While working towards publication in a legitimate journal, however circuitous the route, is of course a much better path than publishing in an illegitimate journal, Simon Linacre examines why this is a useful question to consider.
A blog post this week in The Geyser pointed out the problems surrounding version control of the same article on multiple preprint servers and on the F1000 platform.
TL;DR? It isn’t pretty.
The article used as an example is unquestionably a legitimate study relating to the coronavirus pandemic, and as such is a small but important piece in the jigsaw being built around science’s pandemic response. That this article has yet to be validated – and as such enabled as a piece that fits the COVID-19 jigsaw – is something that will presumably be achieved once it is published in a recognized peer-reviewed journal.
However, this does raise the following rather thorny question: how is the article any better served fragmented on different preprint servers and publishing platforms than it would be having been published as a single entity in a predatory journal?
I am being facetious here – working towards a legitimate publication, however circuitous the route, is far better than publishing in an illegitimate journal. However, comparing the two options is not as strange as one might think, and perhaps offers some guidance for authors uncertain about where to publish their research in the first place.
Firstly, early career researchers (ECRs), while often offered very little direction when it comes to publication ethics and decision-making, are understandably worried about sharing their data and findings on preprint servers for fear of being ‘scooped’ by other researchers who copy their results and get published first. This is a legitimate fear, and is one explanation why a researcher, although unfamiliar with a journal, might submit their research for a low fee and quick turnaround.
Secondly, ECRs or more experienced researchers may be incentivised by their institutions to simply achieve a publication without any checks on the type of journal they publish in. As such, they need a journal to validate their publication – even if the journal itself has not been validated – which is something preprints or non-journal platforms are unable to provide.
Finally, while recent research has shown that just over half of articles published in predatory journals do not receive any citations, just less than 50% did receive citations, and authors may prefer one sole accessible source for their research than multiple sources across different preprints. This is not to say that preprints can’t receive citations – indeed Google Scholar reveals 22 citations to the article above from its original posting on Arxiv – but the perception may be that only journals can deliver citations, and will therefore be the aim for some authors.
Of course, authors should know the very real difference between a predatory journal and a preprint, but the evidence of 14,000+ journals on Cabells Predatory Reports database and the millions of spam emails received daily from illegitimate journals points to at least some researchers falling for the same tricks and continue to line the pockets of predatory publishers. While research publishing options remain as varied and as complex as they are – and while higher education institutions and funders simply assume every researcher has an effective publishing strategy – then as many will fall into the predatory trap as they have always done.