An ongoing dialogue on HIV/AIDS, infectious diseases,
May 28th, 2018
Predatory Journals Are Such a Big Problem It’s Not Even Funny
I’ve made fun of academic spam numerous times on this site.
It’s those emails from dubious “predatory journals,” written in cheerful but awkward prose, with flowery praise and open invitations to submit research on various scientific topics.
You know, the emails that start:
Dear Dr. Paul E.
Greetings for the day!
Most of my coverage has been on how (unintentionally) funny they are. By carpet bombing anyone with a scientific or academic affiliation with these emails, their ability to match content areas with the recipients often misses the mark. For example, I receive an inordinate number of invitations to submit papers to fish-related journals. Go figure.
But there’s a darker side — just like spam of the non-academic variety, the true motivation of these emails is profit. They make their money off publication fees (only revealed after a paper is accepted) and by sponsoring affiliated bogus conferences.
Dr. Sharon Bloom, Executive Associate Editor at Emerging Infectious Diseases, kindly shared with me a presentation she gave this year on the topic at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases. It outlines in startling detail the pervasiveness of this predatory journal problem, and why it is growing.
One might wonder why the predatory journals have exploded (by some estimates there are more than 10,000), and what some of the hazards are for academic medicine in general, and ID in particular.
Part of why they succeed is because they co-opt markers of credibility, to fool people into thinking they’re the real thing. Journal titles are carefully crafted to sound similar to established, credible journals. Here are a few ID-related publications (from the Hyderabad-based OMICS Group publisher):
- Journal of AIDS and Clinical Research
- Journal of Infectious Diseases and Diagnosis
- Virology and Mycology
- Advances in Molecular Diagnosis
- Journal of Bacteriology and Parasitology
- Journal of Antivirals & Antiretrovirals
- Archives of Parasitology
The first one is a particular problem for this readership, as it draws many highly regarded research groups who consider it a good back-up option for their research. You might think the awkward introductory text on their homepage would raise suspicion:
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a disease caused due to HIV virus that affects the human immune system tremendously eventually leading to death. HIV is considered as one of the fatal cause of death in the present times.
Good grief. Sounds like a 6th grade science report — grade B-minus.
Predatory journals have other tricks. Many make up their own impact factors. Distinguished names may appear on the front page as members of the editorial board — though it appears that some of these individuals are listed without their even knowing. Indeed, some might not exist at all — in this sting from last year, a fictional researcher with dubious credentials applied for and was accepted to numerous editorial boards.
Some predatory journals advertise that they are “Indexed in PubMed,” because selected articles are deposited into PubMed Central under open access policy agreements with certain funders. Take a look again at the Journal of AIDS and Clinical Research — the appearance of these articles in PubMed gives little clue that this is not a legitimate journal.
After submission to these journals, there’s no or trivial peer review, no obvious quality control, and no editorial board oversight. A paper submitted to the International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology consisted of just 7 choice words — and was accepted. Another person wrote a paper on nuclear physics using his phone’s autocomplete function — also accepted. In case you want to do the same, I’ve embedded the how-to video at the bottom of this post.
Further evidence of shallow (if any) peer review is that some papers are submitted and then accepted for publication within 1-2 weeks — an impossibly fast turnaround time for real peer review, revision, and resubmission.
Here’s are a few examples Sharon shared with me:
As Editor of Open Forum Infectious Diseases, I can assure you that these rapid turnarounds are only possible if the “peer review” is a rubber stamp — one that reads “Accept”.
And speaking of OMICS — here is Sharon’s summary about this particular publisher (slide #6/43), for which the word prolific barely does it justice, and this review should make legitimate researchers, funders, and publishers squirm:
The predatory journals also thrive by exploiting the academic’s need to publish — leading to what the New York Times called “a new and ugly symbiosis”:
Many faculty members — especially at schools where the teaching load is heavy and resources few — have become eager participants in what experts call academic fraud that wastes taxpayer money, chips away at scientific credibility, and muddies important research.
But it’s not just poorly resourced schools. There are numerous publications in these journals from highly-esteemed institutions (including one on the East Coast that begins with “H”), as well as many studies that cite funding from federal agencies.
In short, these journals represent a profitable and exploitative fraud — as bad as the Nigerian Prince who wants to give you money (provided you share your bank account number), or a phishing scheme that takes control of your computer and its passwords after you click a provided link.
So what should we do? Here’s some excellent advice from Michael Lauer, NIH’s Deputy Director for Extramural Research:
Simply put, publish where you cite. If you are not familiar with a particular journal, then consider speaking with your local academic librarian as well as consulting resources from the publishing community (e.g. Think Check Submit) and the federal government (e.g. Federal Trade Commission).
If that’s too difficult, take a look at the graphic at the top of this post, which just about says it all.
(Graphic courtesy of Madhu Pai; slide Sharon Bloom, both with permission.)