10 April 2017

One weird trick that would kill predatory journals

Another obviously bogus paper accepted got accepted by a junk journal. This is hardly news; barely a year goes by without someone demonstrating that some journals will publish any old crap. This one made the round because it had a lot of Seinfeld references. Marginally wittier than usual.

People continue to be (in my mind) disproportionately upset about junk journals. The Ottawa Citizen has been paying a surprising amount of attention to them for a city newspaper. One recent article argued that Canadian universities are tacitly permitting their faculty to publish in junk journals with no consequences:

In a study published in the current issue of the Journal of Scholarly Publishing, I find that the majority of research faculty in the business school at one Canadian university have publications in predatory journals. Well before the study was published, I made the dean, provost and others aware of this result. It did create friction with the dean, who did not appreciate my emails and other communications about the problem. However, the truly surprising reaction was that there was absolutely no attempt to discuss my findings, verify the problem or otherwise address the issue.  Indeed, the business school is currently preparing a performance metric that will count publications in predatory and legitimate journals equally. 

The main reason that junk journals can fool people (even some in relatively sophisticated academic environments in an industrialized nation) is that they can claim to be peer-reviewed. There is no simple way to know if a journal is peer reviewed, because those critical pre-publication reviews are normally confidential.

My “not at all novel” solution for how we could kill off junk journals is:

Publish the reviews.

Just the content of the review, not necessarily the identity of the reviewers. I don’t want to wade into the “signed” versus “anonymous” peer reviews right now. The goal is to demonstrate that the paper received substantive review, not who did it.

Real journals have the reviews to publish. Junk journals will have no reviews they can publish. The effort spent generating plausible fake reviews seems to be far too high for a junk journal to keep up the charade for long.

With that one change, whether a journal is truly peer reviewed (or not) is easily verifiable.

There have been many other people who have called for publishing reviews to be a more normal part of the publication process. There are many reasons to do this, but possibly shooting a poison dart in the direction of junk journals would be a nice side benefit.

External links

Hello…Newman: Yet another sting pranks a predatory journal, Seinfeld-style

‘Study about nothing’ highlights the perils of predatory publishing
Are universities complicit in predatory publishing?
How can we know if the journal is peer-reviewed?

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