue of such journals randomly — “volume 3, number 4″.


  10. 10
    chigau (違う)

    I expect one would not so much read the IJIRS as experience it.

  11. 11
    Andy Groves

    It is never a good sign when a publishing group keeps changing the e-mail domain it uses to send out its spam. It’s almost as if they were…. I don’t know….. trying to avoid spam filters.

    Yes, OMICS Group, I’m looking at you.

  12. 12
    Rich Woods

    @ChasCPeterson #1:

    I canot resist quoting their entire mission statement; it’s gold

    Bah, pathetic. Standards of gobbledigook have plummeted since Sokal.

  13. 13

    What about the journal Biosemiotics? Postmodern creationism if you ask me.

  14. 14
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Nature has also weighed in on problematic journals, again emphasizing that it’s a bad side of open access.

    Of course they have. Open Access is a threat to their extortion racket.

  15. 15
    Asher Kay


    I guess I missed my opening to launch “The Journal of The American Association of Journaling Journal,” huh?

    I’m still thinking of launching “The Journal of My Aunt Makes $910 Per Week Publishing an Open-Access Journal”

  16. 16

    Did anyone else check the list for a journal they’ve published in, just to be sure?

  17. 17

    Did anyone else check the list for a journal they’ve published in, just to be sure?


  18. 18


    Would it help if aggregators like scholar.google, anetminer, and citeseerx included citation ranks for journals instead of just authors and papers?

    By way of example, B.H. Liskov is a researcher summary while “Toward Principles …” is a summary of citations for a particular work. AFAIK, none of these treat journals as nodes in their ontology.

    Aggregating citations/citation-rates for a journal as a whole might provide useful signals to authors shopping around a paper. Caveat: Citation counts are not immune to abuse — detecting cliques in reputation systems is an open area of research.

  19. 19

    I keep getting emails from the “journal” of Agricultural Science and Technology, all because I presented a poster at a conference and they found the abstract. They don’t give up, even when I ignore their emails they send more asking why I haven’t replied.

  20. 20

    One of the reasons that these persist, is that it’s not just spam. There are academics out there that use these journals and dupe their university into thinking that they’re doing real research, to get tenure or a promotion. It’s stunning, but they can get away with it. Here’s some more I’ve written about it.


  21. 21

    Chas, sounds more like Google Translate to me…

  22. 22

    @#4 Probably an inverted shallowly sloping curve followed by a descending spiral.

  23. 23

    Biblical “Descent and Distribution” by Henry M. Morris IV (on Acts&Facts site)

    How many Henry M. Morrisses ARE there?! It’s like the “Saw” franchise. Even “Hostel” only has two sequels.


  24. 24

    Yup, this has nothing to do with open access and everything to do with editorial standards — a problem which afflicts plenty of subscription-only journals from major publishing houses, including some medical journals created for the sole purpose of getting drug-company studies into print. The problem with open access is funding. The problem with subscriber-only access is, well, access. Both approaches have pros and cons, and although I favour the open access model, there are plenty of smart subscriber-access journals that make their most important papers free access anyway.

    Hard to complain about the quality of open access papers in a universe that contains PLoS.

  25. 25

    A reminder that obscure journals are not necessarily con jobs. One of the earliest papers on what became chaos theory was published in “Tellus”. When, some years later, this paper triggered a tsunami of research, one researcher, in response to being questioned why he didn’t get a clue earlier, said simply “Who reads Tellus?”

  26. 26

    These bastards are tricky tho, and don’t limit themselves to journals. Conferences are even harder to vet. From the Herpdigest issue, April 9th:

    “Scientists who were recruited to appear at a conference called Entomology-2013 thought they had been selected to make a presentation to the leading professional association of scientists who study insects.
    But they found out the hard way that they were wrong. The prestigious, academically sanctioned conference they had in mind has a slightly different name: Entomology 2013 (without the hyphen). The one they had signed up for featured speakers who were recruited by e-mail, not vetted by leading academics. Those who agreed to appear were later charged a hefty fee for the privilege, and pretty much anyone who paid got a spot on the podium that could be used to pad a résumé.

    “I think we were duped,” one of the scientists wrote in an e-mail to the Entomological Society.

    Those scientists had stumbled into a parallel world of pseudo-academia, complete with prestigiously titled conferences and journals that sponsor them. Many of the journals and meetings have names that are nearly identical to those of established, well-known publications and events.”

    I still find it hard to believe such niche groups are worth duping, but I guess it’s effectively an effortless con…

  27. 27

    My only comment is that these people treat the word “open” the same way most software sites treat the word “free”, as in – “Not really, unless you pay for it, or with serious restrictions, which you have to pay to get around, or… well, we lied, but since you can’t get it any other way, tough shit!”

  28. 28

    Yeah. It’s a good thing legitimate journal publishers don’t do this sort of thing. Then you might end up with them seeing drug companies as easy money, and violating their principles to publish bespoke “journals” full of industry-funded, non-peer-reviewed studies and bundle them together with actual peer-reviewed journals, forcing libraries to pay for them and profiting again! I mean, maybe they’d even call it the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine or something. They definitely would never do that.

  29. 29

    such niche groups

    Don’t make the mistake of thinking that entomology is like herpetology or ichthyology or malacology or whatever. I mean, there are some people who study insect physiology or ecology or behavior for the sake of it, but then there is a huge contingent of ag-school entomology-department-trained insect killers, referred to (by an insect-ecologist friend of mine) as “nozzleheads”.
    Highly dupable. They might not even care.

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