In recent years a widespread network of so-called “predatory publishers” have been churning out sub-standard, and in many cases, entirely fabricated scientific/academic research to turn a profit. Five of the largest predatory journals have published 175,000 academic articles between them in recent years. These journals, including Indian publisher Omics, are willing to publish anything and everything submitted to them, once the required fee is paid. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has since opened investigations against Omics’ American subsidiary. According to the FTC there were “in numerous instances,” evidence that the peer-review practices of Omics “are a sham.”
From a different perspective, the growth of these journals has become a real problem for aspiring authors.Their rise has led to growing concerns in the academic community, as authors and researchers must, by necessity, adopt a level of paranoia in dealing with any such offers. They are now having to spend an increasing amount of time searching for the telltale signs of such journals, including hidden (and exorbitant) fees, lack of indexing, and ambiguous publishing processes. This has led to worries surrounding both the inclusion of sub-standard articles and studies, but also the inclusion of a genuine article in a predatory journal can lead to it being ignored or deemed as “unworthy” of peer review.
Not all articles in these journals are “fake science”, but their association with such a disreputable publication may cast doubt over what could be stellar and worthwhile academic research. This is further cause of anxiety for authors, who fear that their reputations may be tarnished by association with these journals.
Recently, these journals and their lack of editorial rigour have led to embarrassing headlines. In May of this year, an article on canine sexual misconduct was published in Gender, place and culture: a journal of feminist geography, supposedly written by Helen Wilson, who claimed to have a doctorate in feminist studies. This journal is accessible to all UCD students through the library. The article, which made questionable arguments including that public parks were “petri dishes for canine ‘rape culture’” was in fact one of a number of hoax articles written by a trio of professors in the United States to prove “that certain aspects of knowledge production…have been corrupted”. The group consisting of James Lindsay, a maths doctorate, Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy and Helen Pluckrose, a London-based scholar of English literature and history, had submitted 20 such hoax articles, four of which have been published.
The academic world, defined by collegialism and mutual respect, has been attempting to fix these issues. The growth in popularity of these predatory journals, led by profit, and as some have claimed, an attempt to undermine academia. While individual researchers strive towards their own goals, guided by their own interests and priorities, the development of a field is based on collaboration and knowledge exchange.
The impact factor of academic journals is a measure of its influence on a field. It is a measure derived by dividing the number of times, on average, the journal’s articles are cited in a particular year by the total number of articles published in the preceding two years. These “predatory journals”, if recognised as such, have low impact factors, while the household names are considered to be highly influential.
Those who are fighting the practices of such journals stress that they do not want to establish an academic homogeneity but are simply seeking a fair and reputable platform on which they may add to their field of research. Some, notably Professor Milton Wainwright, from the University of Sheffield, have claimed that the peer review system allows close-minded academics to “actively deny” access to their research. He believes that publications external to this system allow the publication of “risky” science, which will be useful in the future. This is not a widely held opinion, however.
Well known journals such as the Harvard Business Review, the Cambridge Law Journal, the New England Journal of Medicine, whose names carry weight in academia, contains research that show peer-reviewed publications are automatically granted respect. Those who do not see this new wave of what some may label “predatory journals”, see them as an opportunity to challenge the status quo, and bring balance to a field that at times can be notoriously rigged against smaller or newer institutions.