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Research & Scholarship

A Cautionary Tale about Predatory Publishers

September 3rd, 2014 by Anne Rauh

As the new academic year begins and kicks off a new season of academic and professional conference-presenting, it might be a good time to consider a brief cautionary tale about predatory publishers and how to avoid the various tricks of their nasty trade.

Two years ago, a librarian colleague of mine received an email from an assistant professor at SU, who realized that he had been scammed by a journal publisher. He had recently presented a paper at a conference, and soon afterwards was contacted by an individual from one of this publisher’s journals. This individual praised his paper and invited him to submit the manuscript for inclusion in an upcoming issue of the journal, and also offered him a position on the journal’s editorial board. At first, the manuscript request and editorial board invitation appeared legitimate, but when our faculty member received an invoice from the journal, charging him a substantial fee in return for publishing the article, he realized that he had been scammed.

This charge for publishing was entirely unexpected, and when our scammed faculty member began to research this journal, he forwarded some links to two disturbing articles that he had come across—the first, Bait-And-Switch Publishing: New Face Of Academic Fraud published by Farooq Kperogi in Sahara Reporters (August 13, 2011) and the second, Predatory Publishing published by Jeffrey Beall in The Scientist (August 1, 2012). He also encountered the following scam-warning issued August 21, 2012 by the list editor of H-NET (Humanities and Social Sciences Online), who reported that one of H-Net’s editors had issued a:

“warning of what could be termed a dubious business practice - others will come right out with it and call it a scam! - targeting academics who have presented at conferences. This has been around for a little while now, but they do seem to be sending out more emails. I thought this a good time to provide a warning, especially to those trying to get publications up.”

Included with this warning was an example of a scam letter that had been sent out from a journal called History Research. In this letter, the representative introduces the journal as a new academic journal published by David Publishing Company, states that they learned about the recipient’s paper at a recent conference, are very interested in publishing it, would like the recipient to send an electronic version of the manuscript, invites the recipient to be on the editorial board, and concludes with a description of the journal itself—e.g., where it is indexed, guidelines for authors (within which is embedded the phrase “If the paper is accepted by our journal, the author should finance some of the publishing costs”), peer review policies, editorial procedures, and requirements for the submission of manuscripts. This publisher’s strategy seems surprisingly similar to that encountered by our SU faculty member and, in fact, David Publishing Company was the parent company of the journal that had approached and scammed him!

Our faculty member also forwarded a link to a website— Scholarly Open Access—which I had never heard of at the time, but is now all too familiar (!). Since 2010, the site’s author, Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado-Denver (and author of the article about predatory publishers noted above) has maintained Beall’s List of “potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers.” And, as of August 12, 2014, the list included 600 such publishers. Mr. Beall’s site also offers several criteria for determining predatory open-access publishers including such alerts as noticing that the publisher:

  • Does not identify a formal editorial / review board for the journal
  • Does not provide academic information about the editor, editorial staff, and/or review board members (e.g., institutional affiliation)
  • Provides insufficient information or hides information about author fees, offering to publish an author’s paper and later sending a previously-undisclosed invoice The name of a journal does not adequately reflect its origin (e.g., a journal with the word “Canadian” or “Swiss” in its name that has no meaningful relationship to Canada or Switzerland
  • Selects a name for the journal that is incongruent with the journal’s mission and/or the name does not adequately reflect its origin (e.g., a journal with the word “Canadian” or “Swiss” in its name that has no meaningful relationship to Canada or Switzerland
  • Falsely claims to have an impact factor, or uses some made up measure (e.g. view factor), feigning international standing
  • Falsely claims to have its content indexed in legitimate abstracting and indexing services or claims that its content is indexed in resources that are not abstracting and indexing service

Complementing Beall’s astute observations about the workings of predatory publishers, is the fascinating study, The Writing Style of Predatory Publishers, co-authored by three colleagues from Cornell University—David Mathew Markowitz (Ph.D. candidate, Department of Communication), Jill H. Powell, Engineering Librarian, and Dr. Jeffrey T Hancock (Associate Professor, Departments of Communication and Information Science)—and presented at the June 2014 Annual Conference of the American Society for Engineering Education. “Given the recent attention to scientific misconduct,” they observe in their paper Abstract, “an important question is whether there are methods to detect predatory publishers from authentic ones.” Markowitz, Powell, and Hancock pursued this question by applying “an automated language analysis technique from the social sciences to examine how predatory and authentic journals differ in their writing style in the About Us and Aim/Scope sections of their websites.”

The findings of their study, which they state is the first to investigate predatory publishing “through an empirical social science lens,” reveal a set of “quantifiable linguistic and meta-linguistic indicators that can, to some degree, distinguish between predatory publishers and those journals that seek to publish honestly.” For example, they found that, compared to authentic journals, predatory journals:

  • Use more discrepancy terms (e.g., “should” “would”)
  • Use more positive emotions (e.g., “exciting”)
  • Use fewer function words, including articles (e.g., “a” “the”), and prepositions (e.g., “before ” “in”)
  • Use fewer quantifiers (e.g., “more” “less”)
  • Use fewer terms related to causality (e.g., “therefore”)
  • Use more third-party email addresses
  • Claim false impact factors
  • Fake rapid peer review
  • Simulate academic expertise

Two months after the Markowitz, Powell, and Hancock presentation at the American Society for Engineering Education’s annual conference, Tom Spears, science reporter for the Ottawa Citizen, published a piece called Respected medical journal turns to the dark side in their August 20, 2014 issue. In his piece (yet another example of predatory publishing that underscores the need for authorial vigilance), Spears reports:

A respected Canadian medical journal [Experimental & Clinical Cardiology] that was sold to offshore owners last year is now printing scientific junk for hire, but still trading on its original good name.” The journal’s new owners “say they are in Switzerland, but do their banking in Turks and Caicos. And for $1,200 U.S. they’ll print anything — even a garbled blend of fake cardiology, Latin grammar and missing graphs submitted by the Citizen.”

Apparently, the Ottawa Citizen tested this particular journal by sending in “an outrageously bad manuscript” that was a “hodgepodge of medical-sounding words adding up to nothing: “VEGF proliferation in cardiac cells contributes to vascular declension.” And, Spears observes that this publishing strategy “is paying off spectacularly. Experimental & Clinical Cardiology published 142 articles in July alone, worth a total of $170,000 U.S. for one month. It operates online only and doesn’t bother with editing, so it has almost no costs.”

Along with our authors noted above—Kperogi, Beall, Markowitz, Powell, and Hancock— Spears, too, has been “on to” these predatory publishers for a while, and last April shared with his readers some succinct Tips for spotting ‘predatory’ journals:

  • Bad ones are often listed on Beall’s List of Predatory Publishers. Good ones are often on the Directory of Open Access Journals.
  • Look at their websites. The predators use poor English and have shadowy contact information — often just a gmail account in a generic name like “editor@.” The editor-in-chief’s name is misspelled.
  • Archives are brief. These journals come and go — bad news for a researcher who hopes to leave a paper online permanently.
  • The website has prominent instructions about how to send money to a bank in India, China or Nigeria.
  • You submit an article and it passes peer review in a day. The website then falsifies the submission date to hide this.
  • Authors must do their own layout.
  • A journal lists an office in Canada and you ask to come in and meet the editors, but the answer is a firm No.

Sadly, it is becoming clear that predatory publishers are not going to disappear any time soon, and the moral of this cautionary tale is to become a vigilant author. As your academic year unfolds, and your conference-presenting heats up, please be aware that there are hundreds of nasty predatory publishers all over the world just waiting to trick you into submitting your manuscripts and taking your money—and then laughing all the way to their bank (wherever it is).

Author: Marty Hanson

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