The Journals That Prey on Academic Research

 
 

Keri Heath explores the murky world of Predatory Journals.

FOR professors at institutions such as UCD, publishing research is essential to advancing their career. Today, however, researchers face a different kind of challenge when trying to put their work in the field. Academics seeking to publish their work must now determine the difference between legitimate and predatory journals.

These predatory journals – exploitive publications that charge authors publishing fees – often do not provide editorial review at all or at full capacity. This means many of the articles included in these publications may not be peer reviewed or even have accurate results. Michelle Dalton, scholarly communications librarian at UCD, says these journals have become more of a problem in recent years.

“They’re really taking advantage of the increased pressure on academics”

“The move to online, digital publishing makes it a lot easier for these publishers to set up, compared to print publishers,” Dalton said. “Also, they’re really taking advantage of the increased pressure on academics now to publish more and more research output.”

This pressure to have research published was also noted by Assistant Professor of Forensic and Legal Medicine Cliona McGovern. She said that college rankings and the need to publish for tenured positions are among the contributing factors pushing researchers to predatory journals. Academics who are new to the field or who are desperate to have their work published, become willing to pay – sometimes up to two thousand dollars per article – to get their articles published.

“They’re there because there’s a gap in the market”

“It’s not all that predatory journals are the big bad wolf,” McGovern said. “They’re there because there’s a gap in the market and there’s a gap in the market because there’s such a demand to get these really coveted academic positions now.”

McGovern said that this can be a real problem for students and young academics who may not be as aware of the differences. She said she gets about 10 emails a day asking for article submissions, conference attendances or journal editorships, among other things, all of which ask for fees and are considered predatory publications.

These predatory journals could be run by money-seeking companies, groups, or even individuals. McGovern noted a website called Scholarly Open Access, which used to provide a list of known predatory journals in fields ranging from agriculture to humanities. The website was run by Jeffrey Beall, an associate professor at University of Colorado Denver and scholarly initiatives librarian at the Auraria Library. In January, the site was taken down. “I didn’t really have a choice,” Beall said. “I was pressured by my university to stop. I felt threatened.”

“I was pressured by my university to stop. I felt threatened”

Beall sees predatory journals as a danger to students, especially those using databases, such as Google Scholar, that may not root out the predatory journals. However, he also said there was a wider impact that these publications will have outside academia. “In society, lawyers sometimes use published research when litigating court cases,” Beall said. “Doctors translate medical research into clinical practice. Public policy relies on vetted research, and journalists often report on research, translating the results for public readers.”

As the industry changes, however, it may become even more difficult to determine the difference between legitimate and predatory journals. Kenneth Dawson is director of the Centre for BioNano Interactions. “It’s been a little difficult to differentiate between them [predatory and legitimate journals] because the new models require you to pay,” Dawson said.

He explained that more and more grants and funding schemes require researchers to publish their articles in open access forums. However, if a journal doesn’t charge for an access fee, its only source of income might be through publishing charges. So as academic journals move towards open access, researchers might see more legitimate publications charging publishing fees.

“It’s the academic equivalent of fake news”

But McGovern said one of the biggest difficulties is that not all research published in predatory journals is bad. Some of the papers in these journals are well researched and accurate. However, she pointed out that if these papers are in journals without the peer review and editorial process, it’s difficult to know for sure. “It’s the academic equivalent of fake news,” McGovern said. “But that’s not to say that everything published in that predatory journal or all predatory journals is bogus. Now we really can’t tell what’s real and what’s not.”

Dawson noted that this can be dangerous for the careers of young academics. While one paper may not end someone’s career, multiple could be harmful. “If you see those papers on a CV, you have to ask yourself why,” Dawson said. “There’s too much pressure onto narrow metrics but if you don’t, how do you decide who goes forward?”

Dalton noted that she often provides advice to researchers on the journals to avoid publishing their work in. “Certainly the volume of queries we’ve received from researchers has increased in recent times as to whether it’s a reputable journal,” Dalton said. She suggested that academics check that the journal is listed in a good database, and check the credentials, quality of the research and the peer review process. She pointed out that a journal without an editorial board is probably a scam. Ultimately, she noted, determining whether or not a journal is reputable is up to the individual.

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