“You can’t buy a good reputation; you must earn it.”—Harvey Mackay
Or, you can steal it.
Trust in the scholarly publishing community has been a hot topic recently. It was discussed at the recent STM Spring Conference, at the Council of Science Editors annual meeting, and in the Kitchen recently.
In all three settings, it was clear that some believe there is a trust issue between researchers and publishers, others disagree, some aren’t sure.
The entire peer review system is built on trust. Publishers trust that the authors actually did the work described in the paper. Authors trust that reviewers aren’t stealing their work out from under them. And authors trust that the publishers will perform all of the promised services in exchange for the right to resell the work.
The erosion of trust, if this erosion actually does exist in a widespread manner, stems from lots of changes in the traditional print model. The dissemination and discoverability of scholarly work online provides opportunities for bad actors to take advantage of the trust system (think fake emails for fake authors or cut-and-paste plagiarized text). Technology also makes fraud easier to detect (anti-plagiarism software, duplicate submission checking, etc.).
Another threat to the trust system comes from the so-called predatory publishers. The advent of open access (OA) journals with the author-pays model has provided a new and potentially profitable way for bad actors to take advantage of unknowing authors. These practices have, unfortunately, made researchers leery of anything new, particularly if it is OA.
There is a buyer beware element to all this but the issue becomes more complicated with sites that are mimicking reputable journals or services to intentionally confuse authors. Among the famed list of predatory journals, you will find journal titles that are incredibly similar to the title of an already existing journal. You will surely find the Aims & Scope to be identical. In some cases, the journal website is cloned to look identical.
So how can a researcher tell whether a journal is the real deal or a counterfeit? I suppose she would look for the marks of a reputable journal. Such marks might include indexing, known editor and stellar editorial board, possibly having an Impact Factor, and associations with known publishers and services.
I chose an engineering journal from Jeffrey Beall’s list of standalone journals to review. I am familiar enough with engineering journals that I should be able to spot some red flags. Looking at the International Journal of Modern Engineering Research (no link, because we don’t want to improve their search engine rankings), there are all sorts of badges of honor. There is a giant badge that states it has an Impact Factor of 1.227. I looked the journal up in the Journal Citation Report and as of 2012, it was not listed. Given that a subscription to the JCR costs thousands of dollars, it seems plausible that an author would not know how to access the JCR to verify this information.
Then there is a smaller badge stating that the journal has an “IC Value of 5.09.” Clicking on it pulls up a letter with letterhead from Index Copernicus International. This group has a list of “over 13,000 journals, including 1,200 from Poland” that is referred to on the site as an index database. There appears to be a point system but all of the journals I saw listed (you can’t search by title) had an IC Value but further stated that they were not actually indexed.
Moving on, the journal site claims that the journal is included in the American National Engineering Database—never heard of it. This database only allows you to search for journals or publishers by their unique database number. I have no idea how a user would know the number. No other links on this page work. Also, there is nothing really American about the spelling (British spelling noted) and grammar.
There are other dubious databases listed and a claim to be ISO 3297:2007 compliant, which just means that they use an ISSN.
Here we have a journal that is not being honest. I have wondered how an author would fall for this journal when I can smell fraud after a furious 5 minutes of Googling.
Then one of the ASCE Journal editors received this email:
Obviously, the author has been deceived. Upon further communication, the author provided a screen shot of a memo he received. It was in Chinese so I had it translated. The memo basically offered a service to help authors get papers into our Journal of Structural Engineering and another society’s journal on a related topic. The memo instructed authors to submit only original papers in English to a specific email address. This service agency, which claimed to have a very longstanding relationship with ASCE, would submit the paper on the author’s behalf and would return a decision letter within 15-20 days. Additionally, if the paper is accepted, the author will receive a copy of the paper as it appears in the journal.
I can only assume that the author paid upfront for this service as I cannot fathom any other motivation. The author, likely embarrassed by being taken advantage of, is no longer responding to queries on the matter.
We have seen our journals used on conference websites as an enticement for attending or submitting a paper. Usually the claim is made that only select papers will be chosen for consideration and then after the conference we get an email with a zip file containing 10 papers. But never before have I seen a completely fake decision letter.
It’s gotta be hard to try to keep the lies up. It’s relatively easy to set up a bogus journal but getting people to submit and pay for it requires sophisticated levels of deception. This is where the counterfeit industry fills the gaps. In fact, Beall now has a list of misleading metrics with a dozen or so impostors to the Impact Factor, many of which will sell you a number if you want it.
It seems that a cottage industry that preys on author gullibility and publisher reputation has been born. Fake societies actually soliciting membership dues are being run out of virtual offices in Delaware. Nicely composed emails are being sent to editors by an Alison Mills (not her real name and not even her fake name) offering to bring the journal the “best of the best” papers from China. Unfortunately for dear Alison, follow up conversations via email are in very poor and broken English.
As an industry, how do we protect authors as well as the reputation and authority of the legitimate publishers, journals, and services?
It was suggested at the recent Council of Science Editors meeting that perhaps CSE or another organization should take over the work that Jeffrey Beall started. While a black-list approach seems unlikely, guidelines for authors on what to look for in a reputable journal would be a good start. A lot of time and money has gone into training and educating researchers from China and India on publishing best practices. Spotting fraud should be included.
Social/sharing networks should also be wary of journals listed on their sites. I found a call for papers for the above-mentioned International Journal of Modern and Engineering Research posted on a popular academic social network. Professional publishing societies such as CSE, SSP, and AAP, must review their policies regarding who is entitled to become a member. Legitimate membership organizations can no longer trust that a dues paying member is serving the community in good faith.
Sites like the Scholarly Kitchen and even Beall’s list are hosted on blog platforms that are blocked in mainland China and maybe even in some African countries. Authors and researchers are not getting this information and unfortunately, many people are being duped.