During 2021 while Simon Linacre was researching and writing what he thought was the first book on predatory journals, he discovered… someone had got there first. Putting rivalry to one side he reviews the recently published book, which offers in-depth research into a phenomenon which is now stepping out of the shadows.
It is a curious feeling reading a book on a topic that you yourself have written about. During 2021 when I was writing a short ebook on predatory journals (to be published later this year), I heard that Jingfeng Xia – a former academic based in the US – had written a book on predatory publishing that was due out at the end of the year. It was, therefore, with a mix of trepidation and intrigue that I ordered the book as soon as it was released to see what another author had made about the phenomenon. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Predatory Publishing (Xia, 2021) presents an overview of not just predatory publishing practices, but also predatory conferences, journal hijackings and other related deceptive activities. The stated aim of the book is to provide a reference point for researchers, authors and other stakeholders in scholarly communications, and its comprehensive academic research builds a solid base to achieve this. After introducing the topic and giving some necessary background, the meat of the book goes into some detail on predatory journals and predatory publishers, and the market dynamics that have enabled them to develop and prosper.
As you would expect, a good deal of the book focuses on Jeffrey Beall and Beall’s Lists, which are explained and discussed objectively, as are some examples of predatory journal behaviors. Xia also discusses Cabells’ Predatory Reports and other “blacklists”, and the use of this term to describe lists of predatory journals does sit rather uneasily as Cabells and many other organizations have moved away from employing it. Nevertheless, the author looks at this and other lists of recommended journals and does a good job of highlighting how they work and the value they can offer researchers if used wisely. Of particular good use are the inclusion of numerous screenshots and tables of information to fulfil the intention of providing a useful reference for authors, including Cabells’ list of criteria for including titles in its Predatory Reports database.
In terms of publishers, Xia has decided to use several examples of predatory and non-predatory behaviour based on some publishers that were included in Beall’s List. This is particularly instructive as it highlights both accepted predatory publishers and why they were included in Beall’s List (in this case OMICS), but also publishers that were included at one stage but then removed as they were able to show their activities were legitimate (in this case MDPI). By highlighting real examples of publishing behaviours – both deceptive and legitimate – those people hitherto ignorant of predatory publishing practices will be much enlightened.
The rest of the book includes an excellent short chapter on the role journal stakeholders play in predatory publishing, including editors and reviewers who have worked (or have been purported to work) on predatory journals, although of course one of the main traits of such journals is they don’t have any such stakeholders on board. But as Xia notes, “it takes a village to build the predatory publishing market”, and stakeholders other than predatory publishers themselves have been complicit in growing the phenomenon, such as those authors who knowingly publish in the journals to satisfy some requirement or other. Further chapters on predatory conferences, hijacked journals and in particular fake indices are also instructive, and Xia’s dissection of the latter is particularly welcome. Its explanation and presentation of a long list of such indices is perhaps unique in the literature on predatory publishing, and extremely valuable to researchers taken in by data points made to look like Clarivate Analytics’ Journal Impact Factor.
One unfortunate manifestation of reading a book on a topic you are so familiar with is that it is all too easy to spot errors. One such error is in relation to a common myth that Cabells’ Predatory Reports database and Beall’s Lists are in some way linked – they are not. Xia quotes one academic article saying “they [Cabells] do take many articles from Beall’s archive”, and says elsewhere that “unlike Beall’s journal blacklist, which has been taken over by Cabells…”. Both these statements are untrue – Cabells developed its database independently, and while it spoke to Beall as an expert in the area during development, it verified each journal as per its criteria. If there is one criticism for what is an otherwise excellent book, it is that it is rather a cold and dispassionate investigation into the subject that relies a little too much on academic research at the expense of a little journalistic endeavour. Conducting interviews and speaking to stakeholders might have brought the topic more alive, and achieve the author’s aim to provide a much-needed point of clarity on what has always been an all-too-murky subject area.
Xia, J. (2022). Predatory Publishing. Routledge. https://www.routledge.com/Predatory-Publishing/Xia/p/book/9780367465322