FTC’s victory will educate, but will it deter?

Word of the Federal Trade Commission’s $50 million court judgment against OMICS International and its owner, Srinubabu Gedela, has reached all corners of the academic community. While there is no question this is a step in the right direction, there is little reason to believe this will do much to slow the growing problem of predatory publishing.

The victory for the FTC was a decisive one, with the court granting a summary judgment – a decision without the need for a trial as no material facts were in dispute – and the message is clear: OMICS International is running a scam operation and the damage is real and impactful. If there are still those in the scholarly community who doubt the severity of the problem of predatory publishing, perhaps this judgment will convince them of the magnitude of the issue and the need to deal with it in a proactive manner.

While OMICS is the largest predatory publishing operation – there are currently 768 OMICS journals listed on Cabells’ Journal Blacklist – it is simply the most ravenous shark in a sea of predators. If/when OMICS actually halts their fraudulent operations – they are expected to appeal the decision – the vacuum created will quickly be filled by any number of bad actors looking to capitalize and snatch up the revenue that is now presumably up for grabs.

Fundamentally, there are two groups of researchers at play when it comes to predatory publishers. The first group is made up of researchers who might be considered “prey” – those who unwittingly fall victim to the ploys of predatory publishers. These researchers submit their paper for publication only to find that their work has been hijacked, part of their limited budget has been squandered on (often hidden) publication fees, and their careers have been compromised by this association with a fraudulent publisher.

The work of the FTC and news of their victory over OMICS will hopefully go far in protecting those who are unaware of the existence and deceitful nature of operations such as OMICS, and will educate them on the warning signs and help them steer clear of ever becoming involved going forward.

However, what (if any) impact this decision will have on the second group of researchers, those who knowingly use predatory publishers to advance their career or for other professional gains remains to be seen.  The reason predatory publishers have been able to flourish and grow exponentially is that there is an insatiable market for their services due in large part to the ‘publish or perish’ system forced upon academics. The publication of research papers is at an all-time high with estimates of close to two million papers published each year, with little in the way of a quality control system in place. Predatory publishers have simply identified and capitalized on an opportunity for illicit profit.

The focus on research and publication needs to be on quality and not quantity. Publication records need to be vetted and researchers held accountable for the outlets they choose for publication.  The respective bodies of knowledge for many fields are compromised and diluted by the dissemination of junk research. Unqualified candidates are getting hired, promoted and tenured on the backs of their ginned-up publication records. Predatory publishers and these researchers who support them are coming out ahead, while academia and knowledge are losing out.

Despite the decision against OMICS, certain researchers have been and will continue to look for shortcuts to publication. The onus is on administrators, department heads, funders, and academia at large to change – not just the process by which academics are measured by moving away from the “publish or perish” mindset, but also the methods used to monitor and vet research and publication activity.

The FTC’s victory may go a long way in reducing the number of researchers who can honestly say they were unaware of a problem with the journal they chose, but it will do little to stop those who are willful participants in this process without wholesale changes from other key stakeholders.

Yosemite Sam is at Yale University? And he’s on the editorial board of an academic journal??

yosemite sam ajbsrAccording to the fraudulent ‘journal’ American Journal of Biomedical Science & Research, published by Biomed Research and Technology, the answer is yes on both counts.  Thanks to a tip from a subscriber—a librarian who, along with several colleagues, received an email calling for editorial board members for this publication—our Journal Blacklist team initiated an investigation and lo and behold, among the ‘Honorable Editors’ on the journal’s Editorial Committee is one Yosemite Sam, of Yale University:

AJBSR screenshot
Wait, what?
Sam closeup.png
Upon closer inspection…

You can probably guess which of our Blacklist criteria the presence of Bugs Bunny’s archenemy (with all due respect to Elmer Fudd) violates (hint: it’s the one that expects editors to be living…or actually exist).  This is of course not the only violation for American Journal of Biomedical Science & Research, there were several other doozies such as:

  • Emails from journals received by researchers who are clearly not in the field(s) the journal covers
  • Scholars included on the editorial board without their knowledge or permission (not Yosemite Sam, though this would apply to him too)
  • Promise of rapid publication and/or unusually quick peer review (less than four weeks)
  • No policies for digital preservation
  • The same article appears in more than one journal

AJBSR blog 3.1.19

Unfortunately, not all predatory journals include cartoon characters on their editorial board, making them easy to spot if you know where to look. And, without a doubt, none are a laughing matter.  We’ll continue to keep on top of the different methods of deceit used by predatory publishers, closely investigate suspected journals, and report on those that prove to be fraudulent. We’ll also be sure to pass along any that give us a chuckle along the way.

Tracking predatory publishers

Recently, we here at Cabells were fortunate enough to have an article (Cabells’ Journal Whitelist and Blacklist: Intelligent data for informed journal submissions) published in Learned Publishing, the journal of the Association of Learned & Professional Society Publishers, which is read around the world. We were very excited about this opportunity and received many wonderful notes from around the academic community after publication.

One note, in particular, forced us to do a double-take. “Nooo,” we thought, “this can’t be a predatory journal inviting us to submit for publication (for only $770) our article on predatory journals…”

 

Sure enough, the editors of Social Sciences, published by Science Publishing Group (Science PG), wanted to let us know that “the topic of the paper has impressed [them] a lot” and extended an invitation not only to publish the paper in their “journal” but to also join their Editorial Board. Upon hearing this news our Blacklist team began an investigation (Science PG was already on our list of publishers to be reviewed, but we had not yet begun to investigate this particular journal) into Social Sciences and, with eight violations in total, the journal was promptly added to our Blacklist:

Just days after this episode, we were contacted by our friends at Emerald Publishing who were concerned that one of their respected journals, International Journal of Innovation Science, was being targeted by a possible fake journal with a very similar name, International Journal of Innovation Science and Research:

After our team carried out an investigation on the International Journal of Innovation Science and Research, it will come as no surprise that it too (with 10 violations) was added to our Blacklist (which as of this writing lists 9,156 fraudulent publications):

We love to hear from the scholarly community about situations like the ones described above, or any involving contact from deceitful publishers. While we have an ever-expanding list of publications slated for review for the Blacklist, we consider it a top priority to protect the community from active occurrences of predatory activity and to help shed light on these phony operations. Contact us with tips, concerns or to share your thoughts at blacklist@cabells.com.