Open Access and the Problem of Predatory Publishers

8 02 2015

Last year, I had two scientific papers published in the Journal of Experimental Botany (here, and here, if you’re interested!). For one of these, I was the first author, which was incredibly exciting! Little ol’ me, without so much as a Masters, let alone a PhD, with a publication record! Hurrah!

However, being a published author brings certain annoyances, largely the problem of ‘predatory’ journals.

A librarian chap called Jeffrey Beall has come up with a list of so-called ‘predatory’ journals and publishers – you can find the list here, and a PDF of his selection criteria here. Essentially, unlike ‘proper’ open access publishers, which have rigorous policies and editorial and peer review systems in place, predatory journals will publish just about anything as long as you give them money. They often have bogus editorial boards (or boards made up of people you’ve never heard of), do not peer review manuscripts or have a rigorous process for doing so, and despite many claiming to be based in the US or UK, they all seem to be terribly bad at English spelling and grammar.

In recent months, I’ve had countless emails from companies – without exception all appearing on the Beall’s List – inviting me to submit a manuscript. Given that both of my published papers appear in the Journal of Experimental Botany, I’m not quite sure why these companies feel that I will have anything to offer on the subject of meteorology, or archaeological research, but there you go. Really, they’ve just scraped my email address from J Ex Bot and are trying their luck. It’s very annoying.

A month or so ago, I also had an email inviting me to become an Associate Editor for a predatory journal. Er, what? I used to work for BioMed Central so I know all about the criteria a potential AE needs to fulfil – a strong record of highly cited publications, society or association leadership, extensive experience of being a referee or other senior editorial positions, etc. I don’t want to put myself down here, but it’s fair to say I’m not qualified to be an AE. I have two published papers. Two. No PhD. Plenty of experience of copy editing manuscripts, but none in peer reviewing them. I’ve joined a couple of societies to get cheaper conference registration fees, but I’ve certainly never held a position of responsibility at one. In short, if they want me to be an AE then they’re really scraping the barrel!

Just yesterday, I had yet another badly written email inviting me to submit a manuscript, this time to Global Journal of Science Frontier Research, whatever “science frontier research” is, published by Global Journals, Inc (US) (GJI). Yes, you’ve guessed it, they’re on the Beall’s List. I should have just deleted it, but I was in a mischievous mood, so I replied to “Dr R K Dixit”, stating that I didn’t wish to have anything to do with any publisher on the Beall’s List.

Today, to my surprise, I received a reply – not from Dr Dixit (who, incidentally, is on the Editorial Board of GJI along with two other people with the same surname…hmm…), but from a Steven Mills from the Customer Care department. I won’t republish the whole reply here because it was really long, but it was ridiculous. If it was supposed to persuade me that his was a reputable and legitimate company, it completely failed.

Most of the email made no sense whatsoever, and was written in such appallingly bad English that I almost couldn’t be bothered to decipher it. There was talk of “stumbling rocks” and “funny lists”, extensive inappropriate capitalisation and an inability to correctly use the indefinite article. In one place he referred to “pear review”, and in another “peering reviewing”.

However, in the bits I could understand, he seemed to be giving Jeffrey Beall a right slagging off! Mills accused Beall of being a “mere librarian” of “fully questionable authenticity”, with “limitations” and a “shallow and misguiding” knowledge of research. He accused him of playing “dirty tricks” because he allegedly works for a “mafia” of “Commercial Capitalists”, paid commission by certain big-name publishers to champion their pay-for-access journals over those with an OA model. He even accused Mr Beall of setting up a fake Nigerian mirror of the GJI home page, though quite why he’d want to do that, I have no idea.

Mills attempted to reassure me of GJI’s calibre. “We are pioneer journal publishing house,” he said. “We have rigid quality control mandatory procedures viz. Peer Review and Plagiarism Check. We are having highly qualified team of approximate 1200 nos. pear reviewers.”

Um, yeah, not convincing me, Mills…

“We are registered organization at Delaware (USA) [but their US address is in Massachusetts?] and affiliated to Open Association of Research Society (USA).”

I googled the Open Association of Research Society (the name of which totally doesn’t make sense, by the way!). This organisation is allegedly registered in Delaware, but its website is riddled with exactly the same kinds of spelling and grammar errors as the GJI website – oh, and they have really similar logos… Who else thinks GJI made it up?!

After his long tirade of abuse and waffle, “Steven” closed by thanking me for bringing this “serious conspiracy” to his attention and vowed to take “suitable stringent legal actions against Mr Beall for showing our name in his list of fake journals mischievously if he does not apologize publicly and withdraw his allegation”.

Yeah…good luck with that.

%d bloggers like this: