Ellie Downes supports researchers at Swansea University in identifying trusted journals and publishers for their research. She has shared with us her tips for researchers and her tips for librarians.
Academic publishing appears as if it is in a state of continual flux bewildering new researchers, seasoned academics, librarians and funding bodies alike. To attempt to address this, I created a series of training sessions on aspects of academic publishing including Open Access, Measuring Research, and Predatory Journals.
To teach participants how to spot a predatory journal from a real one, first requires them to be familiar with ‘typical’ academic publishing practices There is an assumption that researchers would be aware of what an ISSN is, or what a standard timeframe for quality peer review is, which can of course vary drastically between disciplines. Where some disciplines can have articles submitted, accepted, and published within two months, other spend more than 6 months waiting for appropriate peer-reviewers.
Creating sessions which address these aspects of Academic Publishing is important to give new researchers realistic expectations of the industry they’re going into, especially with the increased pressure to publish.
Where there’s a profit, there is a motive, and Academic Publishing is very profitable.
The shift towards Open Access Publishing has made research a lot more accessible to a wider audience and has many other positives. However, a negative of shifting to an ‘author/institution pays’ model has been a rise in the number of predatory journals. This is not to say that all Open Access models require a fee, however, it does appear to be a dominant model.
Tactics they use:
– Lure you in with a relatively cheap APC (Article Processing Charge) – let’s say £500 – then when you realise they’re predatory, charge more to retract or withdraw the article. This also leaves us with the question of whether you can resubmit to a legitimate journal or give up your hard work for lost.
– Inflated or incorrect Journal Impact Factors. Journal impact factors have become a reputational tick-box for authors. Predatory journals rely on academics knowing that ‘high means good’, without going into how this metric is actually calculated.
– Mirroring. Using a well-known journal name and similar branding and web design, and adding ‘The’ to the beginning, or using the same acronym as a legitimate publisher like MDPI.
– The real sneaky one. Reaching out to academics asking them to consider joining the editorial board. For an academic, being on an editorial board of a journal brings an element of prestige, and career progression and can really make a difference in their field. Predatory journals know this and use academics to bolster the reputation of the journal. Some journals may be trying to move from predatory to legitimate and recruiting an editorial board to oversee this change.
– Claiming an editorial board without academics being aware – some journals do list academics on their editorial board without the academics’ knowledge or permission. Search for the academics’ staff profile on their institution website, have they listed this journal on it?
Tips for Researchers
I get asked ‘how to assess which journal is the best to publish with?’ a lot. And my answer is often, ‘do you cite articles from that journal? Does your supervisor?’. A good starting point when looking to publish is whether you are actually familiar with that journal’s output. In line with the Think. Check. Submit. checklist here are some of my suggestions;
1. Basic sense checks – read the journal site carefully. Has it got spelling and grammar mistakes littered all over the place? Are the members of the editorial team actually relevant – we had an example of a ‘medical journal’ that had an editor whose research area was textiles. Do they have contradictory information?
2. Check the links – predatory journals often include logos of legitimate publishing organisations or indexers on their sites, but the links go nowhere or to a suspicious website
3. Search for the journal title in the databases you use in your research whether that is a library catalogue, Web of Science, any database on EBSCO etc. If you can’t find it, why would you publish in a journal which isn’t accessible in the routes researchers normally use?
These are basics, and don’t require in-depth knowledge about bibliographic details, metadata, and indexing services. If a researcher has looked at these approaches and isn’t sure, then it’s my turn to look in further detail.
When it comes to teaching people about Predatory Journals, the first major shock still appears to be the fact that they exist in the first place. After this, the tactics are relatively straightforward to point out, but an example on-screen of both a reputable journal and a questionable one can really help illustrate the problem.
It is important to distinguish how much we can reasonably expect a researcher to know and do, and how much of this checking a librarian or research support role should undertake as part of the service. There is a certain amount of bibliographic and metadata detective work that comes with checking a journal’s legitimacy and it’s unreasonable to expect all researchers to know the minutiae of every publisher and its infrastructure.
Tips for Librarians
The Think.Check.Submit. provides a thorough checklist when checking a publisher. These are the primary aspects I go through when investigating;
1. Check the indexers.
2. Also check the links on sites, there are plenty of sites with logos of indexers but when you click the link it’s broken or leads you to a suspicious site with no guidance on inclusion criteria.
3. Check JISC Library Discover
4. Use Sherpa Romeo to check the ISSN is correct
5. Do they use submission platforms like ScholarOne?
6. What payment system do they use for APCs, Paypal? Credit Cards? Information on Invoicing is essential.7. If the rest of this list comes up suspect, then there will be no need to check the JIF.