23 January 2013

Science Online 2013: “Open access or vanity press” appetizer

Recently, I got an email that began:

You are invited as a reviewer/a member of editorial board/an editor-in-chief of [Journal name].

Are you for real? Reviewer or Editor-in-Chief. You know, whatever. It’s cool.

For working scientists, this is something that rings alarm bells. It’s simply not the way business is done at other journals. But is that necessarily bad? This turns out to be a particularly timely example of issues related to one of the sessions I’ll be moderating at Science Online 2013 next week. Chris Gunter and I will be co-moderating the session, “Open access or vanity press?” Here is a warm-up, an opening gambit, an appetizer...

The OA Interviews: Ahmed Hindawi, founder of Hindawi Publishing Corporation - Open and Shut? (17 September 2012)

The speed of Hindawi’s growth, which included creating many new journals in a short space of time and mass mailing researchers, led to suspicion that it was a “predatory” organisation. Today, however, most of its detractors have been won round and — bar the occasional hiccup — Hindawi is viewed as a respectable and responsible publisher.

Nevertheless, Hindawi’s story poses a number of questions. First, how do researchers distinguish between good and bad publishers in today’s Internet-fuelled publishing revolution, and what constitutes acceptable practice anyway?

If you read only one thing in preparation for the session, I suggest the introduction to this interview. It’s 20 pages long (not the introduction and interview, the introduction alone), but it is comprehensive and substantial interview that deserves the “#longreads” hashtag. But that introduction is one of the best descriptions of the issues around the problems of legitimacy of open access publishing that you will find.

If you’re looking for a shorter synopsis, perhaps this one pager will work for you.

As Open Access Explodes, How to Tell The Good From the Bad and the Ugly? - Enserink M. 2012. Science 338(6110): 1018. DOI: 10.1126/science.338.6110.1018

Picking the right journal has always been difficult, but the plethora of new open access (OA) journals — and the increasing pressure from funders to publish in them — has made the choice even more daunting.

If you want to move from theory to practice, and how this plagues working researchers, especially people early in their careers, check this two part story at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! It encapsulates the problem in a nutshell:

Predatory Open-Access Journals? - Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! (12 July 2012)

So I submitted to this journal, after looking up some of their papers and a few people that have published there and convincing myself it wasn’t a flat-out scam.

One day after I submitted, I got an email asking me to review my own article. I know, right? How could that ever happen with a legitimate journal? ...

Then, this morning, I got final acceptance of the manuscript and I’m not sure what to do.

Predatory Open-Access Journals: Part 2 - Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! (14 July 2012)

There were many good reasons, in my mind, to just do it – it was peer-reviewed, my article and software are sound (though a minor contribution) and I would like closure on this project I finished a year ago. It turns out, there are some even better reasons not to publish with this journal.

That pair of posts sort of sums up the conundrum. Going back some time, we find some ways that people have assessed quality by other means.

Adventure in open access publishing - The Scholarly Kitchen (12 March 2009)

Just how desperate was this publisher for a manuscript? Would they accept just any submission as long as I was willing to pay their $800 publication fee? I decided to embark on a little experiment.

While this experiment did not result in acceptance, a second, similar experiment did.

Open Access Publisher Accepts Nonsense Manuscript for Dollars - The Scholarly Kitchen (10 July 2009)

This is a key story that was widely reported and contributed to the poor reputation of open access journals.

The publisher that fell victim to the first hoax in 2009, Bentham, has also received other poor press for perpetually bugging people.

Really sick of Bentham Open Spam - Phylogenomics (30 June 2009)

This is basically a form of SPAM as they send these out to people no matter what the connection is to the journals field.

For $&%# sake, Bentham Open Journals, leave me alone - Phylogenomics (19 November 2009)

The most annoying part to me of Bentham Open is that they try to make it seem that anything published in an Open Access journal is better than anything published in a non Open Access journal. While I personally believe publishing in an OA manner is great, lying about the benefits of OA is not a good thing.

The rise of science spam - Neuroskeptic (27 November 2012)

If you are resorting to spam to get to people to write for your journal, I don’t ever want to read it and will never cite anything published in it.

Even if you were only angling for readers, I’d be suspicious of your integrity, but to spam for people to submit to you is absurd. Even mediocre journals nowadays get far more submissions than they can ever print. So if your journal isn’t even mediocre enough to attract people then you have a real problem.

This raises the question, though, of how a new journal can ever gain legitimacy. Even PLOS ONE, a success by most standards you’d care to name, was new once.

The Bentham case in 2009 was not the only example of a hoax paper accepted for publication. Another occurred last fall.

Mathgen paper accepted! - That’s mathematics! (14 September 2012)

I’m pleased to announce that Mathgen has had its first randomly-generated paper accepted by a reputable journal!

Math Journal Accepts Nonsense Paper Generated by Computer Program - Geekosystem (19 October 2012)

(I)t’s randomly generated nonsense – grammatically accurate sentences penned by a computer program that have no mathematical merit, so seriously, don’t feel bad if it doesn’t make sense to you. You know who should feel bad, though? The person at the open access math journal Advances in Pure Mathematics who accepted this paper for publication.

Analyzing the math paper hoax, Bob O’Hara thinks molehills are made into mountains.

Open Access: credit where it’s due - GrrlScientist (26 October 2012)

The journal that accepted the randomly-generated paper is published by SCIRP, and is on Jeffrey Beall’s List of Predatory, Open-Access Publishers. In other words, we know from their behaviour that they essentially act as vanity publishers for scientists. Based on the number of spam emails I receive from them, I suspect they’ve managed to become quite well known for this. Which means that nobody will think highly of a paper published in one of their journals, so very few scientists will want to submit a paper to them: you simply don't get any credit from your peers for publishing there &ndash indeed, they may even laugh at you behind your back.

Jeffrey Beall, who is mentioned above, is one of the names that comes up most frequently in discussions of predatory open access journals. He maintains a list of suspect publishers, and investigates new publishers. Here’s an example of his investigative work:

Copying Elsevier - Scholarly Open Access, 16 October 2012

The journal gratuitously uses the Elsevier logo in a prominent position on its homepage. It also lists an impact factor — which it does not have.

To compete in a crowded market, predatory journals need to look as prestigious and authentic as possible. The publishers of this journal have done a spiffy job of creating a website that makes it looks like their journal is an Elsevier journal. ...

It didn’t take me very long to find plagiarism in the journal’s articles.

Beall is often called upon to comment upon open access publishing.

Predatory publishers are corrupting open access by Jeffrey Beall, Nature (13 September 2012)

Honest scientists stand to lose the most in this unethical quagmire. When a researcher’s work is published alongside articles that are plagiarized, that report on conclusions gained from unsound methodologies or that contain altered photographic figures, it becomes tainted by association. Unethical scientists gaming the system are earning tenure and promotion at the expense of the honest.

On the problem of “predatory open-access publishers” - SV-POW! (17 September 2012)

(T)his issue is nothing to do with OA: there always have been and always will be fraudulent journals and publishers alongside the good ones; and it always has been and always will be authors’ responsibility to avoid them and go to the good places instead.

Crowdsouring a database of “predatory OA journals” - SV-POW!, 7 December 2012

My feeling is that, while a good solution could certainly say positive things about good publishers as well as negative things about bad publishers, we do need it to produce (among other things) a blacklist, if only to be an alternative to Beall’s one. Since that’s the only game in town, it has altogether too much power at the moment.

Indeed, Beall’s influence is large enough that he was targeted by a smear campaign that claimed he would consider removing publishers from his list if he was paid $5,000. I grabbed the text from a forum around 10:00 am one morning, but it was gone by 10:30 am or so:

I was surprised when one of our editors told me that the name of Ashdin Publishing is found in the list of "Beall's List: Potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers" ... After I received the e-mail below, I am not any more surprised. Now, I am sure that the author, irrespective the good reasons he may has for preparing this list, wants to blackmail small publishers to pay him.

-------- Original Message --------

Subject: Open Access Publishing
Date: Mon, 03 Dec 2012 17:39:18 +0000
From: Jeffrey Beall
To: info@ashdin.com

I maintain list of predatory open access publishers in my blog http://scholarlyoa.com

Your publisher name is also included in 2012 edition of my predatory open access publishers list. My recent article in Nature journal can be read below


I can consider re-evaluating your journals for 2013 edition of my list. It takes a lot my time and resources. The fee for re-evaluation of your publisher is USD 5000. If your publisher name is not in my list, it will increase trustworthiness to your journals and it will draw more article submissions. In case you like re-evaluation for your journals, you can contact me.

Jeffrey Beall

This was untrue, Beall said.

I've been a victim of email spoofing in which someone is sending emails that appear to be from me but really are not.

One of the spoofed emails is an offer to "reevaluate" a publisher's presence on my list for five thousand dollars. These emails try to make it look like I am extorting money from publishers.

Beall’s solution to the problem of open access versus credibility?

On Predatory Publishers: a Q&A With Jeffrey Beall - Chronicle of Higher Education (5 June 2012)

I support what I call “platinum open-access.” This is open-access without author fees, and with the publication costs supported by volunteer work and benevolent funders. There are a few publishers that now use this model, but it’s not sustainable and it’s not scalable to all of scholarly communication. The only truly successful model that I have seen is the traditional publishing model.

One of the aspects that I did not initially consider in proposing this topic was the cultural issues involved. Developing, non-“Western” nations seem to be not only the source of, but fall prey to, much of the bogus publishing.

“Suspect” journals take scientists for a ride - SciDevNet, 21 January 2013

Young researchers in developing countries can be easy prey. The pressure to publish has risen dramatically because career advancement depends on it — publications can embellish a job application. ...

Researchers often do not realise they are being duped, he says. “In fact, the assumption is entrenched in academic circles in Nigeria that the higher the fee charged [by the journal], the higher the quality.”

Coincidentally, Nature reported on this relationship just the next day:

Price doesn't always buy prestige in open access - Nature, 22 January 2013

The “real goal”, West says, is to help to create a transparent market in open-access publishing. “We hope to clean up a little of the predatory publishing, where publishers might be charging more than their value merits.”

The tool, called Cost Effectiveness for Open Access Journals, incorporates pricing and prestige information for 657 open-access journals indexed by Thomson Reuters, including 356 that do not charge any fees.

Meanwhile, the biggest and most successful open access journal, PLOS ONE, continues to be a lightning rod. Here are just a few tweets:

“Many people have flat out said PLOS ONE papers won't count” (For tenure / promotion - ZF) – Lewis Lab

“I want to be an ally. But PLOS ONE isn't helping. (People) less attuned equate (Open Access) with low bar. Not good for science.” – E.G. Moss

“I’ve now heard from several tenured or near-tenure profs that publishing in @plosone was career suicide. Thanks a lot Open Access” – Ethan Perlstein

“A search (committee) chair once told me ‘PLOS ONE papers don't count, they publish anything’” – Eric J. Deeds

I have my own posts on this matter.

As Nigeria is to banking, India is to science publishing - NeuroDojo (6 January 2010)

I recently received this in my inbox. And I was all, like, “Whoa.” It was like I’d traveled back in time to the early 1990s and landed on an old GeoCities page. The explosion of typefaces and random colours, the spelling mistakes, the random religious element... slap on a page counter and some blinking text, and it would be indistinguishable.

But no, this is supposed to be from a serious scientific journal. Excuse me, “Joournal”.

More journals that smell like spam - NeuroDojo (29 January 2010)

It’s be great that the publishing revolution creates the potential for new journals. But from a research author’s point of view, it’s the wild, wild west out there. And it’s not clear yet who are the honest settlers and who are the cattle barons and con men.

Post-publication peer review - NeuroDojo (20 September 2010)

It’s incredibly tempting to send in a hoax article to see if their “post-publication peer review” calls it out as gibberish.
I look forward to hearing the thoughts of those at Science Online next week!

Additional, 24 January 2013:

Advice: how to decide where to submit your paper – Dynamic Ecology (24 January 2013)

There are those who feel strongly that selecting papers on the basis of “interest”, “novelty”, “importance”, and other such attributes is a purely arbitrary business with no place in science. I don’t take that view. But if you feel that way, you need to decide whether you’re prepared to live by your principles and submit all your work to PLOS ONE or other unselective journals, given that many of your colleagues do not share your views and may not view your CV very highly.

I’m getting increasingly interested in the line between “not viewed highly” and “predatory.” If two publishers take money for article fees, and your article is published, but neither is viewed by colleagues as “counting,” arguing over the relative rigour of peer review is almost moot.

Update, 8 February 2013: Here is a Storify of the session, courtesy of Doctor Free-Ride:

“My Life in Tweets” photo by STML on Flickr; raptor picture by Andrea Westmoreland on Flickr; both used under a Creative Commons license.


Mike Taylor said...

One more comment that I think is worth making. Yes, it's a shame that predatory journals exist. But they are very, very easy to avoid. All you have to is not send your work to a journal you don't trust. Really, folks. It may take you 2-5 years to produce a paper. Are you really not prepared to spend 2-5 minutes investigating venues?

Zen Faulkes said...

Mike: Some are easy to identify, but some are not. There are all kinds of grey areas. Even PLOS ONE is getting pushback.

I didn't put them all in this post because I do want to leave something for the session itself next week. :)

Mike Taylor said...

Mike: Some are easy to identify, but some are not. There are all kinds of grey areas.

That's true.

Not it's not hard for an author to "fail safe" by avoiding grey areas as well as black, and sticking only with journals that his colleagues have used, or which he trusts for other good reasons.

Even PLOS ONE is getting pushback.

That is ... surprising. From whom? (Apart from the usual suspects.)

[Side-rant: why the hell won't Blogger let me use blockquote tags?]