Openness and predatory journals.

This morning I read the article by Gina Kolata in the New York Times entitled, Many Academics Are Eager to Publish in Worthless Journals. The article discusses predatory journals, which are “journals” (if we bend that term beyond recognition) that are willing to publish anyone, have little to no editorial staff and do not employ peer-review (even if they claim to do so). Authors usually pay a fee to publish in these journals. These journals, therefore, promote psuedoscience- there is literally NO mechanism to ensure that the scholarship is well supported.

In the environment of “publish or perish,” some academics, Kolata reports, are publishing in these journals simply to get another publication. Publication in these non-peer-reviewed, unedited, “pay-to-play” journals does not appear to hinder academics ability to secure tenure. Indeed, some of academics who have published in predatory journals have received awards that are, at least partially, based upon their  publications. Additionally, it’s not terribly surprising that academics who work at institutions with high teaching loads but with limited support for research (such as at community colleges or liberal arts colleges- like Muhlenberg College, where I teach), but who are also required to publish, are particularly susceptible to these journals.

So, what does this have to do with openness? Most of these journals are “open”- that is, they have minimal overhead and, since very few (none?) produce expensive print copies; the only place you can find these publications is online. Additionally, I presume that no reputable library would purchase a subscription. Therefore, the primary (sole?) source of income is from the authors.

Predatory journals are producing articles with “research” that has not been peer-reviewed or are in reputable journals, books or from reputable publishers but the articles are available to the public. There is no way to ensure their veracity or accuracy. Some are even indexed in Google Scholar, which does not vet the journals it indexes. Not only is this poor scholarship, but it is also MORE available to the public than most peer-reviewed scholarship, which is closed-up tightly behind pay walls. A side note here… I headed over to Beall’s List of Predatory Publishers and Journals to try to find some of these articles. It was actually quite opaque. Many websites were nearly non-functional and actually finding articles was difficult. The concern expressed above may be more about future concerns than about what is available at present.

This post, therefore, though quite brief, is a call for more openness in research and scholarship- the more reliable research available the better. But, it is also a recognition that availability is clearly not enough. Openness is not enough. We, both as researchers and teachers, need to think deeply about how we teach our students to recognize the difference between reliable scholarship and  research that is not supported. Also, because a limited portion of the “public” goes to college, we (perhaps as institutions, not as individuals) also need to figure out ways to communicate this information outside of our physical and scholarly spaces.