Faking the truth

Predatory publishing can cause harm in all sorts of ways, but so can fighting it with the wrong ammunition. In this blog post, Simon Linacre looks at examples of how organizations have gone the wrong way about doing the right thing.


One of the perks – and also the pains – of working in marketing is that you have to spend time trawling through social media posts. It is painful because no matter how good your filters are, there is a huge amount of unnecessary, unearthly and unhealthy content being shared in absolute torrents. On the flip side, however, there are a few gems worth investigating further. Many of them prove to be rabbit holes, but nevertheless, the chase can be worthwhile.

Searching through some posts earlier this month I happened upon mention of an updated list of recommended and predatory journals. Obviously, this is our gig at Cabells so I was genuinely intrigued to find out more. It turns out that the Directorate General of Scientific Research and Technological Development (RSDT) in Algeria has produced three lists on its website – two of recommended journals for Algerian researchers in two subject categories, and one of predatory journals and publishers.

Judgment

A cursory look at the predatory list shows that the first 100 or so journals match Beall’s archived list almost exactly. Futhermore, there is nowhere on the website that suggests how and why such a list exists, other than an open warning to authors who publish in one of the journals listed:

“To this effect, any publication in a journal in category A or B which is predatory or published by a predatory publisher, or that exclusively publishes conference proceedings, is not accepted for defense of a doctoral thesis or university tenure.” (own translation)

In other words, your academic career could be in trouble if you publish in a journal in the RSDT list.

Consequences

The rights and wrongs, accuracies and inaccuracies of Beall’s list have been debated elsewhere, but it is fair to say that as Beall was trying to eradicate predatory publishing practices by highlighting them, some journals were missed while some publishers and their titles were perhaps unfairly identified as predatory. Now the list is over two years out of date, with one version being updated by no-one-knows-who. However, what are the consequences for Algerian academics – and authors from anywhere else who are judged by the same policy – of publishing in a journal?

  1. Publish in RSDT-listed journal that is not predatory but on the list: Career trouble
  2. Publish in RSDT-listed journal that is predatory and on the list: Career trouble
  3. Publish in journal not listed by RSDT but is predatory: Career trouble
  4. Publish in journal not listed by RSDT and is not predatory: Career OK

Option 4 is obviously the best option, and Option 2 is a sad result for authors not doing their homework and de-risking their publishing strategy. But it seems there will be a large number of academics who make a valid choice (1) based on independent criteria who will fall foul of an erroneous list, or who think they are safe because a journal is not on the RSDT list but is predatory (3).

Comparison

One of my colleagues at Cabells cross-referenced the RSDT list and the Cabells Blacklist, which now has over 11,595 journals reviewed and validated as predatory. The results show that due to a lack of crossover between the lists, many academics in Algeria, and potentially elsewhere, could be wrongly condemned or unwittingly publish in predatory journals:

  • In terms of publishers, the RSDT list contains 1601 unique publishers, while the Blacklist contains 443
  • There are exactly 200 publishers on both lists, meaning that around 12% of the publishers on the RSDT list are also included in the Blacklist, while 43% of the Blacklist publishers are also on the RSDT list
  • The RSDT list contains 2488 unique journals, of which only 81 are the same as the 11,500+ Blacklist journals
  • Less than 1% (0.7%) of the Blacklist is also on the RSDT list; conversely, about 3% of the RSDT list is also included on the Blacklist.

As always, the moral of the story for authors is ‘research your research’ – fully utilize the skills you have gained as an academic by applying them to researching your submission decision and checking multiple sources of information. Failure to do so could mean serious problems, wherever you are.

Feedback loop

Last week the Scholarly Kitchen blog reviewed the Cabells Blacklist for its readers and inspired the second highest number of comments for any post so far in 2019. As a follow-up, Simon Linacre answers some of the questions the post and comments have raised while providing an update on the product itself.    



The publication of Rick Anderson’s review of the Blacklist last week gives Cabells some great feedback for us to improve the product, both from an industry expert and the blog’s readers from the scholarly publishing community. We have answered some of the specific queries already in the Comments section, but thought it would be helpful to address some wider points for the benefit of those who have been so engaged with the post.

Firstly, Rick pointed out that for those journals under review, there was no indication as to why that was the case. Journals are recommended for review through the Cabells website, from members of the academic community, through word of mouth and from our own research, so often the reason they are being reviewed is not recorded. Some journals check out just fine, so we have to be careful not to stigmatize a journal unfairly by repeating claims that may be unfounded, which could also have legal implications.

Secondly, Rick felt that some of the criteria for inclusion were a little ambiguous and unclear, and this is something we have very much taken on board. We have recently revamped the criteria and added some new items, but due to the nature of predatory publishing this review process is ongoing and we will look to clarify any ambiguities we can. In addition, there was clear concern that the appeals process for the Blacklist was not visible enough, and this is something that will be changed to make the appeals policy more visible. A page for the Blacklist appeals process has been added to our blog, The Source. In addition, we will add a link to the Cabells Blacklist product page under the Blacklist criteria link. 

Rick’s final point was with regard to the functionality of Advanced Search on the Blacklist, with recommendations it should be expanded to offer searches by violation type, for example. This development is currently on our roadmap, as we constantly seek to improve the product’s utility for users. Other product development ideas mentioned in the Comments section – such as integrating the Blacklist as a tool for customers to run checks on journals and checking citation activity – are also in on our to-do list, and we hope to be able to share some product development news shortly.

Moving on to the Comments, it is clear some in the community feel the Blacklist should be free or at least available at a lower subscription price. As has been noted by our colleague in the Comments, the price one contributor quoted for a subscription was far more than a typical subscription, which tends to equate to a handful of APCs. One of the Scholarly Kitchen chefs commented that many institutions and funders unfortunately waste many thousands of dollars for academics to publish their papers in predatory journals, which use of the Blacklist would help mitigate.

Finally, there were two very interesting comment threads around author services and offering a ‘gray list’ to customers in the future. Cabells has a strategic partnership with Editage, and in collaboration with them offers users an opportunity to improve their articles before the vital submission stage. As for offering a Gray List, while there is a de facto list of such journals – i.e. a list of journals NOT on the Whitelist or Blacklist – this list could easily include 50,000 journals or more, and as noted above could unfairly taint essentially decent journals. Cabells is very much a global operation and understands new, regional, niche, innovative or low-cited journals can be legitimate and offer a vital publication outlet for many researchers. If we were to think of another list, it would be to champion these titles rather those that offer little or no value for their contributors.
 
PS – If you would like a quote for your institution to subscribe to the Blacklist or any other Cabells products, please email us at sales@cabells.com and we will get straight back to you.

Blacklist Appeals

Following this appeal process, a journal found to no longer qualify for Cabell’s Blacklist will be removed. Please note that removal from the Blacklist does, by no means, qualify a journal for Cabell’s Whitelist. Journals wishing to be included in Cabell’s Whitelist must follow the proper Whitelist application procedures and are subject to additional review to confirm qualification.