UU English Department Blog

Predatory publishing in academia

2020-12-14

By Andrew Cooper

If a junior university lecturer wants to get on in life, earn promotion and (hooray!) tenure, we have to publish as much of our research as possible as quickly as possible – the motto is “Publish or perish!”

Well, nobody wants to perish.

Much of our time is spent composing research articles, sending them off to editors, dealing with the irrational demands of reviewers, re-editing the text… lather, rinse, repeat.

In much of the world, the overriding demand is that we must publish in international journals in English. However, these journals are among the most competitive and slow-paced. Many months can be wasted in preparing a text for submission only for publication to be denied at a reviewer or editor’s apparent arbitrary whim.

So when an email drops in your inbox from a journal editor (!) saying how great your conference talk was (!!) that they want to invite you to publish it in their journal (!!!) and that the review process will only take a few weeks or even days – well, you run out of exclamation marks.

However, something about the first of these invitations didn’t seem right to me. The talk they mentioned was only a review of data I had collected – the idea was to consult my more experienced colleagues on tools and techniques. There weren’t any results yet, it couldn’t be of any use to anyone but me.

So what was going on? I joined forces with a colleague who specialises in sociolinguistics and language policy, Josep Soler, and for six months we collected every unsolicited invitation received from all of our colleagues in the English department at Stockholm University. We narrowed them down to 25 unique “types”, and found the names of all of the journals who sent the invitations on librarian Jeffrey Beall’s list of “predatory publishers.”

Predatory publisher is a term applied to organisations which apparently offer academic publishing services but whose publications have no scientific rigour, no proper editorial procedures and no status in the relevant research community. They also, eventually, charge money for the publication. It is not unusual to impose charges for a quick service in fields such as medicine or biomechanics, where research can lead to profits and substantial grants. However, in humanities and education sciences, fees are rare, as there is usually no way to monetise the results, departments are not budgeted to cover such costs, and any lecturer who can afford to spend $1000 of their own money to get an article published is in the wrong business.

The predatory publisher typically offers a service by which the article, having undergone editorial processing or review, is immediately published on-line for anyone to read on the journal’s website, at the author’s expense. Within legitimate publishing, this is known as the gold open access model. The key distinction is that in predatory publishing there is never any editorial or review process, so any article on any topic is automatically accepted. For example, Mazières and Kohler’s publication in International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology, titled “Get me off Your Fucking Mailing List”, consists only of that phrase repeated hundreds of times with two graphs (axis X “Get me off”, axis Y “Your fucking Mailing List”). It was rated “excellent” by a reviewer and published for a fee of $150. Such publishers may also print some copies on demand. It is important at this stage to distinguish predatory publishing from self-publishing and vanity publishing. Self-publishing is a legitimate practice by which anyone can order a small print run of books directly from a printer or agent, and is popular among writers with too limited an appeal to be considered by a major publishing company. In contrast, “predatory publishing” implies deception and the exploitation of the academic publishing industry’s fundamental flaws.

In later posts, I’ll point out some of the key features which distinguish predatory publishers’ invitations from legitimate journals’ promotional materials, how they work and why they exist.

Last modified: 2021-02-22