UNBC librarians inoculate novice academics against predatory publishers

Under the guise of open access, predatory publishers are preying on naïve graduate students, offering a paid forum to publish ideas without the “pesky” peer-review process.

OA logo with dollar sign

Here’s the scenario: you’ve just finished your graduate program and you’re inundated with offers to publish your work. For a fee, many online journals will share your article online, boosting your academic credibility and assuring you a future within your niche. Or will it?

Open Access is often considered a fantastic model that encourages the efficient delivery of quality information, bypassing the lengthy process that has plagued the traditional publication industry. And while there are definite benefits to following the OA route and making content freely available, there are challenges that new graduate students and novice academics might not see in their eagerness to share their information.

The ultimate goal of OA publishing is to make freely available research widely accessible without a paywall barrier. There are reputable OA publishers, many of which include a peer review and editing process, but not all publishers are committed to quality. In 2009 a hoax paper created by the Center for Research in Applied Phrenology (CRAP) was approved for publication by Bentham Science Publishers – along with an invoice for $800. Another famous example took place in 1996, when Alan Sokal submitted a bogus article to the academic journal, Social Text, to see if they would “publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.” The journal claims to have made multiple requests to Sokal to edit the article, asking him to excise his philosophical speculation and most of his footnotes, but after deeming him “uncooperative” they published his article based on his existing author credentials.

At the University of Northern British Columbia, Allan Wilson, the University Librarian, and Heather Empey, Collections and Acquisitions Librarian, conduct an information session regarding predatory publishers. The seminar, “The Dark Side of a ‘Googlized’ World,” explores the risks of the Open Access environment from the perspective of scholarly publishing. They explore the motivations of OA and the different types of OA publishers and disciplines, with part of the presentation focusing on predatory publishing and highlighting Beall’s list – a critical analysis of scholarly open-access publishing. Created by Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at Auraria Library in the University of Colorado Denver, the list shares potential, possible, and probable predatory publishers working in the scholarly OA niche. A sample of the criteria used to identify potential predatory publishers includes:

  • No editorial/review board, or board includes fake academics (or real academics without their consent);
  • Insufficient or unverifiable contact information;
  • Excessive advertising on the website;
  • False claims regarding impact factor, or made-up measures (e.g. view factor), feigning international standing;
  • Very quick turnaround time in accepting articles.

Beall’s list is updated regularly, and includes information for publishers to appeal their inclusion on the list.

The challenge is, it’s not only the predatory publishers that require a fee for Open Access publishing. Traditional print publishers, such as Sage or Elsevier, require a publishing fee, usually called an Article Process Charge (APC), should the author wish to make their paper available via Open Access. This gold OA author-pay model can run from hundreds to thousands of dollars, so it’s not surprising that predatory publishers have moved into this realm – there’s clearly an opportunity to profit.

Predatory publisher or vanity press?

Ms. Empey advises that for some graduate students, choosing to publish via potential predatory publishers isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “If you aren’t concerned about the association between the publication and your academic reputation, some of these publications could be an acceptable option to publish your research,” she said. “In many cases, it’s akin to the vanity press route chosen by some authors. There are outlets that will publish your paper for a fee.”

For authors considering a career in academia, it’s probably best to avoid the stigma of predatory publishers as there’s an implication that you’ve been ‘duped,’ and by association your research may be deemed suspicious. Another risk is that the Open Access article disappears if the publisher disappears or changes to subscription access, as was reportedly the case with EUROJOURNALS in 2013.

“All the researchers who paid $400 or more to have their work made open access in this publisher’s journals are not getting what they paid for. It is evident that some publishers that use the gold open-access model will not publish their content freely online forever,” said Mr. Beall.


And if predatory publishing wasn’t bad enough, there are even predatory conferences – if you’ve got the funds.

How to avoid predatory publishers

First step: consult a librarian, as they are familiar with a range of scholarly publications. As a rule of thumb, the UNBC librarians advise academics to think critically and determine if the publication is the best opportunity for them and their audience; determine if this is the type of publication read by their peers, or if it is just a pseudoscientific site that regurgitates unreviewed data with little or no editing. “Consider the source” applies publication venues as much as it does to research methods.

Five signs you may not be dealing with a legitimate publication

The following list is derived from the UNBC information session:

  1. You receive ten unsolicited emails per day, requesting that you publish your thesis with them.
  2. You notice three grammatical errors and four typos in the opening paragraph of their website.
  3. They ask you to serve on their editorial board. Before you’ve been published. Anywhere.
  4. You submitted your article this morning and they inform you it will be published tomorrow.
  5. After giving you a publishing date, they inform you of the required fees for their “free” service.

Notable Quotes

“Scholars should avoid the risk of publishing their research with questionable publishers and should publish in only the highest quality venues.” ~Jeffrey Beall

“If you continue to publish with predatory publishers, there’s a potential that your research will be deemed suspicious.” ~Heather Empey

“In the more mainstream journals, it can take one to two years to be published. Within predatory publishing, it may take only a week. These publishers take your article, as you submit it, and publish it with no review. It takes no very little effort on their part. If you are willing to pay, someone will publish you.” ~Heather Empey

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