Fake Journals, Too

Myers beat me to the punch with his post on fake peer reviewers, so I’ll zag and mention the other side of the fence.

The rapid rise of predatory journals—publications taking large fees without providing robust editorial or publishing services—has created what some have called an age of academic racketeering. Predatory journals recruit articles through aggressive marketing and spam emails, promising quick review and open access publication for a price. There is little if any quality control and virtually no transparency about processes and fees. Their motive is financial gain, and they are corrupting the communication of science. Their main victims are institutions and researchers in low and middle income countries, and the time has come to act rather than simply to decry them.

Clark, Jocalyn, and Richard Smith. “Firm action needed on predatory journals.” BMJ 350.jan16 1 (2015): h210-h210.

How prevalent are these journals?

Over the studied period, predatory journals have rapidly increased their publication volumes from 53,000 in 2010 to an estimated 420,000 articles in 2014, published by around 8,000 active journals. Early on, publishers with more than 100 journals dominated the market, but since 2012 publishers in the 10–99 journal size category have captured the largest market share. The regional distribution of both the publisher’s country and authorship is highly skewed, in particular Asia and Africa contributed three quarters of authors. Authors paid an average article processing charge of 178 USD per article for articles typically published within 2 to 3 months of submission.

Shen, Cenyu, and Bo-Christer Björk. “‘Predatory’ open Access: A Longitudinal Study of Article Volumes and Market Characteristics.” BMC Medicine 13, no. 1 (2015): 230.

The rise of predatory journals is an unfortunate combination of the open-access model with the pressure to publish; young researchers desperate to get something on their CV are attracted to them or naive about their existence.

One of our findings is that authors who publish in so called “predatory” journals have little to no history of previous publications and citations. This may indicate that they are young researchers, which is indeed supported by the author information. [..]

The demands stimulate a multiplying of new OA journals, particularly in developing countries. A low submission acceptance standard provides an opportunity for non-elite members of the scholarly community to survive in the “publish or perish” culture found in both the West and many developing countries. Most of the “predatory” journals initiated and operated in the developing countries charge a fee affordable to local submissions, enabling researchers to publish quickly. Publishing in such journals is much less costly than conducting expensive studies and attempting to publish without fees in a prestigious foreign non-OA journal. This is by no means only an
open access problem, but is a prevalent dilemma in the current scholarly communication system.

Xia, Jingfeng, Jennifer L. Harmon, Kevin G. Connolly, Ryan M. Donnelly, Mary R. Anderson, and Heather A. Howard. “Who Publishes in ‘predatory’ Journals?” Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology 66, no. 7 (2015): 1406–1417.

You might think there’s an easy solution to this: do extensive research on any journal interested in your paper, and be suspicious of any journal that approaches you or isn’t up-front about costs. You’d be wrong, though.

During the last 2 years, cyber criminals have started to imitate the names of reputable journals that publish only printed versions of articles. [..]

Unfortunately, such fake websites can be created by almost anyone who has even minimal knowledge of how to design a website can do so by using open-source Content Management Systems (CMSs). However, we believe that the academic cyber criminals who are responsible for the propagation of hijacked journals are completely familiar with the academic rules of upgrading lecturers, qualifying Ph.D. candidates, and applying for admission to postgraduate programs or any professorship positions. These criminals may be ghost writers or they may be the experts who used to help scholars write and publish their research work before they decided to become full-scale “ghost publishers”. Whoever they are, it is apparent that they have the knowledge required to design a website and to hide their identities on the Internet. In addition, they definitely are familiar with authors’ behaviors, and they know that many of authors are in urgent need of publishing a couple of “ISI papers” (i.e. articles published in journals that are indexed by Thomson Reuters/Institute for Scientific Information-ISI) within a limited time. Therefore, the new version of academic cyber criminals knows what to do and how to organize a completely fake conference or hijack a printed journal.

Jalalian, Mehrdad, and Hamidreza Mahboobi. “Hijacked Journals and Predatory Publishers: Is There a Need to Re-Think How to Assess the Quality of Academic Research?” Walailak Journal of Science and Technology (WJST) 11, no. 5 (2014): 389–394.

These “hijacked” journals are good enough to fool experienced researchers.

One of our students submitted a manuscript to the International Journal of Philosophy and Theology. This is a prestigious peer-reviewed journal, founded in 1938 by Jesuit Academics at the University of Louvain in Belgium. Initially a Dutch language journal, Bijdragen, it was internationalized in 2013 and is now published by Taylor and Francis. Within a few weeks our student received a message from the journal that his contribution had been reviewed and accepted: the topic was relevant, the methodology sound, and the relevant literature engaged. His manuscript could be published rather quickly. As soon as the publication had materialized, the student received an invoice of $200 to be paid to a bank account in Bangladesh. [..]

Our first student did not know — and neither did we — that there are in fact two journals with the same name International Journal of Philosophy and Theology. The [fake] one refers to a fancy website with an impressive name: American Research Institute for Policy Development. This organization publishes 52 journals in areas such as Arts, Humanities and Social Science, as well as Science and Technology. The journals have fancy names, often identifying an international scope.

Have, Henk ten, and Bert Gordijn. “Publication Ethics: Science versus Commerce.” Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy, April 11, 2017. doi:10.1007/s11019-017-9774-1.

The fact that I’ve made this post just by quoting scientific papers should tell you there’s extensive literature on faux literature, from people much more knowledgeable than I. Unfortunately, that also means none of it offers easy solutions or quick fixes. At the root of it all is the “publish or perish” model of science, and unfortunately that’s firmly embedded in modern scientific practice.

We’re overdue for a complete overhaul of how science is done.