Predatory publishers that don’t take science seriously are exploiting those eager to climb the academic career ladder.
Universities rely on publishing as a measure of a researcher’s success. Predatory publishers charge the researchers to publish their papers without providing genuine peer review.
Some researchers are victims and others are willing accomplices. Some publishers seem to be aware that what they are doing is wrong and others say they’re just trying to make money by doing what big-name publishers do, but faster and more cheaply.
Such publishing hacks see an opportunity to make quick money by taking advantage of researchers who seek prompt publication, says Jeffrey Beall, an academic librarian at the University of Colorado, Denver in the United States.
Several of these publishers are either based in the Arab world or are seeking out Arab researchers in search of international recognition.
Predatory journals are something that Haider Sabah Kadhim, head of the microbiology department at Al-Nahrain University in Iraq, is familiar with. Kadhim says he once evaluated a candidate for promotion who submitted research from fake journals.
“I don’t know whether he knew what he was doing,” says Kadhim, “But he should have known that it takes longer than a few weeks to publish.” Kadhim recommended against the scientist being promoted.
Kadhim is not alone in this experience. “Lots of people around the world are advancing themselves by fake journals,” says Beall.
There are several criteria to consider when weighing whether a journal is fake or real. (See a related article: “How Researchers Can Avoid Being Victims of Fake Journals.”)
Predatory journals usually send out mass e-mails to academics, asking them to submit papers to their journal. These messages are often littered with spelling and grammar errors. The spam e-mails tend to praise the recipient’s earlier work. “This pandering is very effective,” says Beall.
To a Western audience, these e-mails may be easily identified as spam, but Kadhim thinks that many Arab readers may be taken in. “They’re looking for people like me; Iraqi researchers who want to publish abroad,” explains Kadhim. This led him to write an editorial, published by his university, to warn fellow Arab academics about fake journals.
Beall agrees about the spam and adds that predatory publishers also seek out younger researchers. “They’re the most inexperienced and most motivated to publish,” he says. “They’re an easier mark.”
Shaher Momani, the dean of the University of Jordan’s faculty of science, is listed as the editor in chief of the Arab Journal of Mathematics and Mathematical Sciences, which is owned by Research India Publications—one of the most prolific companies on Beall’s blacklist.
When contacted by the publisher via one of their targeted spam e-mails, Momani initially agreed to edit the journal. He was excited by the prospect of creating a high-quality Arab research journal, but the enthusiasm didn’t last long.
He stopped working for the publisher soon after the second volume of the journal was released in 2007 when the company failed to respond to his quality-control concerns.
“The publisher is only concerned about money,” laments Momani. “They don’t care about the scientific value of the paper.” When the publisher first sent him papers to consider, he’d do the first review then send it on to three reviewers in a process that would take about six months.
But the publisher began to pressure Momani. He believes the company wanted to squeeze more money from the operation at the expense of quality.
Momani’s name and contact information are still on the journal’s website and he is occasionally contacted by mathematicians seeking to publish their research. He advises them against sending their manuscripts to the journal. “Do not cooperate with them because they are not good publishers,” he says, “Publish somewhere else.”
Research India Publications did not respond to requests for an interview.
The predatory journal industry exists on a spectrum—at one end, some such journals maintain they are conducting valid peer review. At the other end of the spectrum, predatory journals sometimes blackmail academics who eventually realize they’ve published in a journal with a negative reputation. Some publishers “will refuse to retract a paper without further payment,” says Beall, “They hold the paper hostage.”
Whether the researcher pays up or not, they’ve as good as lost their work because no reputable journal will take a paper that’s already been published. Instead of paying, Beall advises researchers treat it as a learning experience.
Predatory publishing is a growing industry. Research published last week in the (legitimate) BMC Medicine journal, where the study authors investigated many of the publishers on Beall’s list, estimated that predatory publishers made about $75 million last year. Beall’s list itself is almost 12,000 periodicals and publishers long.
One of the main reasons for the industry growth is a low start-up barrier; Beall thinks many of the companies on his list are one-person operations. “All you need is an Internet connection and a laptop,” he says.
One owner of a publisher on Beall’s blacklist defended his company, AgiAl Publishing House, which is based in Cairo and operates two journals: Nuclear Receptor Research and The Open Access Journal of Science and Technology. AgiAl charges nothing to publish in the former because it’s a new journal and $200 for an article in the latter.
Before starting AgiAl, Ahmed Basiony used to work for the Hindawi Publishing Corporation, which is headquartered in Cairo and owns over 400 peer-reviewed journals. Basiony says he acquired publishing expertise there, which he has transferred to his own company. “We have a real process. It roughly takes from one to two and a half months for the peer review,” says Basiony, “We are not a predatory publisher.”
Basiony has contacted Beall and asked for his company to be removed from the list of predatory publishers, but his request was denied.
AgiAl was added to the list in June 2015 when Beall realized the Canadian address listed on its website doesn’t exist. “Many predatory publishers try to make it look like they’re based in Western countries,” says Beall. He also noticed that the author guidelines appeared to have been lifted from Hindawi and the copyright small print was ambiguous and wide reaching. “Most publishers don’t ask their authors to sign away rights like that,” explains Beall.
Basiony dismisses Beall’s concerns. He says he’s only doing what other well-known brands like Elsevier and PLoS are doing. “I don’t see how a publisher following these companies is bad,” he argues, “We are applying the same process on a small scale.”
But Beall says Basiony is not doing research or the region any favors, “By having a low quality operation he’s not helping. The world is already saturated with journals like this.”
It’s hard to envision a future where predatory journals will go away; they’re too easy to start up and there’s too much money to be made. Basiony himself hopes his company will expand to include as many as ten journal titles in 2016. Perhaps the best way to shut down fake journals, observers say, is to stem the demand—and for that researchers need to be more discerning when they choose a publication to showcase their work.