Saving oneself from the clutches of a predatory journal: A case study

how YOU doing?According to Wikipedia, predatory open access publishing is

An exploitative open-access publishing business model that involves charging publication fees to authors without providing the editorial and publishing services associated with legitimate journals (open access or not).

The Wikipedia article has generally useful and accurate information except that all predatory publishing is not open access, even if much of it is.

Recently, a number of us have received emails inviting submissions to supposedly paper journals published in bound volumes. When I checked out some of these offers, I found that these journals were not indexed in places where anyone would likely go when researching a particular topic, except sometimes Google Scholar. The journals charged steep publication costs but it wasn’t clear they had any subscribers. So, the gullible get the worst of two worlds: Article Processing Charges (APC) and publication of their paper in a pay-walled journal. If the article ever actually was published, it would reach few people. If someone somehow learned of it, they might not be able to obtain it, even If they went through a University library portal.

Predatory print journals are a whole new form of deceptive offers for quick “peer-reviewed” publication. Offers often come in the form of an email that mildly chastises the recipient for not having responded to a previous email, which might not even exist. That will be the subject of a future post. Be forewarned and check out the legitimacy of offers to publish a paper before responding.

bealls-listJeff Beall operates a regularly updated website listing predatory open access journals. But what he says here applies to predatory print journals as well:

“Many of the predatory publishers are in fact counterfeit publishers, and are very skilled at making themselves appear to be legitimate publishers,” said Beall. “Consequently, making a judgment about a publisher based only on a sample of its spam may not provide enough information to make a good decision.”

But for now, here is a guest post presenting a case history of someone who asked for advice after responding to a request for a predatory open access journal and then got billed. It’s an interesting tale, but also contains some valuable pointers for what you should do to avoid getting caught in such a situation.

The case study originally appeared in Editage Insights and is reproduced under the conditions of a Creative Commons License under which Editage Insights operates. I recommend their website for access to a rich set of free resources for early career investigators embarking on publishing.

The case study:

Case: An author received an email from a journal inviting him to submit an article, with a promise that it would be published within a month of submission. The author was tempted by the short publication time. Additionally, on checking the journal website, he found that the journal had a high impact factor. He decided to submit his article to this journal. Within two weeks of submission, the author received a letter of acceptance from the journal. However, the letter was not accompanied by reviewer comments. On inquiring about the reviewer comments, the journal gave an evasive reply, saying that the author would receive them later. The page proofs arrived soon after, along with an invoice from the journal charging him a high publication fee. The author was surprised as there was no fee mentioned on the journal website, nor in the email exchanges the author had with the journal. The author was upset and confused and approached Editage Insights for advice.

Action: We found the journal’s actions rather shady and checked their website. Although the homepage looked quite attractive, no detailed information about the editorial board or the decision making process was provided. Additionally, the articles that were available online seemed to be of poor quality. Incidentally, we also found this journal’s name in Jeffrey Beall’s list of predatory journals. We advised the author to immediately withdraw the paper from the journal as it seemed to be dubious.

However, when the author sent a withdrawal request, the journal refused, saying that they do not allow withdrawal after peer review. As per our advice, the author then replied that he had not received reviewer comments. When the author demanded to see the reviewer comments, the journal finally gave in and consented to the withdrawal. Finally, the author was free to submit the paper to another journal. We advised the author to be more careful in the future and check the credibility and reputation of any journal before submission.

Summary: Often, bogus or predatory journals obtain email addresses of researchers from web sources and send them email invitations to submit their articles. However, unless an author is able to verify the authenticity of these invitations, it is best to ignore them. Predatory journals lure people who are under a lot of pressure to publish with promises of quick publication. However, these journals do not have a proper quality control or peer review process and engage in a lot of deceptive practices. Publishing in such dubious journals can be damaging for a researcher’s career as it gives out an impression that the author either does not know the reputable journals in the field, or, worse, that the author is using the quick and easy route to get publications rather than putting in the effort required to get published in a high quality journal.

Jeffrey Beall, librarian at the University of Colorado Denver, has created lists of ‘Potential, possible or predatory’ open access journals and publishers in his blog “Scholarly Open Access.” Beall has also put together some Criteria for Determining Predatory Open-Access Publishers. Although this may not be a comprehensive authoritative source, it can be a good starting point to check journals that seem suspicious.

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) also has a document entitled “Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing” that can help authors assess the credibility of a journal before they submit their articles.

Here are some criteria that authors should check to evaluate a journal prior to submission:

  • The publisher’s full contact information, including address, should be provided on the journal website.
  • The journal’s editorial board should consist of recognized experts with full affiliations.
  • The journal’s policy for author fees should be prominently displayed.
  • The journal’s peer-review process should be clearly described on the site.
  • The quality of articles published in the journal should be good.
  • The journal should be indexed in a prominent association such as the Directory of Open Access Journals (www.doaj.org).

Have you ever fallen prey to a predatory journal? If you have, please share your experience so that other researchers can be cautious and avoid falling into a similar trap.

You might also be interested in reading about a few simple steps that you can take to avoid falling prey to predatory journals.
This post Saving oneself from the clutches of a predatory journal: A case study was originally published on Editage Insights.

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