Academic professionals who wish to advance in their fields of expertise may feel pressure to publish the results of their research without delay. Getting an article or research paper accepted by a prestigious or high impact journal, whether in print or online, is no easy task and may take a long time, sometimes years, from submission to publication. In frustration, academics may be tempted by journals, mainly online, which promise to publish their articles for a fee, often within a month. Essentially there is nothing wrong with “pay to publish”, or “open access” (OA) journals and many credible journals offer this option. (See Public Library of Science [PLOS] and others mentioned below.) As editors we must be aware of the fact that many of these journals are predatory. We must be alert to the problems these possibly charlatan publishers pose for our clients. While it is impossible to vet every journal, we should be as well-informed as possible in order to guide those who seek our professional services.
Predatory open-access journals have been making the news for some years and the problem has mushroomed with the ever-expanding use of the Internet. When considering article submission, the mushrooms should be sorted from the toadstools. Our clients should be aware of certain red flags. Persistent solicitation to publish papers is one; continuous requests to serve as reviewers might be another. It is not enough that one may see the name of well-respected fellow academics listed as members of editorial boards because these names may have been procured by subterfuge and these academics may not even be aware of the appointment.
Evidence for the importance and the prevalence of the problem is established by numerous articles that have appeared recently. An article published in 2012 by Michael Stratford in Chronicle of Higher Education highlights this problem and cautions authors. Gina Kolata, writing in The New York Times, also dealt with this problem in an article published in April 2013. Jeffrey Beall, a research librarian at the University of Colorado in Denver, has a blog, Scholarly Open Access. Here he presents a list of “potential, possible or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers,” a list which he endeavours to keep current. In his blog of Tuesday 14th May 2013, Beall comments: “Be wary of all OA journals.” One glaring example of the shoddiness of these journals is cited by Peter Aldhous who reported in the New Scientist as long ago as September 2009 that Bentham Science Publishers accepted a nonsense computer generated article. They claimed that it had been peer-reviewed and asked a publishing fee of $800.
Selecting the target journal for an academic article is the authors’ job. From their reading, authors usually know the major journals in their field. On the other hand, there are many niche journals and interdisciplinary journals that might also be suitable but are less well-known. Springer, a major publisher of academic journals, offers suggestions and practical direction for finding an appropriate journal. Declan Butler in his article “Investigating journals: the dark side of publishing” (Nature, 27 March, 2013) writes about the problem of predatory journals and includes a checklist on “How to perform due diligence before submitting to a journal or publisher.”
I wrote to The Public Library of Science, an open-access journal which operates through funding from several sources including the Wellcome Trust, a very prestigious philanthropic organization. I asked if they had any specific advice for editors and their clients on how to avoid the trap of predatory journals. I mentioned that one of the danger signals seemed to be speed of publishing, but this site also promises to publish promptly. The correspondent from the Public Library of Science offered the following comment and suggestion:
Unfortunately, there isn’t a perfect solution because like subscription journals there is no organization that polices organizations for OA publishing (and predatory publishers). As you may be aware Open Access journals are currently experiencing enormous growth, both in volumes of articles published and in number of journals. A small number of these journals are dodgy. Maintaining an up to date “blacklist” would be an impossible task. Maintaining a “whitelist” is a much more sensible approach. OASPA (Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association) has a code of conduct and OASPA membership is a good signal of probity. In addition to OASPA, COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics) membership is another way to separate the good from the predatory (personal communication, April 24, 2013).
For editors as well as authors there are many organizations that are known to be trustworthy and can give guidance as to the quality of OA journals. For example, if an article is directed at the medical community, an editor can help the author find reputable journals at the National Library of Medicine website. There is a link to National Centre for Biotechnology whose website has a list of journals. Other professions have parallel organisations.
In addition, there is a Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). This organization aims at:
increas[ing] the visibility and ease of use of open access scientific and scholarly journals, thereby promoting their increased usage and impact. The DOAJ aims to be comprehensive and cover all open access scientific and scholarly journals that use a quality control system to guarantee the content. In short, the DOAJ aims to be the one stop shop for users of open access journals.
There are numerous editors’ organizations that can provide additional information for paid members. Forums can provide information from professionals who may have had experience with specific OA journals. Two examples are: The World Association of Medical Editors (WAME) and The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP).
The phenomenon of predatory journals is growing. Before submitting an article to any journal, the author should check the credentials of the journal with as much due diligence as possible, making enquiries from multiple sources. However, the editor, as a professional dealing with many articles and many submissions, might be more aware of the pitfalls and dangers of some journals and can be the one to direct the authors’ attention to these problems. Editors want to help their authors so they should not be afraid to ask questions of their colleagues, librarians or publications which are known to be legitimate.