It seemed like such a good idea at the time.
‘Let’s write something on predatory publishing!’ I said.
‘Let’s talk about all that academic spam we get!’ I said.
I even roped in my fab colleague from La Trobe’s Borchardt Library, Steven Chang (@stevenpchang), to write something, too. He was keen. We swapped links on email and Twitter.
For me, not having Beall’s List active is a big blow against the tracking of, and education about, predatory processes in contemporary scholarship. I used it all the time and, though Beall is not without his critics, I found it to be of strong value and an excellent way to build awareness around what constitutes the slimy underbelly of academic endeavour.
Why do we need this kind of thing anyway?
Well, if you’re involved in academia these days, chances are you’ve received dodgy emails – or even old-school letters! – inviting you to publish with Journal of All the Things or present at the Conference of Stuff that Has Nothing To Do with Your Expertise. You may have had a note from a publisher saying how great your thesis is and how they’d like to publish it as a book for you. Jonathan O’Donnell had things to say about some of these fraudulent publishing practices last year.
Many of these opportunities sound too good to be true…because they are. Beware of flattery in academia – it rarely happens without ulterior motives!
The ‘publish or perish’ imperative is still very much alive in today’s academic sectors. With the advent of Open Access and the fetishisation of citation metrics, a perfect storm has been created where there’s profit to be had from offering researchers outlets for publication that fast-track, fake, or bypass traditional peer review processes. While the fight around definitions of ‘quality’ in publication is an ongoing and fraught one, the acceleration of ways to get your work out there has led in some cases to bad scholarly practices.
Why are predatory publishers and conferences bad for you?
Having a publication in a dodgy journal or book is wasting your work. Whatever you may think of the process, your track-record is assessed in terms of consistency of publication (aka steady rate of outputs) and placement in appropriate scholarly outlets. If you’re paying to have your work published or conference abstract approved, chances are that there has been no scholarly rigour in the process whatsoever. Many dodgy publications and events call this their ‘administrative and peer review’ fee and it’s payable on submission.
The predatory meetings/conferences are especially surreal, heinous affairs that have Calls for Papers, will accept your abstract, and demand a substantial registration and proceedings publication fee. They often never take place. Even more bizarrely, sometimes they do:
Researchers who fall for these scams show up at sparsely attended events, and realize that the conference is not at all what they expected and has no prominent speakers from whom they could learn. Worse yet, they realize that the high profile names that seemed to be part of the organizing committee as displayed in the conference website were never there. (Franco 2016 – Predatory conferences)
I thought it might be useful, and cathartic, to share with you what the key danger-signs are for me in working out whether an invitation or approach is suspicious. Julie Bayley (@julieebayley) vented her frustration with predatory publishers more creatively than I do here, and I hope the pushback and calling out of fraudulent practices continues ever upward.
My top 3 danger-signs of dodgy publications or events:
- Approaching me out of the blue. I have a certain bundle of expertise and I know what it is. I tend to know who knows about my work (here in Australia and internationally), and I have a wishlist of journals I’ve aimed to publish in, or conferences I’d bother going to. Random journals or conferences with weird generic titles aren’t on my wishlist. I have had out-of-the-blue approaches from journals and conferences, but they are usually publications and events I already know about, or the inviter acknowledges that a colleague/someone I trust had mentioned or recommended me. In some cases, those who extend the invitation flag that they’ve heard about my work through [colleague in common] or have read Research Whisperer or…something. There’s an indication that they have done some background research and want me especially because of what I do.
- This one’s associated with the first sign: being approached for ‘world-class research’ in areas that have nothing to do with what I actually research. The number of times I’ve received invitations to contribute to engineering and IT journals (with my dead-set humanities track-record), let me count the ways…
- All the emails I’ve had from dodgy publishers are usually in badly written English. A decent English-language publisher would not be that sloppy. Even if they are kosher, I would think hard about working with an outfit that has such poor basic communication skills. Dodgy event invitations can also be badly written, but I hesitate to say that this is a key sign on the conference front. I’ve been invited to legit international conferences to speak and the convening committee’s first language wasn’t English. Having said all that, I am conflicted on this point because of the cultural assumptions that are often made when discussing this issue. I am guilty of it myself.
If an approach for my work exhibits any of these signs, I’m out. I don’t bother looking any further. I already have too many commitments to write for existing, reputable publications and events without investigating ones that don’t look quite right. To be honest, almost all the dodgy approaches I’ve had have exhibited ALL of these signs.
That’s my take, based on my experiences over the years in research land – as an author, mentor, and advisor.
Many thanks to the rude, dodgy publisher who scolded me for not getting back to them about their dodgy publication offer. You are the inspiration for this post.
Think. Check. Submit. – Excellent checklist and resource to support your colleagues and students in learning more about what’s good practice in academic publication, how to assess publications, and what to look for in genuine approaches.
Think. Check. Attend. – Another very good resource, with the focus on choosing well when it comes to academic conferences.