Think globally, act now

The great and the good of world business, finance, and politics met this week in the small Swiss resort of Davos, pledging to enact change and make a real difference to how the world works. But what is so different this time? Simon Linacre reports on his first visit to the World Economic Forum, and how business schools can play a pivotal role in changing the system.


It was 50 years ago when Dr. Klaus Schwab first invited business leaders to the small mountain retreat known as Davos, and since then it has grown into THE conference at which to see and be seen. Just over 3,000 lucky individuals are invited, with even fewer gaining the “access all areas” accreditation that gets you into sessions with the likes of Donald Trump, Greta Thunberg, or Prince Charles. The whole performance is surreal, with limousines whisking delegates the shortest of distances through the traffic-clogged streets, and slightly bewildered-looking skiers and snowboarders look on.

From start to finish, there was a noticeable tension in the air. Security is high level, with airport-standard checks at hotels and conference centers and armed guards at every turn. There is also conflict around the critical issue of climate change – while President Trump declares the issue to be exaggerated, a huge sign has been carved into the snow for all those arriving by helicopter and train to see: ‘ACT ON CLIMATE’:

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Photo by Simon Linacre

There also seems to be a conflict in how to deal with climate change and other major issues facing business and management today, and these can be broadly put into two camps. One believes that compromise is the answer, and big business seems to have largely chosen this path in Davos, with everyone seeking to state their environmental credentials or how they are pursuing one of the key phrases of the event, ‘stakeholder capitalism’. An approach first espoused by Dr. Straub fully 50 years earlier at the inaugural event.

The other camp believes that the answer can only depend on change. And not just change, but radical change. An example of this was the launch of the Positive Impact Rating (PIR) in Davos, which is an attempt to rate business schools for students and by students. Over 3,000 of them were surveyed – the results can be seen at www.PositiveImpactRating.org – where 30 business schools were rated as either ‘progressing’ (Level 3) or ‘transforming’ (Level 4) in terms of societal responsibility and impact.  Many of the business school deans and business leaders present were in favor of such an approach, believing that if business schools are to have any credibility in a society where sustainable development goals (SDGs), climate change, and social responsibility play an increasingly important role, the time to change and act is now. PIR is part of a wave of organizations such as Corporate Knights, the UN Global Compact and PRME that recognize and promote progressive business and education practices that are now becoming mainstream.

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This approach is not without its critics, with some existing rating providers and business school leaders cautioning against too much change lest consistency and quality be ignored completely. These voices seem increasingly isolated and anachronistic, however, and there was a feeling that with a deadline of 2030 being set as the deadline for turning things around, business schools have to decide now whether they choose the path of compromise or change. If they are to remain relevant, it seems the latter has to be the right direction to take.

A New Year’s resolution worth keeping: Say “NO” to spam

Recent studies have shown the huge impact that spam emails from predatory journals have on academics’ workflows. Simon Linacre argues that, far from being harmless, they contribute to a wider malaise in academic life.


If I said I have a New Year’s Resolution that could save everyone who reads this blog hundreds of dollars in time and effort, as well as enrich everyone’s lives, would you be interested in joining me? There is no catch, no trick, but there is a small degree of effort involved. And it is quite simple – just open up every email unsolicited email you receive and either block it or unsubscribe. Your life will improve as a result, guaranteed.
 
But will such a straightforward, if humdrum, task really make such savings? Well, two recent studies show that the total cost to academia of spam emails is vast. Firstly, this week’s Times Higher Education (THE) reports on a new study that estimates the time wasted on opening and deleting spam emails, typically ones from predatory journals, is equal to $1.1bn – and this rises to over $2bn when all spam email is included
 
They arrive at this figure using the following methodology: take an average figure for the number of targeted spam emails academics receive each day from a number of prior studies (which is around five); estimate that each academic spends five seconds dealing with every email; assume the average academic earns $50 an hour; multiply by the number of academics in the world according to the United Nations. It may sound a bit like a back-of-a-napkin calculation, but for many academics, the number of emails and time to sift through them may seem significantly undercooked.
 
Another study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) looked more specifically at the impact of emails received from predatory journal publishers by career development grant awardees. This study found that academic spam emails (or ASEs) were a significant distraction for academics and that there was an urgent need to mitigate the problem. The results from a survey of grant awardees showed that almost 90% had a spam filter turned on, but around half said they received up to 10 spam emails a day, with fully 30% estimating they received between 11 and 20. 
 
Some unsolicited emails may of course be legitimate, and can be blocked, while others are a result of individuals at some stage signing up to receive emails, usually to gain access to something or when making a purchase. Emails from law-abiding sources such as these can be stopped – it just takes a little time. As can those purchases from Amazon, Gap or Ebay where we have used our work email only to suffer a permanent slew of special offers (don’t worry, we’ve all been there). In these cases, our New Year’s Resolution can indeed help cut down the time spent on email and make more time for more meaningful pursuits.
 
However, as the THE piece points out, there is very little academics can currently do to stem the tide of spam from predatory journals. All we can do is become more savvy in identifying them quickly, choose not to open them and delete straight away. And in the meantime, hope that someone invents a spam filter that genuinely screens ASEs out and doesn’t send important emails from your Dean to your ‘junk’ folder.

Beware of publishers bearing gifts

In the penultimate post of 2019, Simon Linacre looks at the recent publication of a new definition of predatory publishing and challenges whether such a definition is fit for purpose for those who really need it – authors


In this season of glad tidings and good cheer, it is worth reflecting that not everyone who approaches academic researchers bearing gifts are necessarily Father Christmas. Indeed, the seasonal messages popping into their inboxes at this time of year may offer opportunities to publish that seem too good to miss, but in reality, they could easily be a nightmare before Christmas.
 
Predatory publishers are the very opposite of Santa Claus. They will come into your house, eat your mince pies, but rather than leave you presents they will steal your most precious possession – your intellectual property. Publishing an article in a predatory journal could ruin an academic’s career, and it is very hard to undo once it has been done. Interestingly, one of the most popular case studies this year on COPE’s website is on what to do if you are unable to retract an article from a predatory journal in order to publish it in a legitimate one. 
 
Cabells has added over two thousand journals to its Journals Blacklist in 2019 and will reach 13,000 in total in the New Year. Identifying a predatory journal can be tricky, which is why they are often so successful in duping authors; yet defining exactly what a predatory journal is can be fraught with difficulty. In addition, some commentators do not like the term – from an academic perspective ‘predatory’ is hard to define, while others think it is too narrow. ‘Deceptive publishing’ has been put forward, but this, in turn, could be seen as too broad.
 
Cabells uses over 70 criteria to identify titles for inclusion in its Journals Blacklist and widens the net to encompass deceptive, fraudulent and/or predatory journals. Defining what characterizes these journals in just a sentence or two is hard, but this is what a group of academics has done following a meeting in Ottowa, Canada earlier in 2019 on the topic of predatory publishing. The output of this meeting was the following definition:
 
Predatory journals and publishers are entities that prioritize self-interest at the expense of scholarship and are characterized by false or misleading information, deviation from best editorial and publication practices, a lack of transparency, and/or the use of aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation practices.” (Grudniewicz et al, 2019)
 
The definition is presented as part of a comment piece published in Nature last week and came from a consensus reached at the Ottowa meeting. It is a pity that Cabells was not invited to the event and given the opportunity to contribute. As it is, the definition and accompanying explanation has been met with puzzlement in the Twittersphere, with a number of eminent Open Access advocates saying it allows almost any publisher to be described as predatory. For it to be relevant, it will need to be adopted and used by researchers globally as a test for any journal they are thinking of submitting to. Only time will tell if this will be the case.


From all of us at Cabells, we wish everyone a joyous holiday season and a healthy New Year. Our next blog will be published on January 15, 2020.

Will academia lead the way?

Universities are usually expected to have all the answers – they are full of clever people after all. But sometimes, they need some help to figure out specific problems. Simon Linacre attended a conference recently where the questions being asked of higher education are no less than solving the problems of climate change, poverty, clean water supply and over a dozen more similar issues. How can academic institutions respond?


Most people will be aware of the United Nations and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which they adopted to solve 17 of the world’s biggest problems by 2030. Solving the climate change crisis by that date has perhaps attracted the most attention, but all of the goals present significant challenges to global society.

Universities are very much at the heart of this debate, and there seems to be an expectation that because of the position they have in facilitating research, they will unlock the key to solving these major problems. And so far they seem to have taken up the challenge with some gusto, with new research centers and funding opportunities appearing all the time for those academics aiming to contribute to these global targets in some way. What seems to be missing, however, is that many academics don’t seem to have received the memo on what they should be researching.
 
Following several conversations at conferences and with senior management at a number of universities, the two themes that are repeated when it comes to existing research programs is that there is a problem with both ‘culture and capabilities’. By culture, university hierarchies report that their faculty members are still as curious and keen to do research as ever, but they are not as interested when they are told to focus their energies on certain topics. And when they do, they lack the motivation or incentives to ensure the outcomes of their research lie in real-world impact. For the academic, impact still means a smallish number with three decimal places – ie, the Impact Factor.

In addition, when it comes to the capability of undertaking the kind of research that is likely to contribute to moving forward the SDGs, academics have not had any training, guidance, or support in what to do. In the UK, for example, where understanding and exhibiting impact is further forward than anywhere else in the world thanks to the Research Excellence Framework (REF), there still seem to be major issues with academics being focused on research that will get published rather than research that will change things. In one conversation, while I was referring to research outcomes as real-world benefits, an academic was talking about the quality of journals in which research would be published. Both are legitimate research outcomes, but publication is still way ahead in terms of cultural expectations. And internal incentives are in reality far behind the overarching aims stated by governments and research organizations.

Perhaps we are being too optimistic to expect the grinding gears of academia to move more smoothly towards a major culture change, and perhaps the small gains that are being made and the work done in the public space by the likes of Greta Thunberg will ultimately be enough to enable real change. But when the stakes are so high and the benefits are so great, maybe our expectations should weigh heavily on academia, as they are probably the people best placed to solve the world’s problems after all.

GBSN: Measuring the Impact of Business Schools

Business schools and the MBAs they teach have been reinvented on a regular basis almost since they began life early in the 20th century. However, Simon Linacre suggests that as the Global Business School Network meets for its annual conference in Lisbon this week, calls for a new approach might just be followed through


Another day, another business school conference. As a veteran of at least a dozen or so such events, then it is hard not to be a little cynical when reading about the conference theme set out on the website. Business schools need to change? Check. New programs being promoted? Check. Social running club at 7am on the first morning? Oh, that’s actually quite different.

The Global Business School Network (GBSN) is quite different. With a mission to “partner with business schools, industry, foundations, and aid agencies to improve access to quality, locally relevant management education for the developing world”, it’s focus is very much on a sustainable future rather than on shiny new MBAs for the privileged few who can afford them. As such, the theme of ‘Measuring the Impact of Business Schools’ is more than simply an on-trend marketing slogan, but rather a statement of purpose.

But despite its undoubted sincerity, can such an objective be achieved? The reason it just might is that it is very much aligned with a changing mood in business education. A recent report in The Economist referred to the development of a ‘New Capitalism’, where greed is no longer good and sustainability the imperative rather than simply growth. Evidence can be seen not just in the numerous business school deans being quoted in the piece, but in wider moves such as the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s recent pivot to adopt the Happiness Index as a metric for national development. The times they are a-changin’, as someone once said.

Ultimately, such changes may be as much to do with the bottom line rather than more altruistic motives. Recruitment in the US to MBAs is down, with students apparently becoming more demanding when it comes to what is being taught, with a focus on sustainability and wider impact at the top of the list. The mantra ‘doing well by doing good’ is not a new one, but perhaps we are entering an era where that shifts from just another strapline to becoming a true aphorism for change.

Cabells is supporting the GBSN event by hosting a session on research Impact for the Developing World. There are no preconceived ideas or solutions, just that the existing notions of impact are changing, and that each school needs to be laser-focused on investing in impact in the most relevant way for its own mission and purpose. Whatever business schools can therefore learn about measuring their impact will mean that the conference’s theme actually means something for once.

Open Access Week 2019: “Open for Whom? Equity in Open Knowledge”

It is #OpenAccessWeek, and a number of players in the scholarly communications industry have used the occasion to produce their latest thinking and surveys, with some inevitable contradictions and confusion. Simon Linacre unpicks the spin to identify the key takeaways from the week.


It’s that time again, Open Access Week -or #openaccessweek, or #OAWeek19 or any number of hashtag-infected labels. The aim of this week for those in scholarly communications is to showcase what new products, surveys or insight they have to a market more focused than usual on all things Open Access.

There is a huge amount of content out there to wade through, as any Twitter search or scroll through press releases will confirm. A number have caught the eye, so here is your indispensable guide to what’s hot and what’s not in OA:

  • There are a number of new OA journal and monograph launches with new business models, in particular with IET Quantum Communication and MIT Press, which uses a subscription model to offset the cost of OA
  • There have been a number of publisher surveys over the years which show that authors are still to engage fully with OA, and this year is no exception. Taylor & Francis have conducted a large survey which shows that fewer than half of researchers believe everyone who needs access to their research has it, but just 18% have deposited a version of their article in a repository. Fewer than half would pay an APC to make their article OA, but two-thirds did not recognize any of the initiatives that support OA. Just 5% had even heard of Plan S
  • And yet, a report published by Delta Think shows that OA publications continue to increase, with articles published in Hybrid OA journals alongside paywall articles declining compared to pure OA articles. In other words, more and more OA articles continue to be published, but the hybrid element is on the decrease, hence the reports’ assertion that the scholarly communications market had already reached ‘peak hybrid’

At the end of the Delta Think report was perhaps the most intriguing question among all the other noise around OA. If the share of Hybrid OA is in decline, but there is an increase in so-called read-and-publish or transformative agreements between consortia and publishers, could Plan S actually revive Hybrid OA? The thinking is that as transformative agreements usually include waivers for OA articles in Hybrid journals, the increase in these deals could increase Hybrid OA articles, the very articles that Plan S mandates against.

And this puts large consortia in the spotlight, as in some cases a major funding agency signed up to Plan S may conflict with read-and-publish agreements increasing Hybrid OA outputs. It will be interesting to see how all this develops in the next OA Week in October 2020. The countdown starts here.

Bringing clarity to academic publishing

How do you know if a journal is a good or a bad one? It is a simple enough question, but there is a lack of clear information out there for researchers, and often scams that lay traps for the unaware. In his latest post, Simon Linacre presents some new videos from Cabells that explain what it does to ensure authors can keep fully informed.


On a chilly Spring day in Edinburgh, myself and one of my colleagues were asked to do what nobody really wants to do if they can help it, and that is to ‘act natural’. It is one of life’s great ironies that it is so difficult to act naturally when told to do so. However, it was for a good cause, as we had been asked to explain to people through a short film what it was that Cabells did and why we thought it was important.

Video as a medium has been relatively ignored by scholarly publishers until quite recently. Video has of course been around for decades, and it has been possible to embed video on websites next to articles for a number of years. However, embedding video into pdfs has been tricky, and as every publisher will tell you when they ask you about user needs – academics ‘just want the pdf’. As a result, there has been little in the way of innovation when it comes to scholarly communication, despite some brave attempts such as video journals, video abstracts and other accompaniments to the humble article.

Video has been growing as a means of search, particularly for younger academics, and it can be much more powerful when it comes to engagement and social media. Stepping aside from the debate about what constitutes impact and whether Altmetrics and hits via social media really mean anything, video can be ‘sticky’ in the sense that people spend longer watching it than skipping over words on a web page. As such, the feeling is that video is a medium whose time may have yet to come when it comes to scholarly communications.

So, in that spirit, Cabells has shot a short video with some key excerpts that take people through the Journal Whitelist and Journal Blacklist. It is hoped that it answers some questions that people may have, and spurs others to get in touch with us. The idea of the film is the first step towards Cabells’ development of a number of resources in lots of different platforms that will help researchers drink in knowledge of journals to optimize their decision-making. In a future of Open Access, new publishing platforms, and multiple publishing choices, the power to publish will increasingly be in the hands of the author, with the scholarly publishing industry increasingly seeking ways to satisfy their needs. Knowledge about publishing is the key to unlocking that power.

The Journal Blacklist surpasses the 12,000 journals listed mark

Just how big a problem is predatory publishing? Simon Linacre reflects on the news this week that Cabells announced it has reached 12,000 journals on its Journal Blacklist and shares some insights into publishing’s dark side.


Predatory publishing has seen a great deal of coverage in 2019, with a variety of sting operations, opinion pieces and studies published on various aspects of the problem. It seems that while on the one side, there is no doubt that it is a problem for academia globally, on the other side there is huge debate as to the size, shape and relative seriousness of that problem.

On the first of those points, the size looks to be pretty big – Cabells announced this week that its Journal Blacklist has hit the 12,000 mark. This is less than a year since it hit 10,000, and it is now triple the size it was when it was launched in 2017. Much of this is to do with the incredibly hard work of its evaluations team, but also because there are a LOT of predatory journals out there, with the numbers increasing daily.

On the last of those points, the aftershocks of the Federal Trade Commission’s ruling against OMICS earlier this year are still being felt. While there is no sign of any contrition on the part of OMICS – or of the $50m fine being paid – the finding has garnered huge publicity and acted as a warning for some academics not to entrust their research with similar publishers. In addition, it has been reported that CrossRef has now cut OMICS membership.

However, the shape of the problem is still hard for many to grasp, and perhaps it would help to share some of the tools of the trade of deceptive publishers. Take one journal on the Cabells Journal Blacklist – the British Journal of Marketing Studies.

Cabells Blacklist Screenshot

Sounds relatively normal, right? But a number of factors relating to this journal highlight many of the problems presented by deceptive journals:

  • The title includes the word ‘British’ as a proxy for quality, however, over 600 journals include this descriptor in the Blacklist compared to just over 200 in Scopus’ entire index of over 30,000 journals
  • The journal is published by European-American Journals alongside 81 other journals – a remarkable feat considering the publisher lists a small terraced house in Gillingham as its main headquarters
  • When Cabells reviewed it for inclusion in the Blacklist, it noted among other things that:
    • It falsely claimed to be indexed in well-known databases – we know this because among these was Cabells itself
    • It uses misleading metrics, including an “APS Impact Factor” of 6.80 – no such derivation of the Web of Science metric exists, apart from on other predatory journal sites
    • There is no detailed peer review policy stated
    • There is no affiliation for the Editor, one Professor Paul Simon, and searches cannot uncover any marketing professors with such a name (or a Prof. Garfunkel, for that matter)

This IS a problem for academia because, no matter what the size and seriousness of predatory publishing may be unless researchers learn to spot the signs of what it looks like, they will continue to get drawn in and waste their research, funding dollars, and even career, on deceptive publishing practices.

When does research end and publishing begin?

In his latest post, Simon Linacre argues that in order for authors to make optimal decisions – and not to get drawn into predatory publishing nightmares – research and publishing efforts should overlap substantially.


In a recent online discussion on predatory publishing, there was some debate as to the motivations of authors to chose predatory journals. A recent study in the ALPSP journal Learned Publishing found that academics publishing in such journals usually fell into one of two camps – either they were “uninformed” that the journal they had chosen to publish in was predatory in nature, or they were “unethical” in knowingly choosing such a journal in order to satisfy some publication goals.

However, a third category of researcher was suggested, that of the ‘unfussy’ author who neither cares nor knows what sort of journal they are publishing in. Certainly, there may be some overlap with the other two categories, but what they all have in common is bad decision-making. Whether one does not know, does not care, or does not mind which journal one publishes in, it seems to me that one should do so on all three counts.

It was at this point where one of the group posed one of the best questions I have seen in many years in scholarly communications: when it comes to article publication, where does the science end in scientific research? Due in part to the terminology as well as the differing processes, the concept of research and publication are regarded as somehow distinct or separate. Part of the same eco-system, for sure, but requiring different skills, knowledge and approaches. The question is a good one as it challenges this duality. Isn’t is possible for science to encompass some of the publishing process itself? And shouldn’t the publishing process become more involved in the process of research?

The latter is already happening to a degree in moves by major publishers to climb up the supply chain and become more involved in research services provision (e.g. the acquisition of article platform services provider Atypon by Wiley). On the other side, there is surely an argument that at the end of experiments or data collection, analyzing data logically and writing up conclusions, there is a place for scientific process to be followed in choosing a legitimate outlet with appropriate peer review processes? Surely any university or funder would expect such a scientific approach at every level from their employees or beneficiaries. And a failure to do this allows in not only sub-optimal choices of journal, but worse predatory outlets which will ultimately delegitimize scientific research as a whole.

I get that that it may not be such a huge scandal if some ho-hum research is published in a ‘crappy’ journal so that an academic can tick some boxes at their university. However, while the outcome may not be particularly harmful, the tacit allowing of such lazy academic behavior surely has no place in modern research. Structures that force gaming of the system should, of course, be revised, but one can’t help thinking that if academics carried the same rigor and logic forward into their publishing decisions as they did in their research, scholarly communications would be in much better shape for all concerned.

Still without peer?

Next week the annual celebration of peer review takes place, which despite being centuries old is still an integral part of scholarly communications. To show Cabells’ support of #PeerReviewWeek, Simon Linacre looks at why peer review deserves its week in the calendar and to survive for many years to come.


I was recently asked by Cabells’ partners Editage to upload a video to YouTube explaining how the general public benefited from peer review. This is a good question, because I very much doubt the general public is aware at all of what peer review is and how it impacts their day-to-day lives. But if you reflect for just a moment, it is clear it impacts almost everything, much of which is taken for granted on a day-to-day basis.

Take making a trip to the shops. A car is the result of thousands of experiments and validated peer review research over a century to come up with the safest and most efficient means of driving people and things from one place to another; each supermarket product has been health and safety tested; each purchase uses digital technology such as the barcode that has advanced through the years to enable fast and accurate purchasing; even the license plate recognition software that gives us a ticket when we stay too long in the car park will be a result of some peer reviewed research (although most people may struggle to describe that as a ‘benefit’).

So, we do all benefit from peer review, even if we do not appreciate it all the time. Does that prove the value of peer review? For some, it is still an inefficient system for scholarly communications, and over the years a number of platforms have sought to disrupt it. For example, PLoS has been hugely successful as a publishing platform where a ‘light touch peer review’ has taken place to enable large-scale, quick turnaround publishing. More recently, F1000 has developed a post-publication peer review platform where all reviews are visible and take place on almost all articles that are submitted. While these platforms have undoubtedly offered variety and author choice to scientific publishing processes, they have yet to change the game, particularly in social sciences where more in-depth peer review is required.

Perhaps real disruption will be seen to accommodate peer review rather than change it. This week’s announcement at the ALPSP Conference by Cactus Communications – part of the same organization as Editage – of an AI-powered platform that can allow authors to submit articles to be viewed by multiple journal editors may just change the way peer review works. Instead of the multiple submit-review-reject cycles authors have to endure, they can submit their article to a system that can check for hygiene factor quality characteristics and relevance to journals’ coverage, and match them with potentially interested editors who can offer the opportunity for the article to then be peer reviewed.

If it works across a good number of journals, one can see that from the perspective of authors, editors and publishers, it would be a much more satisfactory process than the traditional one that still endures. And a much quicker one to boot, which means that the general public should see the benefits of peer review all the more speedily.