Depending on whom you speak to, so-called predatory publishing is a serious threat to the scientific record, a minor irritant, or an elitist misunderstanding.
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Thus, while some that predatory publishers represent “the dark dangerous force” of scholarly publishing, others that, by contrast, they have introduced valuable low-cost journals that have levelled the playing field for less privileged members of the research community. As such, the latter say, the journals they publish would be better described as “ ” or examples of “ ”, not predatory journals.
Others that any harm predatory publishers do is small and has been significantly overblown by the enemies of open access, or that the problem is “ .”
Yet others maintain that the , who have been for years and are now .
These complexities point to a central problem in any discussion of predatory publishing: no one is able to adequately define (or agree on a definition of) the phenomenon. And yet however one defines it, it is clearly casting the research community in a , , light.
Whatever the truth (and likely predatory publishing is some mix of the above) the topic is a hugely controversial one and engenders bitter disputes. For instance, the person who coined the term predatory publisher – – has been the recipient of a constant stream of verbal attacks and legal threats, not least because he created the foundational blacklist of what he calls “potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers”. Beall also regularly publishes articles (e.g. ) in which he maintains that predatory publishing is a direct consequence of open access, and that OA has as a result ”.
Many were not surprised, therefore, when last year Beall’s site . And shortly afterwards he at the University of Colorado without explanation (that I am aware of).
To add to the confusion, as concern grew, and both blacklists (e.g. Beall’s list, now ) and whitelists (e.g. the ) began to appear, a new problem emerged: even if an OA publisher tries to be honest and straightforward and has the papers submitted to it assessed in a diligent manner, it may at any point (and for whatever reason) be deemed by the community to be predatory. As a result, all those researchers who have published with it can expect to suffer reputational damage.
Given these complexities, I plan to use the term predatory publishing in this article in a very specific way. I will be referring to those OA publishers who clearly and deliberately trick researchers – essentially, by failing to provide the promised (or even a meaningful) service and/or deceiving them about the nature of that service, simply in order to extract money from them. I will not name any publishers, or journals, but simply refer to some of the deceptive practices they engage in that I know take place. I know they take place because I am regularly contacted by the victims of such unethical behaviour, and these victims share with me the details of what has happened to them.
So, for instance, the publishers/journals I am talking about often do not inform authors at the point of submission that they will be charged an APC if their paper is accepted. And they often tell them (or imply) that the papers they publish are properly peer-reviewed where in reality they are not.
It’s true, there are also some dishonest researchers who deliberately seek out predatory publishers in order to bulk up their CVs. Nevertheless, I have been contacted by a sufficiently large number of scholars who have been tricked by unscrupulous OA publishers that I am confident there is a serious problem out there. And it leads me to believe that a great many of the researchers who publish in these journals are hapless victims of a scam.
In my view, predatory publishing (or whatever you choose to call it) is a serious problem and a solution will eventually have to be found. Here, however, I am concerned primarily with the victims of predatory publishers.
The consequences can be serious
When authors fall victim to a predatory publisher the consequences can be serious. Not only will they be conned into handing over (usually public) money for a service that is never (or very inadequately) provided, but (more seriously for them) their reputation (and likely their career) may be negatively impacted as a result. Unsurprisingly, therefore, victims of predatory publishers experience a great deal of anguish, anger and resentment.