Editor’s Note: Today’s Guest Post comes from Phaedra Cress, Executive Editor, Aesthetic Surgery Journal.
Are we losing good articles to predatory journals, with little recourse for unsuspecting authors? Or are authors becoming increasingly complicit and symbiotic in their relationships with illegitimate publishing entities with disregard for the greater good? Maybe it’s both.
Predatory publishing can no longer be called an aberration or a fly in the chardonnay of scholars. In less than ten years, it has wreaked havoc on unsuspecting researchers and academics (more about how they might not be as naïve as you think, later in this article). Rick Anderson recently discussed the issues around so-called predatory publishing (here and here).
But what happens when — and what are the ethics surrounding — an author accidentally submitting to a predatory journal, realizing the error, then trying to submit to a legitimate academic journal? The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) posted advice in 2016 based on the following case:
An author received an invitation and submitted a paper without realizing the journal was predatory in nature. When she realized her error, she asked the journal to remove the article from its website. Despite her reticence to sign a copyright form or pay the publication fees, it remained published on the website, therefore hindering her from submitting to a quality scholarly journal — as it would constitute duplicate publication.
After explaining the situation to the editor in chief of the legitimate journal, the submission was permitted. COPE gave this advice:
The Forum agreed with the advice of the former editor-in-chief. As there was no copyright transfer, the paper could be published in the legitimate journal, ideally with an editorial note on the paper explaining what has happened. Otherwise, the author may have to write off this paper to experience and lessons learned. The Forum noted that this case highlights the importance of the Think.Check.Submit. initiative, which provides tools to help researchers identify trusted journals for their research. Another suggestion was to threaten legal action — the predatory journal may back down if legal action is threatened.
How much knowledge and wherewithal do authors have when it comes to predatory publishing and what resources are they consulting when instances like this occur? Can we blame the meteoric proliferation of academic journals in and of itself? Decades ago, authors knew all the high-impact journals in their specialty because there were fewer. They have not been trained to think in terms of real vs predatory. Reports indicate there are approximately 30,000 academic journals being published, plus another 10,000 predatory journals. If an apparent 25% of all journals being published are predatory, we’re going to need reinforcements. We’re fighting an enemy who wants blood in the form of currency — and we need to step up our game.
Ruth Bueter, Serials Librarian, Himmelfarb Health Sciences Library at George Washington University, and Tami Ritsema, Assistant Professor, Department of Physician Assistant Studies, George Washington University, published a 52-minute informative WebEx called, “What you Don’t know Can Hurt You.” Bueter details her daily plight combating predatory entities as she manages the electronic journals collection and regularly investigates the legitimacy of journals that invite her faculty to publish. Bueter and Ritsema state:
From a mentorship perspective, this is a great opportunity when you start talking with someone about their projects, to help them think about and write toward their target journal. When we mentor, if we train them to enter into that discussion right away, as soon as the research design phase is completed, it is a long-term service to authors.
Many Scholarly Kitchen readers are in a position to mentor authors, whether it is directly, during contact with authors, or indirectly through education to editorial boards. Educating and mentoring authors on the front end is the first step toward equipping them with the information and resources they need to make smart decisions. I was recently with Scholarly Kitchen Executive Editor David Crotty, PhD, Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press at their recent Oxford Journals Day event, and he suggested, “Don’t submit your paper to a journal you don’t (or wouldn’t) read.” This could be expanded to include journals for which you review or have already published. To the extent we are able, we should help authors keep this seminal rule in mind.
Offering student training and mentorship about the pitfalls of predatory publishing earlier may help fill the educational gap down the road, but what about right now? We publishing types are still debating the semantics of nomenclature, saying “predatory publishing” is the wrong terminology because it implies a one-way relationship. Some argue that “illegitimate publishing entities” may be a more appropriate term because some authors are knowingly collaborating, due to publish or perish pressures within academia. Alice Meadows wrote about this in detail in her recent post.
Are universities then complicit if they knowingly turn a blind eye and allow faculty to publish in illegitimate journals vs holding them to higher standards? Derek Pyne sounded off about just that when he observed the phenomenon at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, Canada. Editors in Chief have blacklisted authors who commit ethical offenses. Should universities and journals create author blacklists to affirm a zero tolerance policy for those who willingly choose to publish in predatory journals?
Unethical publishers are doing unsavory such as manipulating authors and using their names without permission on editorial boards and websites to imply legitimacy toward their operations. Why isn’t the information that’s available enough to prevent authors from making devastating mistakes?
For authors caught in the net, blocking publication is perhaps the best recourse to ensure re-submission to a legitimate journal. Abandoning the article becomes a loss within the scientific literature. At the same time, authors should not re-submit without insisting the predatory journal remove the work. This assumes that an author has not signed a copyright transfer or paid any fees for publication. Once an author approves of publication, little can be done to remove it from a publisher website.
There are easy steps authors can take to avoid getting caught in the net in the future:
- Do the homework (while this should’ve prevented submission in the first place, it will still help authors know what and who they’re up against);
- Consult Think-Check-Submit and the COPE websites for advice and flowcharts.
- Search for other complaints against the predatory entity; tips and resolutions may reveal themselves;
- Nobody likes to revise, but flattery (and a large ego) can lead an author astray. Question invitations that seem too good to be true or come from someone unknown. Dr. Kim Barrett had some helpful thoughts on this topic;
- Only submit to a journal you read, review for, or have published in before;
- Set up Google Alerts to be notified if/when your work appears or is referenced in a predatory publication so you can pursue removal or retraction;
- Use social media to share your story with colleagues so they avoid making the same mistakes;
- Consider Justice Potter Steward’s famous quote, “I know it when I see it” in attempting to determine what predatory is or is not. In the words of a dear Lithuanian friend, it’s generally easy to tell because “the fish stinks from the head down.”
- A lack of indexing, Impact Factor, and professional websites is a red flag. Many predatory journals claim to be indexed. This can be confirmed by looking them up in the Clarivate JCR database, in Web of Science, and in Scopus;
- Consider legal action if the predatory entity will not remove your publication;
- Reach out to editorial board members and authors who’ve published in a questionable journal to ascertain legitimacy. If they don’t reply or are unaware they’re listed as an editorial board member, consider it a huge red flag.
- Mentor those who come after you to avoid perpetuating the problem;
- Be suspicious of invitations from someone you don’t know, particularly those feigning a US-based address with poor grammar and non-English colloquialisms that invite you to write, present in Asia or Africa, or join an editorial board.
Additional resources that may be helpful, particularly in training student researchers or junior staff include the Himmelfarb Research Guide; the Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing available from COPE; and the ISMTE discussion forum.
Because of the proliferation of predatory journals and publishers and how they’ve tarnished the reputation of legitimate open access journals — to the extent that some erroneously consider them synonymous, it’s clear that awareness of these guidelines and strategies must be improved to help authors and editors unravel these ethical issues to avoid a gluttony of new retractions and lawsuits.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has organized a website for those who are looking for recourse or who want to report related mishaps here and provides more information. Additionally, I wrote about predatory conferences and the FTC legal battle against OMICS.
This research has prompted me to contemplate the following related topics you may find educational and even entertaining:
- If a senior author allows submission to a predatory journal and is so far removed from the co-authorship process, are there farther-reaching and iterative ethics issues resulting from predatory publishing?
- Jeff Beall’s list is still available via archive.
- Consider a subscription to Cabell’s whitelist and whether or not placing your journal on the list is necessary.
- Non-stop spamming has become a public nuisance, but it is also a mechanism by which authors can identify potentially predatory entities. Consider sharing these messages with younger academics in the spirit of education and mentorship.
- Authors may be faced with having papers in predatory journals that then go away. What will the response be from publishers if an author wants to try again in a new journal?
- Faculty pressure to publish should not be an excuse to take shortcuts and publish in predatory journals.
- Sting operations are not novel, but here I’m sharing a few of my personal favorites ranging from “Please remove me from your f***ing mailing list” to Star Wars and Seinfeld spinoffs to an article written entirely by iPhone iOS’ autocorrect that was accepted.
How Can the Publishing Community Help?
Perhaps it’s time to convene an international conference with the National Library of Medicine and relevant ethics organizations including COPE, WAME, ISMTE, SSP, and top-tier STMS publishers to address these issues and unite efforts to combat all illegitimate entities and reclaim the integrity we know exists among honest journals and publishers.
If we don’t commit ourselves to change now, an Australian dog named Ollie is likely to have puppies who will replace him on the 7 editorial boards on which he sits, when his terms expire.
NB: Despite the exposure of this sting, Ollie continues to serve as Associate Editor of Global Journal of Addiction & Rehabilitation Medicine.