Skip to content

May the Farce Be With You: The Dark Side of “predatory” academic publishing

by on 2017/08/01

The process of peer-review is one of the pillars of modern scientific research. In its ideal form, researchers submit articles to a journal, which selects expert reviewers to read the manuscript, assess its quality, and either reject the article or ask for corrections before it is published. This process (along with careful editorial control) ensures that when research is published, its content is accurate, honest and of value to the scientific community.

Even in our modern age of preprint servers, where new research can be downloaded for free, peer-review remains the gold standard, and journals remain the gatekeepers of the peer-review process. Sadly, not all journals hold their article to the same high standard.

Just like “vanity publishers” of fiction, so-called “predatory journals” seek out high publication fees from authors, and will often publish articles that would completely fail peer review if they had been submitted to a respectable journal.

As soon as researchers begin to publish in respectable journals, their email address is targeted by these predatory journals, often generating huge levels of spam.

It’s becoming quite common to see academics carry out “stings” on predatory journals, submitting garbage to them and watching it pass “peer-review” and be published (for typically thousands of dollars an article).

Last month’s most amusing sting had a Star Wars flavour. This author put together a “sting” paper filled with bad science, Yoda quotes and citations to the eminent scientists H. Solo and C. Bacca. The paper was submitted to nine journals. Despite containing verbatim quotes from Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and an explicit citation to Wikipedia indicating that much of the filler text was copied from there, four journals accepted it for publication.

The article was in fact published on the website of at least one journal, but later taken down (you can see a version here).

The Bottom Line

Do these “stings” mean that academic publishing is broken? It’s clear that the commercial allure of academic publishing is encouraging companies to ignore commitments to the rigorous peer review. Good academics know which journals to trust, and never submit to journals that send them spam, or that they know to be corrupt.

How can the general public know which journals to trust? If you don’t recognise a journal name, then google it and see if it’s on a list of known predatory journals. Beall’s list here used to be the standard, but is sadly not being maintained – there are others. This open-access paper is worth your time if you’re interested to know more.

If you’re really not sure – ask a researcher. Twitter is great for asking questions. You can even ask us!

From → News Stories

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: