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Predatory companies exploit open access

Open access involves making research results freely available on the net, but in the wake of a positive initiative unscrupulous publishers are attempting to profit from researchers.

“I’m always getting invitations from publishers who want me to be published in their journals or be on their editorial committees. You could ask absolutely any researcher and probably get the same reply,” says Mikael Elofsson, Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Umeå University.

As an established researcher he does not give that much thought to the enquiries, which usually go straight into the waste-paper bin.

It is at the same time becoming increasingly necessary for researchers to be published, and finding your way amongst the huge range of journals is no easy job — especially not if you are new to the game and have no chance of getting a paper accepted in a high-ranking journal.

“Since doctoral students and those who have just gained their doctorate have the greatest need to establish themselves, they are often easy targets for unscrupulous publishers,” says Ulf Kronman, the coordinator for at the Royal Library, but being published in an unscrupulous journal is hardly good for your reputation as a researcher; on the contrary, it can damage your credibility.

There are currently over 8,000 open-access journals. Examples of publishers with a high status are BioMed Central and the Public Library of Science (PLoS). Another variant is small, new publishers — legitimate undertakings that are endeavouring to attract a readership through quality, but there are also deviants.

“Unfortunately the unscrupulous publishers give open access a very bad reputation. Opponents say this is the very thing they had feared — publishers being driven by money instead of quality,” explains Ulf Kronman.

Open-access journals are free of charge for readers; in general it is instead the researchers who have to pay — often with money from the research funder. Predators clearly stand to make money in this field. Spam and amateurish websites can be easy to see through, but there are also more refined methods. The journals may assert that they are using peer-review procedures, even if no reviewing is taking place. The editorial committee may comprise well-known researchers who are not even consulted. Often they will also try to conceal which country they are located in.

“Upon closer inspection it often transpires that they are located in places such as India or Nigeria, even though they may state addresses in the USA,” says Ulf Kronman.

Researchers may also risk losing copyright for their articles — which would mean the failure of an important fundamental principle of open access.

In general it is good to be sceptical about mass emails, though one may independently discover an interesting journal on the net. How do you know whether or not it is a legitimate journal? There is no universal solution — it is more a matter of putting in a bit of detective work. A good piece of advice is to find out whether the publisher is a member of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association — OASPA — and whether it is included in Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports or whether it is on the blacklist ’Beall’s List of Predatory Open-Access Publishers’ (see information box).


There is also a Swedish initiative. Lund University operates the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) database, which gathers quality-reviewed open-access journals in a searchable database.

”I’d like to see clearer national coordination and would like DOAJ to be given resources to develop databases for both legitimate and unscrupulous journals. There should also be a list of journals that are awaiting assessment,” says Ulf Kronman.

In Norway credit-scoring journals are being collected in the so-called Kanalregistret. Earlier this year nearly 200 unscrupulous journals were removed from the list. As from 2008 Norwegian publishers had published 129 scientific articles in the removed journals.

Mikael Elofsson says that the Faculty of Science and Technology is planning a faculty research-education course in publishing methods.

“Disseminating research results in the form of scientific publications is extremely important. There’s a lot to think about when it comes to publishing, e.g. choice of journal and level of availability. It is thus natural that this form part of research education,” says Mikael Elofsson, who is also chair of the Faculty’s Committee for Education at Research Level.

It is impossible to say how many researchers have been deceived by predatory companies.

“After all, quick, simple publication routes are also something researchers can utilise with the hope of a boost to their career,” says Ulf Kronman.

So when applications for a new post come flowing in it may be worth casting a wary eye over dubious journals in applicants’ CVs.

Ulf Kronman emphasises that it is quality that has driven the open-access movement, but it is important not to close your eyes to the other side of the coin.

“It is my hope that the system will become self-regulating. Getting published in an unscrupulous journal does you no credit. But we will also need to live with the deviants and find ways of handling them.”


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