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The attack of predatory journals

Story Highlights

  • OMICS has listed as many as 50,000 reviewers and editors with their names, photographs, and biographies. When contacted, the FTC learnt that several of the listed editors had never agreed to be affiliated with OMICS.
  • In support of its claim, the FTC had cited two instances where John Bohannon, a scientist and writer for Science magazine had in 2012 submitted two articles to OMICS journal with “intentionally egregious scientific flaws”. Despite these flaws, the manuscripts were accepted “without any substantive comments or review”. Likewise, in 2016, an Ottawa Citizen journalist had submitted an “unintelligible article containing invented words”. The OMICS journal accepted and published the paper “without any edits and without contacting the author prior to publication”.

The term “predatory journal” or “predatory publisher” was coined in 2010 by American librarian Jeffrey Beall to describe unscrupulous open access publishers who were publishing articles with little or no real peer review. One business model in open access(OA) is article-processing charges, under which accepted articles are paid for by the authors (or usually their funder or institution). Legitimate publishers had been using this model since the early 2000s, but around 2007/8 observers of OA journals raised concerns about spamming and poor peer review from some new publishers, dubbed “black sheep” by Gunther Eysenbach.

Beall wrote up a list of some of these suspected bad actors in an article, which later became the basis for “Beall’s List“. Many of these journals operate out of India and Nigeria but pretend to be based in Western countries, and most of the authors who publish in these journals are from developing countries. Similar fake conferences exist, some run by “predatory publishers”.

Latest, a court in the U.S. has slapped a $50 million fine on Hyderabad-based OMICS International, which publishes over 700 questionable scientific journals, many of which appear predatory, for “unfair and deceptive business practices”.

The cause:

Academic researchers are under pressure to publish their research in order to advance at their educational institution, solicit funding for their research or programs, or even to maintain their employment. Publishers, such as BioMed Central, who provide open-access publishing through its nearly 300 journals, are dedicated to providing free access to articles so as to promote academic research and help distribute research information more easily.

Unfortunately, with this new trend and the increased use of the Internet, there has been an increase in “predatory” journals and publishers, some of which do not provide peer reviews, editing services, or publishing help for the authors. In the biomedical industry, this can be disastrous. These predatory journals operate by targeting authors, especially those who are fairly new, to solicit money along with their manuscripts with the promise of publishing their research. In exchange, they promise to supply all the bells and whistles that legitimate journals promise—those that would make the published research more credible—but this is rarely the case.

One enticement offered by predatory journals is to provide the author with low article processing charges (APCs); another is to bombard the author with several invitations to publish in their journal.

Modus Operandi:

Predatory journals are counterfeit, and one of their tricks is to use titles that sound or read like those of legitimate journals. Often, the difference between a legitimate journal’s title and a predatory journal’s title can be as little as one word. There are even a few that predatory journals that duplicate other journals’ titles exactly.

Of course, not all open-access journals are predatory journals. Some operate ethically and aim to uphold research integrity. Still, all open-access journals using the gold (author pays) model face a conflict of interest. The more papers they accept and publish, the more money they make, meaning there is an ongoing temptation to accept unworthy manuscripts to generate needed revenue.

The effect:

Predatory Journals threaten research by failing to demarcate authentic science from methodologically unsound science, by allowing for counterfeit science, such as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to parade as if it were authentic science, and by enabling the publication of activist science.

Because they aim to generate profits for their owners, predatory journals have a strong conflict-of-interest (or zero interest) when it comes to peer review. They always want to earn money, and rejecting a paper means rejecting revenue. This conflict is at the heart of the ongoing downfall of scholarly publishing. Increasingly, the consumers of scholarly publishers’ services are the authors, not the readers, and not academic libraries. Businesses naturally always want to keep their customers content, for they want the revenue streams to continue and grow larger, as they add new services – such as more easy-acceptance journals – to their offerings.

Many of the larger predatory publishers, especially those based in Western Europe, offer a niche business. Their businesses are set up to publish manuscripts rejected by the top publishers, that is, papers rejected by Elsevier, Wiley, Sage, Taylor & Francis, Oxford University Press, and several others. They function something like a lender of last resort – they provide a publishing opportunity when no other publisher will, becoming, essentially, a Salon des Refusés for scholarly articles. However, the market is so lopsided now that there are more “publishers of last resort” than there are authentic ones, and they’re all competing with each other for subpar manuscripts.

Like counterfeit science itself, these publishers go through the motions of being a legitimate publisher. Predatory journals and even journals from legitimate publishers are legitimatizing this unscientific medical research in the public’s eye. Acupuncture and homeopathy are thriving, and numerous “studies” are being published each year to back up their effectiveness claims. In medicine, demarcation is failing, and there’s no longer a clear line where legitimate medical research ends and unsound medical research begins. More questionable medical research is being published now than ever before in history, including bogus research promoting fake medicines and nutraceuticals. There’s no longer a clear separation between the authentic and counterfeit medical research, even though medical research is the most important research for humankind today.

Jeffrey Beall

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