Are you aware of predatory publishing practices? Chances are good that if you’ve been in a career in the sciences for any length of time, you’ve been made aware of the issue with questionable peer review at pay-to-write journals, especially in the sciences. Unfortunately, there’s no easy solution in sight, because it’s impossible to force bad actors to abandon the marketplace quickly. They can only be forced out over time, as demand for their journals wanes and academics refuse to pay publishing fees to supplement the publisher’s income. Until then, the best way to navigate the issue is to be conscientious about where you publish and which publishers you partner with when setting up a new journal or pitching a new textbook. This is an important lesson to teach new professionals while they are still in training, and if you haven’t learned about it yet, there are a few basics you need to understand.

Traits of Predatory Publishers

There are a few common themes you’ll see in questionable publishers’ repertoires. They serve as a combination of smokescreen against scrutiny, means of obtaining income, and enticement to academics who are not familiar with the practice.

  • Publishing fees that require the academic to pay for the paper to appear in an open access journal
  • Invitations to lead a roundtable or discussion panel at a conference with a vague title, often with the word international in it
  • Solicitation for peer review at a new journal without connection to the editorial staff
  • Solicitation of academics who are unpublished or in teaching-only positions

The biggest issue with spotting predatory publishers for many academics is how close they get to the norms of academic publishing under companies like Bentham Science publishers, just with a few key components tweaked to subvert the goals of publishing in the sciences. With increased fees for publishing meant to cover inclusion in OA and other databases, as well as increased costs for subscriptions that leave more and more institutions picking and choosing among professional publishers in various fields, it’s easy to miss the wrinkle that makes predatory publishing predatory. That wrinkle is the fact that those fees are solicited for an open journal, one with no ties to a known institution, and frequently an online-only one that cannot justify its costs with printing and distribution.

Similarly, the invitations to peer review or to lead panels often looks like recognition to the academics who are receiving it for the first time, when in fact it is often a form letter used to entire attendees and to fill a conference schedule at their expense. Since they are working to fill time and not to explore a cohesive set of issues, the curation of the presentations is lacking, leading to quality control issues and a lack of coherence. That’s the big reason these conferences don’t go anywhere. They aren’t designed to.

Learn From a Good Example

Bentham Science is an example of a publisher that avoids these issues. Peer reviewers are selected for their previous publications in the field that are relevant to the article at hand, not simply solicited for a general review of the articles in the issue. That’s a task usually handled by editors, and Bentham publications are staffed by their hosting institutions. One of the best ways to see if a publisher is on the up and up is to look at their existing projects. Most predatory publishers have no visible credible wins or big-name researchers in the fields their publications cover. That’s one of the telltale signs of an issue.

If you are wondering where to submit your papers, the best choices are the ones that make a commitment to working against these practices. That means not only providing legitimate means to publication but also educating people about the issue to raise awareness.

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