Why you should care about the rise of fake journals and the bad science they publish

Graham Kendall, University of Nottingham

There are more academic publishers out there than ever before. In 2014 there was an estimated 28,100 active scientific journals, but while the large majority of these journals are highly respected, there has also been a sharp rise in the number of predatory journals.

These are journals without a readership, that cannot really be thought of as being part of the scientific archive as they have done away with the “peer review” process. This is a process where scientists evaluate the quality of other scientists’ work. By doing this, they aim to ensure the work is rigorous, coherent, uses past research and adds to what we already know.

Predatory journals often don’t even bother to read the submitted paper, but just accept it. It might be an extreme example but one paper was accepted that repeated the phrase “Get me off your f**king mailing list” 863 times.

Fake journals make their money by charging a publication fee to the authors – anything from £100 to £1,000 a paper. They separate researchers from their money with little, or nothing, in return. And exist to make a profit without having any commitment to the scientific process – even plagiarising papers that have already been published.

Publishing in these journals, can not only have a negative effect on an academic’s career, but it can also mean that the academic community, as well as the general public, could be duped – with any old results being printed. And if this work is then cited elsewhere, then the non-reviewed research could propagate even further, and might be accepted as fact.

Seemingly legitimate

As somebody experienced in scientific publishing – with over 200 published peer reviewed articles, as well as being an editor-in-chief of one journal and an associate editor of nine others, I have seen first hand many of the techniques predatory journals use to make themselves look credible. This includes using logos that are similar to more established journals, using recognised academics on the advisory or editorial board (often without their knowledge) and claiming high impact factors.

They also tend to actively promote themselves through email campaigns, have nonexistent peer review which speeds up time to publication and also have affordable publication fees when compared to legitimate open access journals.

Roger Byard from the University of Adelaide in Australia has investigated the subject and found that:

There were 18 [predatory journals] in 2011, 477 at the end of 2014, and 923 in 2016 with the majority of those charging article publishing charges. The journals were found to be located in India, along with Nigeria, Iran, Turkey, Malaysia, and Pakistan.

In fact, it has been suggested that there are more “British Journal of …” based in Pakistan than there are in the United Kingdom.

And things could be about to get even worse because up until recently, the scientific community used to have a gatekeeper that maintained a list of predatory journals – but it has now disappeared.

The blacklist

Academic Jeffrey Beall ran a website, which was a “critical analysis of scholarly open-access publishing”. But if you go to this site now, you will see that it is empty. He also stopped tweeting earlier this year. As yet, he has not said why he stopped.

Jeffrey Beall in conversation about predatory journals.

The website that was maintained by Beall listed more than 900 predatory journals. And while an archive of Beall’s website is available, it will no longer be updated.

There are many people in the scientific community that will mourn the passing of this resource and many would argue that there is a need for a service such as this in order to to monitor scientific integrity.

Until then, the scientific community needs to be vigilant against predatory journals. They add no value to the scientific record, and do not add anything to the CV of a scientist – it may even harm it. They are also taking money which could be used for more productive research.

Scientists should be encouraged to check before submitting to a journal that it is legitimate, and if a paper gets accepted very quickly and the journal asks for money the alarm bells should start ringing.

Graham Kendall, Professor of Computer Science and Provost/CEO/PVC, University of Nottingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.