Sunday, 5 February 2012

How to Avoid Shaming Yourself and Your Field in the Academic Online Open Access Publishing Jungle

This is a post that follows up on two former ones (here and here) about how the new possibilities for easily setting up online open access academic journals create not only exciting opportunities for publishing and spreading important research results, but also a murky layer of sub-standard and outright scam operations. This has become an important issue for two reasons: First, these operations threatens the hole credibility of academic research, not least by providing incompetent, second-rate wannabe academics, or people who want to use the academic insignia as a cloak, e.g., for political opinion work, with a surface impression of respectability. This, in turn, connects to the next point, that for most people – also experienced academics – it is very difficult to keep track of and identify these operations – witnessed, for instance, by the fact that a fair share of them agree to be on bogus editorial boards for journals that do not even have an operationally responsible managing editor. This second problem becomes particularly acute, however, for young, aspiring academics and researchers, who try to navigate their early careers in an environment where the pressure to be published in peer-reviewed, international (= English language) journals is ever growing, and where most national funding bodies now demand publications coming out of projects they fund to be open access.

So, this post is meant as a help primarily for this latter group, but also for supervisors who are asked questions about this by students, PhD candidates, post docs and so on, but may not have been as busy keeping themselves up to date on this matter as they nowadays need to be. I'll do two things here, mainly. First, I'll list a few indicators, each of which providing sufficient reason to avoid an online open access journal at all cost, or at least be very, very wary of publishing there or lending it your services in other ways. In effect, several of these apply also to opportunities for being awarded a position on an editorial board, perform peer review work, and so on. Second, I'll cross-post some things from other blogs and provide some useful links that I was made aware of thanks to the response on my last post on this matter from bioethics prof. colleague Leigh Turner on Twitter.

1. Indicators for avoiding an online open access publishing opportunity
  •  The journal has no ISSN number.
  • You receive a generic email asking you to submit an article to the journal (Note: editors working on special issues may sometimes solicit submissions, but in those cases the emails are personal).
  • Colleagues you trust receive said sort of emails
  • The journal has no information about indexing on its website
  • The journal lists Google Scholar as one of the indexes that track it (Google scholar is a useful tool for analysing online impact and availability in a wide sense, but it is not an academic quality indicator for journals – Google Scholar lists just about anything academic-ish to be found online)
  • The journal is not indexed by either any of the discipline-specific indexes you know of (such as "Philosopher's Index" in my case), or by general quality indexes, such as the Web of Knowledge citation indexes (ISI, SSCI, AHCI). Note that a very new journal may not yet be indexed, but still be OK, check the other points for assessment in that case!
  • The journal displays statements or signs giving an impression that it is "considered for", "tracked for" or "unofficially" tracked by some index of the type mentioned above.
  • The journal has no actual person as acting or managing editor, or editor-in-chief.
  • The journal promises very fast (1-4 days) peer review and publication process
  • None or very few people on the editorial board are people known to you as respected people in your branch of specialisation and don't appear to be obviously worthy of such respect after an internet search of their publication record
  • You may also perform searches to check how articles published in the journal are being cited outside of this journal and this and other similar publishers. The less external citation, the less credibility.
2. List of Online  Open Access Publishers to Avoid, plus some further facts
So, Leigh sent me a link to this rather amusing post describing how far it may go with the sort of operations we are talking about here: editorial board members on these journals may not even be real people! Perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised, then, that journals such as these have no problem accepting and publishing bogus computer generated gibberish papers (as long as the OA fee is paid) – eventually leading to the resignation of the editor! (thanks Leigh, again!) And here's a blog post on two online open access publishers notorious for spamming. But the pure gold that Leigh sent me was this list, originally posted at the Metadata Blog – here cross-posted in its entirety:

Beall's List of Predatory, Open-Access Publishers
by Jeffrey Beall
2012 Edition

Predatory, open-access publishers are those that unprofessionally exploit the author-pays model of open-access publishing (Gold OA) for their own profit. Typically, these publishers spam professional email lists, broadly soliciting article submissions for the clear purpose of gaining additional income. Operating essentially as vanity presses, these publishers typically have a low article acceptance threshold, with a false-front or non-existent peer review process. Unlike professional publishing operations, whether subscription-based or ethically-sound open access, these predatory publishers add little value to scholarship, pay little attention to digital preservation, and operate using fly-by-night, unsustainable business models.

An asterisk (*) indicates that the publisher is appearing on this list for the first time.

          This bogus, Nigeria-based publisher has been around for years, and continues to increase its journal fleet of over one hundred titles from all areas of study. Seeking legitimacy, it falsely associates itself with authentic organizations and conferences.

          One of several Faisalabad, Pakistan-based publishers (likely one outfit with several brands), this publisher claims to be headquartered in New York. Its tag line is "Converting research into knowledge," but it ought to say, "Converting research into cash" (for the publisher).

          This publisher, caught here in its formative stage, only has two titles. The main page invites proposals for new journal titles. Full of contradictions, this site is confusing. Its content appears to be open access, but it lists a subscription fee of $400 per year. On one of its editorial board pages it says, "Elite panel members have a decision weight equivalent of two referees," so if you know one of these elite members, you're in luck. 

          Another of the Faisalabad, Pakistan-based brands of open-access journals, this one ironically describes itself saying "Asian Network for Scientific Information is a leading scientific publisher and pinior [sic] in electronic publication in Asia." I think they mean "pioneer." This typo is but one example of the errors and unprofessionalism this publisher presents to the world with each page view.

          Among the first, large-scale gold OA publishers, Bentham Open continues to expand its fleet of journals, now numbering over 230. Bentham essentially operates as a scholarly vanity press.

          A new publisher with a ridiculous name, this operation is known to list scholars on its journals' editorial boards without their knowledge or permission.

          Although this publisher purports to be headquartered in Libertyville, Illinois, United States, it actually appears to operate out of China. The home page shows a view of the Libertyville Industrial Park, the supposed home of the operation, as if to prove it operates in the U.S.

          This New Zealand-based medical publisher boasts high-quality appearing journals and articles, yet it demands a very high author fee for publishing articles. Its fleet of journals is large, bringing into question how it can properly fulfill its promise to quickly deliver an acceptance decision on submitted articles.

          Late to the party, this publisher currently has nine titles, but I fully expect it to expand its fleet. The site says that all of its journals will publish their inaugural issues in July, 2011, but as of this writing (late November, 2011) all remain devoid of content. 
          This publisher purports to be headquartered in the U.K. with offices in North America and Singapore, but it really is a storefront type operation based out of Faisalabad, Pakistan.

          This bogus publisher of 12 journal titles says it's headquartered in Irvine, California. Its fleet of journal titles all begin with "Journal of Advanced Research in ..." The domain name registration does show an Irvine address, but at an apartment. Only a few of the titles have any content, but to view what little content there is, one must register with the site and agree to its terms and conditions, which I refused to do. Is a publication still considered open access when the hosting site requires registration? An organization that self-identifies as an institute when it is really just a money-making scheme is fraudulent.

          The subject of much recent debate, this Croatia-based publisher looks and acts like an innovative, scholarly publisher. However, looking under the clever disguise reveals only a sophisticated vanity press, an enterprise where anybody can, for a price, get their work published in a journal or as a monograph.

          I only recently was alerted to this open-access publisher. Its fleet has 82 journal titles, including -- perhaps appropriately -- the "International Journal of Nuts and Related Sciences." Based apparently in Dubai, the "instructions for authors" page warns, "After Acceptance authors have to pay the processing handling charges," but the charges aren't listed.  More information may be available from an unnamed editor at

          Another Nigeria-based operation, this publisher is notable (in a negative way) for its interesting journal issue covers (most are created from pirated photographs), and for the Gmail addresses its employees all use. The absurd banner on its main page shows a picture of part of a duckling swimming in a lake.

          If you love advertising, you'll love this site, for its main purpose is to make money from click-through ads. A one-man operation based out of Texas, its journal titles all begin with the phrase, "The Internet Journal of ..." It claims to be the largest independent, online medical publisher, but that claim conveniently ignores article quality, which is quite low.

Knowledgia Scientific (formerly Knowledgia Review)
          Another Pakistan-based publisher (with some possible ties to Malaysia), this firm has around a dozen titles, but some have very little content. Also, some of its journals lack editors and list only a few people on their editorial boards. Currently, this publisher's website claims the firm is waiving all author fees, but I remain suspicious. Are there hidden charges? The lack of content, skipped volume numbers, and the waiving of author fees are indicators of a publisher that is failing.

          The tag line under the name on this publisher's page is "Freedom to research." It might better say "Freedom to be ripped off." Based in New Zealand, this medical and scientific publisher boasts about the number of page views and downloads the articles in its eighty journals have had. Its author fees are high.

          Another Pakistan-based outfit, this one makes its 34 journals open access but also offers print subscriptions, if you desire to pay for them. A slick operation with an online manuscript submission system, this publisher has been successful at attracting submissions. It's "contact us" page only yields a form, and no contact or geographical information is given. Always be wary of open-access publishers that give less than full contact information, including location, telephone numbers, email addresses, etc. At the same time, be aware that many publishers misrepresent their true business locations.

          This publisher's name plays off the terms "genomics" and "proteomics." It hosts about 200 journal titles, many lacking any articles. As a side business, the publisher also organizes and hosts conferences. The contact page lists offices in the United States, Australia, and India. Its pages have Facebook "LIKE" buttons and its home page falsely claims an association with EBSCO Publishing and with other publishers and organizations.          

          This new publisher of five journals purports to be from "P.O. Box 3423, CT, 06460, United States of America" and cleverly uses the Greek letter β (beta) to indicate the English letter b in its title. A check of the domain name registration does indicate a Milford, Connecticut address. Still, the unidiomatic use of English throughout the site points to a non-U.S. operation: "Call for the papers," "Instructions for the authors," etc. Many of the papers deal with Nigeria, so it's likely this publisher is yet another Nigeria scam.  

          This publisher has a fleet of 28 journals, and most of their titles begin with the phrase, "American Journal of ..." Its "contact us" page is merely a web form, and no contact or geographical information is given. The journal titles lead one to believe the publisher is North America-based, but it could be from almost anywhere, and in fact is likely not from North America.

This publisher's fleet of 18 journals all try to show legitimacy by having titles that begin with "American" or "British" or "International." Any journal that begins with these terms must be respected, right? The "contact us" page is chiefly a web form, but the site does list three offices, one in the U.K., one in the U.S., and one in India. The site uses the "pool reviewers" method of peer review. Although the journals do have nominal editorial boards, there is really just one big editorial board for all the publisher's journals and reviewers are supposedly selected from that big list to review each submission. Looking at individual articles, I notice that the period between submission and acceptance is generally two weeks, an indication of bogus or nonexistent peer review.
          This Saint Cloud, Minnesota-based publisher is essentially a one-man operation that employs many non-standard publishing practices. For example, the entire site has an ISSN number, and the large editorial boards are organized not by journal but by broad discipline. Also, individual journals lack editors in chief. It was reported earlier this year that the entire operation is up for sale.

          This publisher, like the Institute of Advanced Scientific Research, claims to be based in Irvine, California (it lists a PO box number and an email address, but no telephone number). It has over one hundred journal titles, most having started publication in 2009, and has managed to attract numerous article submissions. This high number may be because of the publisher's relatively low author fees: $300 for the first ten pages, and $50 for each additional page, a policy that also encourages shorter papers. The journals each list large editorial boards, with members from all over the world, especially China. Indeed, the pricelist (for those desiring hardcopies of the journals), lists the prices in both U.S. and Chinese currency. This publisher also publishes books and conference proceedings. I found its servers to suffer from a slow response time.

Recommendation: Do not do business with the above publishers, including submitting article manuscripts, serving on editorial boards, buying advertising, etc. There are numerous traditional, legitimate journals that will publish your quality work for free, including many legitimate, open-access publishers.

If you are involved in any form of scholarly evaluation such as, hiring, tenure / promotion review, or grant funding, be skeptical of articles published by any of these publishers listed above. Reading a list of publications or a vita, it is very difficult to distinguish legitimate journals from the illegitimate ones. One of the tricks the sham publishers use is to assign authentic-sounding and appearing titles to their journals. The presence of these bogus publishers has changed the task of scholarly evaluation, which now needs a keener eye to discern articles published in fraudulent journals.

Watchlist: We do not consider the following publishers to be predatory, open-access publishers, but they may show some characteristics of them, and we are closely monitoring them.

          Based in Cairo, Egypt, this publisher is now on its own after its collaboration with the publisher Sage ended in 2011. This publisher has way too many journals than can be properly handled by one publisher, I think, yet supporters like ITHAKA boast that the prevailing low wages in Egypt, as well as the country's large college-educated, underemployed workforce, allow the company to hire sufficient staff to get the job done. Still, this publisher continues to release new fleet startups of journals, each group having titles with phrases in common: Advances in ... (31 titles) and Case Reports in ... (32 titles). It appears that Hindawi wants to strategically dominate the open-access market by having the largest open-access journal portfolio.

          This publisher was on the main list last year. It is the publisher for many well-respected Indian professional societies and is disseminating abundant, high-quality research. However, its business model is vague and unproven: it provides free HTML versions of articles but charges for the PDF version. Also, it needs to improve its web presence. Many of its journal websites referred to the publisher as a publisher of "Sports, technology, and medicine" (STM) journals, instead of "Science, technology, and medicine," the correct term.

          This Italian publisher has some of the qualities of a legitimate publisher and some of a predatory one. It has about fifty journal titles, some with intriguing names like Wine Studies and Antiqua. On the other hand, visitors to the publisher's website will encounter sloppy housekeeping in the form of dead links, and a prominent link to PayPal on every journal's home page, supposedly for the author fees but giving the publisher's real motive away. The publisher claims its content is "indexed" in SherpaRomeo, but that isn't an indexing service. PAGEPress needs to clean up its act.

          Based in Poland (with a contact address in London, U.K.), this publisher claims to be the second-largest open-access publisher in the world, with over 200 open-access journals in its fleet. Versita Open publishes some of its titles on behalf of learned societies in Central and Western Europe. The frightening thing about an operation this large is the amount of time and resources it takes to edit a single peer-reviewed journal is multiplied in this case by 200. Versita also has for-profit publishing operations, but it appears to be slowly flipping its model to gold open-access for journals. Moreover, Versita Open also sells its open-access titles in print form, by paid subscription. Versita Open claims that there are no author fees for most of its open-access journals, so its business model is unclear. Are its for-profit titles subsidizing its open-access ones? Do the societies pay all the cost of publishing the society journals on the Versita Open platform? We think few in the U.S. have even heard of this firm, so it will be interesting to see how it progresses, and we hope it evolves into a respected open-access publisher.