As the return to university beckons for many of us, we are unfortunately reminded that many of the challenges facing scholarly communications persist. Simon Linacre assesses wider issues impacting on publication ethics as Cabells’ Predatory Reports database hits the 15,000 journal mark.

Last month saw two landmarks in my working life of the sort that makes you sit back and reflect on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. The first was my three-year anniversary of starting work at Cabells, which have been three of the most rewarding years I have spent in my career in scholarly publishing. The second was Cabells’ Predatory Reports database reaching a total of 15,000 journals – 15,059 at the time of this post to be precise – pushed to that level by a recent surge in positive identifications of predatory journals.

What links these two milestones personally, is that the Predatory Reports database hit the 10,000 journal mark just after I started work for Cabells, and one of my first tasks in my new role was to write a press release detailing the news for interested parties (a press release for the new milestone can be accessed here). At the time, it was mind-boggling for me to think that the problem had grown so big, and I wondered how many more journals would be discovered. Would the database reach 11,000 or 12,000 journals? Would the rate of increase level off or decline? In fact, the rate of increase has been maintained, with around 150 titles being added on average by Cabells’ journal audit team every month.

While the rate of increase has been steady, it has been interspersed with sharp gains when a new publisher is uncovered and its numerous cut-and-paste journals included. As we saw in this blog post in July where almost a third of the journals added were from a single publisher, new entrants to the market (or existing operators with new identities), are still driving up numbers and as a result making it harder for researchers to find legitimate outlets for their papers to be published.

One look at some recent stories in the higher education press point to a wider malaise for academics when it comes to publication ethics more generally. There has been a spate of stories where publishers have had to retract articles from their journals because of evidence they were from paper mills, increased scrutiny of data manipulation, and concerns over gift, ghost and fake authorship.

Luckily for authors, if the threats over publication ethics have never been greater, the solutions to this problem also seem to be proliferating. In addition to databases of information such as Cabells’ Predatory Reports that can aid decision-making for academics, there are many online courses now available, as wells as new studies into how to train academics effectively in publication ethics issues. So while the numbers of predatory journals and size of the publication ethics problem seems to be increasing, the tools to deal with these challenges at least seem to be keeping pace – which is the good news we need as we head back to school.

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