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Beware the Predator: Pay to Play Journals

As a researcher with a publication track record, it is not at all unusual for me to receive invitations to participate in various publishing enterprises – from book chapters in edited collections to submitting articles for journal special issues in my field. Then there are the third kind of invitations I receive*, such as the rather delightful one below:

Dear Laura Huey,

Journal of Environmental Science and Toxicology is comprising of eminent scholars such as Editors, Reviewers and authors sited all over the world.

We are in process of getting the articles for upcoming issue. For that, we bid you to be a one of author in that proposal.

We would like to bring to your kind notice that we are planning to release our Journal's Upcoming Issue in the end of November 2018.

Hence, we wish to contribute your research works on all the aspects of Environmental Science and Toxicology.

We gaze forward to have a strong bond with you.


[guy I've never heard of]

Usually, I simply chuckle and delete such missives. In this case, I decided to gaze strongly back at this journal to illustrate a common problem in academic publishing: the Predatory Journal and its offspring, Crappy Research.

As most people reading this blog know, I am a criminologist specializing in policing, but also with a sizable interest in victimization and cyber. Nowhere in my background is there anything remotely approaching environmental science and toxicology (which I’m not even sure go together as disciplines). Further, I am being invited to submit a ‘proposal’ to participate in an upcoming issue to be released at the end of November 2018. Not a paper, but a proposal. What makes this request particularly interesting is that I received it on November 16th of 2018. This gives me approximately 2 weeks to move from a proposal to a paper to a publication for what is, according to the publisher, a peer-reviewed journal: “All manuscripts shall be peer reviewed and decisions about a manuscript will be based only on its importance, clarity, originality, quality, contribution to knowledge and relevance to the journal's scope and content”.

Now, how can a paper move through the publication process so quickly, you ask? Well, some insight can be gained from the section entitled, “processing fee.” Authors and/or their institutions are expected to pay to publish their articles, the fee ranging from “1049 - 1549 USD.” In short, this is an open-access journal that exists solely to publish pretty much anything as long as you’re willing to pay their fees.

Why do some academics and others keep predatory journals afloat? The standard assumption is: they are producing research that likely could not meet the publishing standards found in higher quality peer-reviewed journals. In the game of academic ‘publish or perish’, some find it easier to ‘pay to play’.

What are some indicators that you might be reading crappy research from a predatory journal?

  1. Spelling mistakes, poor grammar and awkward phrasing.

  2. Content that doesn’t seem to match the aims of the journal. A recent issue of the journal above offers a paper on “history, engineering wonders, interesting fact and figure of Suez Canal and excellent ambition of human and present status of one of the maritime success of shipping trade that improving the international maritime business and transportation.”

  3. The editor and/or the editorial board do not appear to have sufficient qualifications to be in an editorial position (ie. a significant body of published works in credible journals) or, worse yet, do not exist.

  4. Under ‘author guidelines’ or ‘manuscript submission’ they require a processing fee.

  5. The methodology seems unclear and/or unfocused. One abstract stated of the paper's methodology: "It is an interesting reviewed paper based both on primary and on secondary information and some critical analysis” and then provided no further discussion of the methods in the paper itself.

  6. The paper doesn’t really say or add anything of substance to the field. Here’s another example: “Child abuse and neglect have a long-lasting impact on the child, their family and the following generations. In order to protect children from this situation, it is necessary to develop preventive programs and to develope and inforce legal ramifications.”

If you are a publishing hopeful, please pay attention. It is NOT better to publish somewhere than nowhere. Like everything else in life, there is a hierarchy. Putting your work in a pay-to-play or otherwise shady or unrecognized journal, sends a message to others in the field that you think your work is crap and this is the best you could do. Respect your work more than this. It deserves better.

Alternatively, if you are drawing on the contents of journal articles to develop your own work, please pay attention to what you are citing and where it's from. There are lists of credible journals in each of the fields and sub-fields of the sciences and social sciences. The last thing you want is a keen-eyed reader observing the whole of your argument rests on work published in The Journal of Academic-sounding Bullshit.

*This month alone I also received invitations from Archives of Nursing Practice and Care, the biomedical journal, International Technology and Science Publications, International Journal of Depression and Anxiety, Critical Care Journal, International Journal of Critical Care and Emergency Medicine, Forensic Crime Studies, Journal of Substance Abuse and Alcoholism and Social Sciences.

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