Does this sound familiar? A new message appears in your inbox: the Questionable Journal of Mysterious Origins wants to publish your research! They promise a quick turnaround time and wide readership, increasing the potential impact of your work, all for the low, low price of $300-$3000! But is this really a deal you can’t refuse?
Predatory journal publishing is an increasingly pressing issue in higher education. A study out of Finland reports a significant increase in the number of articles published in predatory journals since 2010. Stories range from the sad, as marginalized scholars succumb to the pressure of publish-or-perish, to the absurd, with Marge Simpson’s foray into computer science. Most recently, the FTC is taking action, filing a civil complaint against one particularly large and pernicious predatory publisher.
What is predatory publishing and why is it spreading? Predatory publishers take advantage of the upsurge in gold Open Access (OA), a digital, peer-reviewed journal publishing model that offers free, online, public access to research, often, though not always, by transferring publishing costs to the author (via Article Processing Charges, or APCs). Many legitimate and highly competitive peer-reviewed journals (such as PLoS Biology and IEEE Access) operate under the gold OA model and levy APCs, which are frequently covered by research funders rather than individual authors. Open access has gained so much traction that, in 2013, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy directed federal agencies to develop public access plans, requiring recipients of federal funding to make both their articles and data publically accessible.
With any growing and potentially profitable market, however, comes the opportunity for scammers to exploit the system. Predatory publishers establish charlatan gold OA journals, charging APCs and producing online issues, without establishing or engaging in a rigorous peer review and editorial process. Essentially, they’re designed to take your money and run, copying and pasting your unedited work into poorly designed websites that, at best, may one day be crawled by Google Scholar. Yikes.
So, how does one filter out the sham journals from the legitimate publications? Jeffrey Beall of the University of Colorado Denver has long produced a directory of predatory journals known as Beall’s List. While this may be a good place to start, it must also be mentioned that Beall and his List have come under criticism of late for some arguably extreme anti-OA views. Furthermore, York University librarian John Dupuis and Barbara Fister from Inside Higher Ed point out that the obvious spam-like efforts documented by Beall and others distract us from the real problem: more underhanded and mainstream predatory practices employed by corporate publishers like Elsevier and Wiley.
Thus, as always and with any source, we recommend practicing what we preach to our students: think critically, evaluate, and verify. CUNY librarians Monica Berger and Jill Cirasella laid out the case for this more well-rounded approach, and both Grand Valley State University Library and the Directory of Open Access Journals have published comprehensive quality indicators to be used as part of a holistic review process. Authors can also enjoy all the advantages of open access while circumventing these concerns by opting for green OA, publishing their article in the journal of their choice and depositing a pre- or post-print copy in UW’s institutional repository, ResearchWorks.
Interested in publishing in a gold OA journal but hoping to avoid the pitfalls? Your subject librarians are here to help!