Today sees the launch of “Think. Check. Submit.” (TCS), a campaign to help researchers learn who they can trust when they are seeking to publish their work. The campaign is co-ordinated by ALPSP, DOAJ, INASP, ISSN, LIBER, OASPA, STM, UKSG, and individual publishers including BioMed Central, Springer Nature and Ubiquity Press. (Full Disclosure: I am the Honorary Secretary of UKSG, and used to work for TBI Communications which is managing the campaign.)
The campaign reflects substantial concern in the information community about “predatory” publishers, and is a timely addition to other efforts such as the Coalition for Responsible Publication Resources. Its launch coincides with the publication of a new study (Shen & Björk, 2015) that analyzes publications in “predatory” journals to determine whether any particular researcher groups are vulnerable to this “predation” – the study concludes that “the problem of predatory open access seems highly contained to just a few countries, where the academic evaluation practices strongly favor international publication, but without further quality checks.” TCS will aim to help “vulnerable” authors by providing them with guidance for evaluating the publishers and journals to whom they submit their work for publication.
TCS has been particularly created to help early career researchers in emerging economies, who are under great pressure to publish but don’t necessarily receive the same level of support and guidance from their institutions and supervisors as their counterparts elsewhere; the Shen & Björk study notes that “Asia and Africa contributed three quarters of authors” of the publications analyzed. The campaign is taking a positive approach, providing tools to help people think critically and make informed decisions, rather than making people afraid of getting it ‘wrong’ in future, or embarrassed by having got it ‘wrong’ in the past.
At the heart of the campaign is a checklist of what to look for – can you tell who publishes the journal? Have you read any of its papers? Do your colleagues recognize it? How do the existing articles fit with your work? The organizations are careful not to be seen to be telling people where to publish; the campaign’s focus is information equality – guidance that may seem like common sense to many of us, but that is aimed at those who aren’t so familiar with the publishing world.
The guidance was created by reviewing some of the less “trustworthy” operations currently active in publishing, and parsing these for common factors that could be distilled into a check list and FAQ. The website is written in straightforward language that will be broadly accessible to a global audience. Its text-heaviness is not accidental, as it is therefore lends itself much more readily to simple browser-based auto-translation, although a video animation will soon be added to help convey the campaign’s messages visually. The campaign will be launched on a rolling basis through regional conferences, regional social media, and local language communications (e.g. search engine advertising); communications will be given a new theme each month to broaden the campaign’s appeal. The team hopes to hold an “awareness week” (along the lines of this week’s inaugural Peer Review Week) later in the year once some initial awareness has been raised. One useful function of the campaign, given that there’s no readymade marketing list for the people it’s trying to reach, and no obvious forum for big bang events, is to encourage authors to sign up for updates, so that further guidance can be shared with them directly in future.
The campaign will be measured in the usual ways – engagement with the website’s calls to action, social media interaction and reach, media coverage and so forth. The project has an initial 6-month lifespan and we can hope that it is sufficiently successful in its launch phase to merit ongoing support from the information community. It strikes the right note in terms of how it is approaching the problem – constructively, and with a realistic recognition of the challenges involved. With more funding, it would be possible to increase outreach (for example, by getting institutions on board for campus-based events, or with heavier promotion at niche conferences). Strategic partnerships may also be possible once the program is established, both with organizations already active in the same target markets (perhaps a role for EIFL, INASP, HINARI?) and with organizations whose services could be similarly beneficial but who may be facing similar challenges in terms of difficult to reach audiences (e.g. ORCID, Figshare).
I’d encourage Scholarly Kitchen readers to help to increase the visibility of the campaign by linking to it from your websites, particularly if you are a publisher with nothing to hide – your proud endorsement of “Think. Check. Submit.” is good for your own credibility as well as that of the campaign! New campaign partners are welcome and more information is available at thinkchecksubmit.org.
Shen, C. & Björk, B.. (2015). ‘Predatory’ open access: a longitudinal study of article volumes and market characteristics. BMC Medicine. 13:230. doi:10.1186/s12916-015-0469-2