Tag Archives: publishing

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Tarnished Gold: The Tale of Bohannon, DOAJ, and the Predators

Many of us may remember the Sokal hoax of 1996. Alan Sokal, a physics professor, successfully published a hoax article in Social Text in order to ridicule humanities scholarship.  More recently, last fall, John Bohannon, a journalist for Science, sent out a significantly scientifically flawed “spoof” article about a wonder drug. He sent the article to 304 open access journals. The majority of these journals published the “spoof” article. Why did he do this? He wanted to prove that open access journals offer very little or no peer-review. Many of the journals were listed in the main portal for open access journals, the Directory of Open Access Journals aka DOAJ.

The first question to ask is why so many open access journals accepted the sham article. The answer, although not obvious, is that there is a dark side to open access: predatory publishers.

dracula

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/25/Dracula_1958_c.jpg

Predatory publishers have always existed in various guises. Most academics are familiar with the vanity-press style monograph publishers that exist to help authors get their work into print. Even in commercial journal publishing unethical practices are not atypical (try googling “fake Elsevier journals“).  Junket-y conferences are another face of predatory publishing.

Nefarious publishers have always existed but the new twist comes with technology. Anyone can install a free publishing platform and call themselves a journal publisher. This is great but also problematic. New “gold” open access journals can be launched easily. Some open access journals charge authors article processing charges to help cover costs. This is most common in the STEM fields where authors build these fees into their grants and/or can get funding from their universities.

As in the past, there is good money to be made on the backs of desperate and/or naïve scholars rushing towards tenure and promotion. Now the process is as simple as submitting a paper online.

peer-review-in-a-week

And no revisions to worry about! Visa, MasterCard, or PayPal, please.

Predatory publishers have mushroomed, spinning off vaguely named and copycat titled journals. Spam emails lure in new fish.

Hoe's_six-cylinder_press

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/03/Hoe%27s_six-cylinder_press.png

Many of us first learned about predatory publishers from a New York Times piece about Jeffrey Beall, an academic librarian, and his crusade to save us from the predators by listing them on his blog. Beall’s “list” was the A to Z of what we knew about predatory publishing. And then came Bohannon.

Bohannon’s sting caused a firestorm, but his method was flawed. Why not also probe how many toll-access publishers would accept the article? Bohannon’s conclusions were dubious–the majority of journals in the Directory of Open Access Journals actually rejected the article and a majority on Beall’s list accepted the article. Yet in the aftermath, there has been considerable hand-wringing. The question was now:

Who is policing open access?
Those creepy predatory journals are giving open access a bad name!
 

In response, I recommend that everyone read “On the mark? Responses to a sting” as well as librarian Barbara Fister’s thoughtful comments on the issue.  There are also helpful organizations including OASPA, COPE, and SPARC Europe Seal for Open Access Journals in addition to the broader SPARC organization.

But what happens when a discovery tool takes on a bigger role?

DOAJ tightened inclusion standards after the sting and now offers a seal of approval. The new standards are not without flaws:  (paid) registration with CrossRef is difficult for small and/or one-off open access publishers. However, DOAJ should be lauded for their efforts to keep the predatory publishers at bay. At least 114 journals were removed from DOAJ after the Bohannon scandal.

But Dorothea Salo in the aforementioned group commentary “On the mark?” notes:

This is progress, but a cursory examination of the new DOAJ criteria shows that they are crediting good practices such as peer review, rather than punishing bad practices such as email spam, falsely-listed editors, and junkety conferences. … Its program simply does not suffice to eliminate all the scammers and scammy practices.

It’s still too early to tell if DOAJ’s efforts will make a difference. We need much more public education about gold open access and how it differs entirely from predatory publishing. The recent scandal involving Springer and IEEE publishing 120 “gibberish” papers is further evidence that scholarly communications based on peer-review needs reform. Is open peer-review the answer? Are predatory publishers just an expression of a transitional period and will they wither as open access grows to the stage where it is widely understood and embraced?

Open Access Publishing: Promise and Uncertainties

AskMe

Librarians have been too successful. We have made it seamless for faculty and students to get to licensed electronic books and articles that are, in fact, locked behind paywalls. We render paywalls completely invisible to searchers in library IP-space. And off-site users are guided through proxy servers to their information destination with minimal interruption, sometimes only once the first time we login.

We’ve made it easy, then, for those within academic institutions to not realize that anyone outside, without a research library to go to, without university credentials to unlock access, is blocked from the databases, books, and articles we in higher education enjoy for free.

GC Library proxy login

Well, it’s not really free. University readers pay for access with taxes and tuition, not with a credit card like unaffiliated readers must.

PurchaseAccess Paywall

Universal, open access publishing is essential to extending the works and benefits of higher education. Publishing “open access” allows authors to connect with the widest possible audiences, locally and globally.

We in higher ed must rethink how we produce, distribute, and value scholarship. Why do scholars write? Why is scholarly publishing out of reach to so many readers? What evidence signals that scholarship is meaningful?

Some of the pressing questions about open access publishing and scholarly communication include:

  1. Can MOOCs succeed without open online scholarship?
  2. Does open access publishing threaten university presses, learned societies, the peer review system, and academic life as we know it?
  3. How do I guard against predatory publishers trying to make a buck off of OA publication fees?
  4. How does an author find an open access journal or publisher?
  5. How does an over-extended public university academic actually self-archive work that is already published? Is academia.edu any good?
  6. How does an over-extended public university academic editing a peer-reviewed journal make that journal open access without sacrificing all free time to the effort?
  7. What started this open access craze, and why are librarians smack in the middle of it? Is it just a fad?
  8. How can a CUNY scholar negotiate with a prestigious publisher to retain copyright to a work, and live to tell about it?
  9.  What are Creative Commons licenses, and what does copyright have to do with open access publishing?
  10. What the heck is metadata, and what does it have to do with open access publishing?
  11.  Do social scientists and humanists really have to worry about open access scholarship? Our journals are not so expensive.
  12. If a publisher’s prestige isn’t as important as the impact of scholarship, how do we evaluate faculty for tenure and promotion?

In this topic series on scholarly communication, I and my CUNY librarian colleagues, will explore open access publishing – its promise and its uncertainties.

 

 

Impact Factor Shifting from Journal to Article

The traditional measure of scholarly impact, “impact factor” of journals is shifting to individual articles, separate from their journals they are published in.  This has big implications for how we think about the impact of academic research both within the academy and beyond it.

Prestigious, R1 institutions, often evaluate faculty for tenure and promotion based on how often they publish in “high impact” journals, as measured by something known as Impact Factor (IF).  The IF was developed as part of the U.S. National Research Council project 35 years ago to evaluate the improvements that resulted from a billion dollar University Science Development program funded by the National Science Foundation. To find out what a particular journal’s IF is, you can consult this guide. It’s currently administered by Thomas Reuters, and journals often tout their impact factor (citing Thomas Reuters) to attract submissions from academics eager to share that putative prestige.

Journal Impact Factor advert(Image source)

The Impact Factor have come under scrutiny for a number of reasons, including that the IF rankings of journals have a remarkably high correlation to departments’ ranking, suggesting that the it’s not the journals that are prestigious but the academic departments that house them.

Journals can also boost their IF through various easy-to-manipulate means and dozens of journals have come under attack for such practices. A number of academics have launched a critique of impact factors (pdf) and make a persuasive case about their lack of validity.

There’s another problem with impact factors.  A recent analysis by George Lazano, Vincent Larivière and Yves Gingras identifies another, and perhaps larger, problem: since about 1990, the IF has been losing its very meaning.

Lozano points out that impact factors were developed in the early 20th century to help American university libraries with their journal purchasing decisions.  Of course, throughout the last century, printed, bound journals were the main way in which scholarly research was distributed. All that’s changing.

With digital means of publication and dissemination, academic research is released from those bound volumes to a many-to-many distribution system. Here is what Lozano and colleagues found in their research on the impact factor in this new environment:

Using a huge dataset of over 29 million papers and 800 million citations, we showed that from 1902 to 1990 the relationship between IF and paper citations had been getting stronger, but as predicted, since 1991 the opposite is true: the variance of papers’ citation rates around their respective journals’ IF has been steadily increasing. Currently, the strength of the relationship between IF and paper citation rate is down to the levels last seen around 1970.

Furthermore, we found that until 1990, of all papers, the proportion of top (i.e., most cited) papers published in the top (i.e., highest IF) journals had been increasing. So, the top journals were becoming the exclusive depositories of the most cited research. However, since 1991 the pattern has been the exact opposite. Among top papers, the proportion NOT published in top journals was decreasing, but now it is increasing. Hence, the best (i.e., most cited) work now comes from increasingly diverse sources, irrespective of the journals’ IFs.

If the pattern continues, the usefulness of the IF will continue to decline, which will have profound implications for science and science publishing. For instance, in their effort to attract high-quality papers, journals might have to shift their attention away from their IFs and instead focus on other issues, such as increasing online availability, decreasing publication costs while improving post-acceptance production assistance, and ensuring a fast, fair and professional review process.

Lozano and colleagues raise interesting issues for us to consider in the new landscape of scholarly communication.  If the impact of our research is no longer tied to particular journals, often with very insular, disciplinary-specific concerns, and geared to a narrow audience of specialists, then there are a number of possibilities that open up.  As Lozano suggests, we may begin to see journals that increase online availability, lower publication costs, and improve production and peer-review processes.

Whatever happens, the shift of “impact” from a small set of journals to individual articles is an epic shift in scholarly communication.