Valuation of publications

Ryan Lacy explores the issues with predatory publishers.
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By Ryan Lacy, PhD

Ryan Lacy James Zimring’s recent opinion piece We’re Incentivizing Bad Science caught my attention. He analogizes prolific scientific publication records to the bubble economics associated with the 2008 housing crisis. The analogy to economic markets makes some sense insofar as we are producing what the market values. His main concern is that the “publish or perish” motto may be undermining the impact, translatability and reproducibility of research. While I don’t think this analogy holds true for every scientist at every institution, I think he brings up an important situation that we, as early career scientists, should know about — the existence of “predator publishers.” Have you ever received emails from seemingly reputable publishers asking you to publish in a journal completely unrelated to your field? I’ve received emails about “publishing” research based on a conference poster title or even studies that are already published. These may be warning signs that you’re dealing with individuals engaging in predatory publishing. Thus, predatory publishers are symptomatic of the market attempting to cash in on the value of publications in the same way investors capitalized on the value of mortgage-backed securities.

Here’s why you should be concerned about predatory publishers. First, you will be required to pay fees to publish, which allows the predatory publisher to achieve their goal of making money. Second, peer-review, a cornerstone of scientific rigor, could be circumvented. These first two concerns are related in that slowing down publication via rigorous peer-review prevents the publishers from receiving those fees. Third, they may make false claims about the impact factor and/or indexing. Finally, your work may disappear entirely if that publisher shuts down completely. It may be obvious, but these are not ideal circumstances to be disseminating our science. So, how can we protect ourselves against these predatory publishers? Here’s a quick checklist (credit Iowa State University Library):

  • Do you or your colleagues know the journal?
  • Have you read any articles in the journal before?
  • Is it easy to discover the latest papers in the journal?
  • Can you easily identify and contact the publisher?
  • Is the journal clear about the type of peer review it uses?
  • Are articles indexed in services that you use?
  • Is it clear what fees will be charged?
  • Do you recognize the editorial board?
  • Is the publisher a member of a recognized industry initiative?
  • Do they belong to the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)?
  • If the journal is open access, is it listed in the Directory of Open Access
    Journals (DOAJ)?
  • If the journal is open access, does the publisher belong to the Open Access
    Scholarly Publishers’ Association (OASPA)?

In conclusion, new journals are launching every week and some of them may be trying to cash in on your hard work. This could have long-term consequences for your publication record and allow less-than-rigorous research to dilute our body of scientific knowledge.