Thursday, September 13, 2012

Predatory publishers

For the past several years, I've been getting these weird emails from conference organizers that wanted me to speak.  Almost invariably these were held in China or India, with vague titles like "International Conference on Science and Technology."  Often, they would address me by my full name and invite me to speak on my latest paper, which often led to really odd results:  "We think your paper 'Using creation science to demonstrate evolution' would make a great talk for our conference."  Really?  You want me to talk about that of all things?  The whole thing seemed a little skeevy to me.

Turns out I'm not alone.  This week's Nature has an eye-opening and disturbing essay from Jeffrey Beall called "Predatory publishers are corrupting open access."  First a bit of review for those who aren't up on journal publishing.  Traditionally, journal publishers pay for journals through subscriptions and advertisement (much like magazine publishers today).  Recently, journal publishing has become big business with outrageously high subscription prices for libraries.  A typical quarterly technical science journal might run a library $3000 or higher for a single year, which is crazy.  And that's after many of the same journals charge authors a fee for every printed page of an article.  Lots of folk are pretty upset about the whole system.

With the advent of the internet, some researchers have turned to an open access publishing model, where the authors pay a fee to have their paper published, and then it's free forever on the internet.  The fee covers the cost of maintaining the website and providing editorial support, the traditional publishing expenses.  The big difference with traditional publishing is that no one has to pay to get access to the article, and the authors retain the copyright of their work.  Prominent OA publishers are the Public Library of Science and BioMed Central.

Back to the disturbing essay:  It turns out that a sort of scientific "vanity press" of pseudo-journals has arisen. These "publishers" recruit papers that are then published upon payment of a fee.  It's the same basic model as a typical OA journal, except with these publishers there's really no effort at all to provide any credible peer review.  They're just after your money.  Beall's blog has many disturbing stories to go with the Nature piece. Check it out, and be extra wary.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.