Cabells Launches New Blog

Cabells today launches this new blog site, The Source, which brings the original posts and news coverage from our popular bi-weekly newsletter to a wider audience. Simon Linacre introduces the new site along with some wider thoughts on scholarly communications.


Earlier this week I attended the annual Research 2 Reader Conference, which has earned somewhat of a reputation in recent years for, as one delegate put it, “emitting more light than heat.” R2R, as it has become known, aims to use the judicious mix of publishers, librarians and scholarly communication bodies that attend to try and move many of the conversations forward that often become bogged down in the rhetoric and corporate-speak that blight so many other events.

True to their mission, the organizers did well to focus minds on the two big discussion points of the day in Plan S and Sci-Hub. Inviting Science Europe’s Marc Schlitz, one of the key people involved in progressing Plan S, to give the opening keynote ensured plenty of coverage on the first day through the usual social media channels. Later, two willing volunteers tried to pull apart the moral conundrum that is Sci-Hub and its use by debating mano-a-mano whether it did more harm than good for scholarly communications. (Good won by a nose on the votes.)

Communicating what?

What struck me during the event was that, as with other major debates such as Brexit or climate change, the communication is done most effectively in the ‘bubble’ in which the debating parties exist, with little or no apparent engagement from the people that the matters at hand actually impact? For both Plan S and Sci-Hub, the views and narrative from the perspectives of academics, authors, early career scholars, and editors are drowned out by the ‘professionals’ in scholarly communication.

And so, beginning today, we are going to try and change things.

Welcome to the first blog published directed to our new, dedicated blog page designed to represent the different views and voices of those in the trenches of scholarly communications. Many of you will have received our newsletter The Source every two weeks, and this will continue to share curated news from multiple sources around the world about academic publishing and higher education. However, to develop engagement with our readers and highlight their interests and concerns, we have established this blog and hope to add real color to the debates around such issues as Plan S.

New era

In addition to regular blog posts from myself, colleagues and invited guests, we will also be including:

  • highlights of related research Cabells has undertaken or supported
  • details of ongoing news and activities through our dedicated Twitter account
  • access to a rapidly growing set of free resources aimed at improving best practice in research, publishing and scholarly communications in general.

Since its founding over 40 years ago, Cabells services have grown to include both the Journal Whitelist and Journal Blacklist, manuscript preparation tools, and a suite of powerful metrics designed to help its users find the right journals, no matter the stage of their career. Our new blog has been put together with your needs front and center, and we invite you to get onto the comment section and let us know what you are thinking!

P.S. If you would rather comment directly, please feel free to email me at simon.linacre@cabells.com and hopefully we can start to create some interesting new posts.

For more information about Cabells, visit https://www2.cabells.com/.

Bridging the Validation Gap

The pressure on academics is not just to publish, but to publish high research and to do so in the right journals. In order to help researchers with what can be a monumental struggle, Cabells is launching an enhanced service offer with leading editing services provider Editage to offer scholars the chance to up their game.


What is the greatest obstacle for authors in their desire to publish their research? This is a common question with a multitude of answers, much of them depending on the personal circumstances of the individual, but there are some things that everyone must overcome in order to fulfill their potential in the field of academia. Quality research is the starting point, ensuring that it makes an original contribution to the current body of knowledge. But what about finding the right journal, and ensuring the article itself is word perfect?

These constitute what I would call the ‘validation gap’ that exists for all authors. In the publication process for each article, there are points where the author should check that the intended journal they would like to submit their work to is legitimate and whether it has the required quality aspects to publish their work. The Cabells Blacklist and Whitelist were designed to help authors with these questions, and today Cabells is stepping up its partnership with Editage to relaunch its Author Services support page.

New beginning
Far too little support is given to researchers about publishing in universities, which is why I and others involved in scholarly communication have always been content to share some of our knowledge with them on campus or through webinars. Universities or governments set benchmarks for researchers to publish in certain journals without equipping them with the skills and knowledge to help them do that. This is incredibly unfair on researchers, and understandably some struggle. They need much greater support in writing their articles, especially if they do not have English as a first language, and understanding how the publication process works.

Universities can offer great support to researchers from Ph.D. supervision and research ethics up to teaching and public engagement. However, when it comes to publication of articles there is this chasm that needs to be crossed to develop academic careers and help is too often found wanting. This is a crucial part of the journey for early career scholars and even more experienced scholars, and along with Editage, Cabells is aiming to bridge that gap.

Give it a try
So, if you or any of your colleagues are about to take the trip over this yawning divide, why not give our new service a go. Just go to the website at https://cabells.editage.com/ and let Editage do the rest. And once you are happy with your article, check that the intended journals on your shortlist are legitimate by using the Blacklist, and have the necessary quality benchmarks by using the Whitelist. And then, once the validation gap has been successfully negotiated, you can click ‘send’ with peace of mind.

NB: For help on using the Whitelist and Blacklist in your journal search, you can use Cabells’ BrightTALK channel, which aims to answer many of the individual user queries we receive in one place. Good luck!

Why asking the experts is always a good idea

In the so-called ‘post-truth’ age where experts are sidelined in favor of good soundbites, Simon Linacre unashamedly uses expert insight in uncovering the truth behind poor publishing decisions… with some exciting news at the end!


Everyone in academia or scholarly publishing can name at least one time they came across a terrible publishing decision. Whether it was an author choosing the wrong journal, or indeed the journal choosing the wrong author, articles have found their way into print that never should have, and parties on both sides must live with the consequences for evermore.

My story involved an early career researcher (ECR) in the Middle East whom I was introduced to whilst delivering talks on how to get published in journals. The researcher had submitted an article to well-regarded Journal A, but, tired of waiting on a decision, submitted the same article to a predatory-looking Journal B without retracting the prior submission. Journal B accepted the paper… and then so did Journal A after the article had already appeared in Journal B’s latest issue. Our hapless author went ahead and published the same article in Journal A – encouraged, so I was told, by his boss – and was then left with the unholy mess of dual publication and asking for my guidance. A tangled web indeed.

Expert advice

The reason why our author made a poor publishing choice was both out of ignorance and necessity, with the same boss telling him to accept the publication in the better-ranked journal, the same boss who wanted to see improved publishing outputs from their faculty. At Cabells, we are fast-approaching 11,000 predatory journals on our Blacklist and it is easy to forget that every one of those journals is filled with articles from authors who, for some reason, made a decision to submit their articles to them for publication.

The question therefore remains: But why?

Literature reviewed

One researcher decided to answer this question herself by, you guessed it, looking at what other experts had said in the form of a literature review of related articles. TF Frandsen’s article is entitled, “Why do researchers decide to publish in questionable journals? A review of the literature” and is published by Wiley in the latest issue of Learned Publishing (currently available as a free access article here). In it, Frandsen draws the following key points:

  • Criteria for choosing journals could be manipulated by predatory-type outlets to entrap researchers and encourage others
  • A ‘publish or perish’ culture has been blamed for the rise in ‘deceptive journals’ but may not be the only reason for their growth
  • Identifying journals as ‘predatory’ ignores the fact that authors may seek to publish in them as a simple route to career development
  • There are at least two different types of authors who publish in so-called deceptive journals: the “unethical” and the “uninformed”
  • Therefore, there should be at least two different approaches to the problem required

For the uninformed, Frandsen recommends that institutions ensure that faculty members are as informed as possible on the dangers of predatory journals and what the consequences of poor choices might be. For those authors making unethical choices, she suggests that the incentives in place that push these authors to questionable decisions should be removed. More broadly, as well as improved awareness, better parameters for authors around the quality of journals in which they should publish could encourage a culture of transparency around journal publication choices. And this would be one decision that everyone in academia and scholarly publishing could approve of.

PS: Enjoying our series of original posts in The Source? The great news is that there will be much more original content, news and resources available for everyone in the academic and publishing communities in the coming weeks… look out for the next edition of The Source for some exciting new developments!

Predicting 2019 is a fool’s game… so here are some predictions!

Five things that may or may not happen this year — In his first post of 2019, Simon Linacre lifts the lid on what he expects to happen in the most unpredictable of years since, erm, 2018…


A very Happy New Year to everyone, and as has become traditional in post-Christmas, early-January posts, I thought I would bring out the old crystal ball to try to predict some trends and areas of development in scholarly publishing in 2019. However, please do not think for one second that this is in any way a scientific or even divine exercise, as we all know that we may as well just stick a few random happenings on a wall and throw darts at them blindfolded to try and somehow see what may or may not occur in the next few months. So, with that caveat in mind, here are five predictions that at least may have some vague hope of coming to pass this year:

  1. #Plan_S – the agreement from 11 major European funders to mandate certain types of Open Access publications from researchers they have supported – has already kept commentators busy in scholarly communications in the early days of 2019. Suffice it to say it will undoubtedly gain traction, with all eyes on the U.S. and China simultaneously to see if funders in those research behemoths sign-up to or explicitly support the movement. However, while Plan S may hasten change in STEM funding and publishing communities, this change may be quicker than academia itself can change, with petitions being raised against it and significant communities outside either Europe and/or STEM subjects still largely oblivious to it.
  2. The most popular research-related search terms in 2018 included ‘AI’ and ‘blockchain’, as the belief is that both can have a major influence on scientific development in a huge range of areas. Expect 2019 to see these both have more of an influence on scholarly publishing, with applications of blockchain to peer review systems and AI improving the ways knowledge is utilized, especially in countries set up for exploiting such opportunities.
  3. Hot on the heels of the news that the whole Editorial Board of Elsevier’s Informetrics journal has resigned to form their own journal Quantitative Science Studies with MIT Press, bibliometrics should remain in the headlines with new metrics appearing or rumored on a regular basis. Chief among these will be new rankings slated to appear from Times Higher Education and other organizations based around utility, impact or relevance rather than as a proxy for quality.
  4. While any prediction around Brexit – especially this week, day, hour, or even minute – is wholly futile, several shifts can already be seen to be occurring as a result of this and other major political events. Uncertainty around Brexit, especially based on fears of the so-called no-deal Brexit, will inevitably cause some prospective students to think long and hard about any plans they had to study in the UK, while President Trump’s one-of-a-kind presidency may have a similar effect. Major elections in Europe will also have major ramifications for higher education, not least where the EU research money goes if/when the UK eventually exits.
  5. Given the increasingly complicated nature of higher education on both a macro- and micro-scale, it is also to be hoped that we all become a little more skilled and experienced at dealing with this so-called ‘VUCA’ environment – an environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Steering through these uncharted waters in the calmest way possible can be the only path to take – and it is to be hoped our leaders show us the way.

Book review: Association of University Presses 2018

In his latest post, Simon Linacre reviews Associaton of University Presses Directory 2018 and deems it an essential tome for the future of scholarly publishing


Many of you will be plowing through ‘Best Books of 2018’ reviews at this time of year, as is traditional in the media as time is short before Christmas, but pages still have to be filled. This will then give way to ‘Best Books of 2019’ reviews written sometime in October. Even journalists deserve some sort of break over the holidays.

As a change to this format, we at Cabells wanted to highlight a book that is neither the best nor worst but will stand you in good stead in 2019, whether you are an academic author, publisher or librarian. So, ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the Most Useful Book of 2019… (drum roll, please)… The Association of University Presses Directory 2018!

Now, the latest editions of directories rarely get much of a fanfare, so what makes the AUPresses book any different. Well, the book (printed by Thomson-Shore and available through University of Chicago Press) has been released at a time when there is much anticipation among publishers and librarians alike about the role university presses are likely to play in the years ahead. The cards seem to be falling, finally, in their favor after years of dominance by large commercial publishers. With Open Access driving the agenda, barriers to entry are falling as technology gets better and cheaper, and funding mandates potentially disrupting the marketplace, the opportunities are there for universities and their presses to effectively take ownership of research content supplied by academics.

The book itself will expertly guide anyone interested in these developments. The meat of the text includes details of scores of university presses globally which are members of AUPresses, from Abilene Christian to Yale University Press. Each press has a wealth of information on it included in the entries – address, phone numbers, distributors, online details, and most impressively of all staff registers with numbers and email addresses for every person listed. These people are also included in pages of names in an index at the back.

Even more useful, there are other sections to help those with an interest in publishing understand more deeply the university press environment. There is a sub-list of those presses who publish both books and journals, and a robust guide defining what university presses do, how to go about submitting a book manuscript, and for publishers, a smaller directory of AUPresses Association Partners who support presses in their distribution and sales.

Overall, the book has something for everyone. For publishers, it is a treasure trove of information to seek out publishing partnerships; for librarians, it is an essential listing of everyone they could ever think of contacting from university presses about their content. And for authors, it is invaluable in offering direction when it comes to that dreaded time of finding a publisher for their work. And here we find perhaps the most useful section of all – a 10-page grid that lists every university press and each subject they publish in. So, that manuscript you have in your bottom drawer on Australasian history? Better keep Athabasca and Cambridge university presses on your radar. It is hard to imagine any other resource listing that information for authors. How very useful.

Curiosity, curation and cures

In his latest post, Simon Linacre considers ways to solve new problems in an old industry from CISPC 2018


This week saw the second hosting of the Challenges in the Scholarly Publishing Cycle (CISPC) event in London, where a motley collection of publishers, librarians and researchers convened to discuss the latest issues in the scholarly publishing industry. The usual suspects – open access (OA), discoverability, accessibility – were given an airing, as were some new issues that hadn’t seen the light of day even a year ago, such as Plan S. With these topics and a mix of attendees, it was no surprise that full and frank exchanges ensued.

Adding grist to the mill of scholarly publishing discourse was The Scholarly Publishing Research Cycle 2018 report, which was released at the event. A detailed survey of the three main stakeholder groups, the report covers the issues above and a host of others in a wide-ranging overview of what’s on the minds of the great and the good in the industry. While having an inevitable UK focus – I’ll spare the intricacies of the REF for those of you outside Blighty – many of the findings will be familiar to all. Taking each group in turn:

  • For researchers, the most important challenges they identified currently were open access and licensing, discoverability and accessibility
  • For publishers, the key challenges were trust and validation, discoverability and policymakers’ scholarly publishing policies
  • While for librarians it was OA and accessibility, as well as scholarly publishing policies.

Curiouser and curiouser

While the issues were familiar – as were the shrugs when confronted with how to bridge some of the divides – there were a couple of stark omissions from the debate that perhaps could have shed some new light. Firstly, during an animated discussion of who were the real gatekeepers of scholarly publishing, which swung between publishers and librarians, the role of editors was curiously absent. Surely, with fast-moving changes in policymaking, mandates and author choice for their outputs, the role of editor as curator has never been more crucial?

Secondly, an old favorite of The Source reared its ugly head again in the shape of unintended consequences. Particularly in respect of Plan S and how things may get shaken out, it was evident from the flummoxed faces of all in attendance that there was much to still comprehend for all concerned. Could it accelerate predatory publishing practices? Will the ‘publish or perish’ culture alive and well in many countries be marginalized? Will journals see large scale consolidation and fragmentation? Again, the sage voice of editors would have brought welcome insight.

A problem shared

What was encouraging was that the report highlights some shared issues where much-improved communication and collaboration could help cure some longstanding problems that have become increasingly troublesome for all stakeholder groups. The ills of predatory publishing were mentioned by representatives of industry members as a major challenge, as was the different rates of change in the regulatory environment. However, some of the conclusions of The Scholarly Publishing Research Cycle 2018 report offered at least a glimmer of hope in the December gloom:

  • Better evaluative metrics for researchers will support the whole industry in dealing with the rise of impact evaluation and offer ample opportunity for collaborative working on all sides
  • Greater transparency by publishers, particularly around APCs and on behalf of society publishers who may have a distinct and more compelling offer than their larger cousins
  • Continued collective action by librarians, as seen in Sweden and Germany where they have made large-scale cancellations of content, may be replicated elsewhere and hasten change
  • Moving beyond open access, in the shape of seeking to address other issues in a shared publishing system, with the aim of making progress in other areas that often get neglected in the all-encompassing OA debate.

Who knows what will happen in the intervening 12 months before what will hopefully be the third CISPC event, but for many in the UK, it is difficult to think about anything beyond the 29th March 2019. With the balance of power likely to continue changing between the main protagonists, what is certain is that further such shared events can only be a good thing.

 

Academic freedom fighters

Isn’t it worrying what your kids pick up from the radio and TV these days? When I was a child – back in the good ol’ days of four TV channels and the one radio station my parents only ever seemed to listen to – I don’t remember hearing the constant stream of news stories about rape, murder, sera misconduct or violence that seem to dominate the news programs today. Is that right, or am I donning the same rose-tinted glasses that show fashion, music and sporting icons just BETTER 30 years ago?

What prompted these musings was a question my 10-year-old asked me last week while the radio was on in the background:

‘Dad, what are they talking about on the radio?’

Me, not listening to the radio due to an intense focus on making the first espresso of the day, ‘What?’

‘Dad, on the radio. They are talking about something. And they said “post-truth”. What’s “post-truth”?’

‘Oh, erm, well, er – it’s not worth explaining. Eat your breakfast’

Difficult to swallow

Now, I am not saying an in-depth of exposition of modern political discourse and current media disintermediation is beyond me, but I need at least a couple of strong coffees before breaking that down into the proverbial bite-sized chunks for my kids. But it did concern me that while I dodged that particular challenge that morning, it only delayed the inevitable that I would have to explain in the future that there is a school of thought that believes that truth can somehow be ignored in favor of emotion, feelings – or simply shouting more loudly.

For many in academia, the notion of post-truth comes at a worrying time. While the idea may make for some interesting debate and analysis, the effect is to concentrate attention away from evidence and rigor towards something else entirely, as if truth is something that is irrelevant, unnecessary. What’s next after post-truth – post logic? Post-freedom? Post-life? At a time when the need for experts has been challenged in some quarters, and worse wholly ignored, the very essence of what an academic does is also called into question.

Global Challenges

If this wasn’t bad enough, faculty also see challenges to what has been termed ‘academic freedom’ across a wide-ranging number of cases around the world in recent months:

  • In Brazil, academics have promised to resist what they say is a breach of their freedoms by the state after campuses were stormed by police and people arrested for their views following the recent presidential election
  • In Canada, a professor was suspended by his school in the Summer after blowing the whistle on colleagues who had published in predatory journals
  • Meanwhile, in China, it was reported last month that the head of the elite Peking University was removed from office and replaced by a government representative
  • Scientific network ResearchGate has come under fire for allegedly forcing authors to upload their open access publications rather than share a link to them
  • The consortium of research funders that have come together under Plan S – joined this month by Wellcome and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – has also been challenged for not allowing publication of their funded projects in hybrid OA journals

Looking at these together, it is clear that there is a spectrum of potential breaches to academic freedoms, and while all such breaches are serious, it is clear that being arrested because of your research or having a member of the ruling party put in charge of your university present major problems for academic freedom. For those academics unnerved by Plan S then, they should think themselves lucky, right?

Wading through the pages and pages of comment on this issue, there seems to be a huge disconnect on both sides. While some open access advocates stress the fundamental necessity to make funded research openly accessible, some academics stress the fundamental necessity to choose which journal to publish in. Of course, these are not mutually exclusive, and it may well be that both publishers and Plan S alike evolve their policies into a joined-up approach that will satisfy both of the concerns expressed. Like the TV of my youth, publication channels have exploded in number and variety, but research quality remains absolute, and a further fundamental necessity for scholarly endeavor. We shouldn’t lose sight of that or the other academic freedoms that are currently under threat.

What lies beneath

On announcing that the Journal Blacklist has reached 10,000 journals – 10,060 to be precise – there have been two broad reactions. One group of people have said, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know there were 10,000 journals in total!’, while another group has said, ‘Wow, I bet that’s just scratching the surface.’ This underlines the challenge in estimating how large the problem of predatory publishing is, but however large it is, there are ways to circumvent it. 

 

One of the many roles the librarian at a university has had over the years is to be the de facto guardian not only of the journal resources they provide in the library, but also to ensure faculty and researchers use legitimate resources outside the library as well. Many have provided invaluable guidance over choosing the right journals to read, use and publish in, a contribution made more and more difficult over time as the number of journals has grown exponentially. In a time of budget cuts, these services have often been retired or forgotten without any substitutes put in place.

Librarians would also have a savviness and understanding of the journal world, and be on hand to answer quick questions about journals and legitimacy. It is hoped that the Cabells Blacklist can go some way to support these kinds of queries from academics, and in case your trusty librarian is in Charleston this week, here is a quick guide on how to identify predatory journals and use the Blacklist to ensure you or your colleagues are not one of the thousands of scholars who waste millions of dollars every year paying to publish in predatory journals:

B Behavioral Indicators: What is the track record of the journal you want to publish in? Look at its history and appearance online. Read the articles.

L – Look, But Don’t Touch: Use investigative skills to ‘research your research’ before making any submission decisions.

A – Actively Monitor: Ensure any information used in a decision to publish is up-to-date. 

C – Community Effort: Journals on the Blacklist, Whitelist or official ranking have used their communities to validate their entries – trust in your communities to help you choose a journal.

K – Kickass Metrics: Use citation-based information, such as the Impact Factor, alongside other metrics, such as alt metrics, usage and readership to ensure evidence-based decision-making with a blended approach. 

L – Legitimacy: Failure to legitimize your journal submission decision can lead to painful consequences – use of the Cabells Blacklist can prevent this.

I – Independent: Make sure your investigation of journals is based on independent, verified sources of information.

S – Searchable Database: The Blacklist, along with major journal databases such as Scopus and Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, are fully searchable and enable comparison of journals across multiple data points.

T – Transparency: There are many databases which offer information, but are not transparent. How and where did they get their data? Being critical of any information is vital to ensure optimal decision-making. 

(NB: For help in identifying potentially predatory journals, ask your librarian if your institution subscribes to the Cabells Blacklist.)

 

Open Access weak?

Open Access weak?

recent post on the London School of Economics estimable Impact for Social Sciences blog argued that the ‘problem’ of predatory publishing could be overstated, and should not detract from the movement towards greater open access of scholarly articles. The implication was that predatory publishing behavior was a bit of a sideshow, and should not be overtly linked with the greater good that open access brought to scholarly communications.

Open access is always uppermost in many publishers’ and information professionals’ minds at this time of year, as there has been a flurry of activity around the industry’s big conference at Frankfurt, and are now in the midst of the annual event that has become Open Access Week. For those in the know, it is a time to highlight new open access projects or launch new products, as well as an opportunity to generally talk up OA and its benefits and challenges. For those not in the know, it is… well, a time to wonder again what on earth all this open access stuff is about?

Sadly, for a concept that opens up scholarly communications, the industry has not done a terribly good job of communicating what open access actually is, and it is often not easy to find out a clear answer. Take, for example, Open Access Week itself. Is there one catch-all Twitter hashtag to capture all the activity? No. Instead, we have #openaccessweek2018, #OAweek, #OpenAccessWeek, #OpenAccess Week 2018 and #oaweek to name but a few that have come through the Cabells Twitter feed. 

And even when you do understand what open access is, there is a huge number of acronyms to wade through (SPARC, OASPA, SHERPA, OAPEN, DOAJ etc) representing a seemingly infinite array of related organizations promoting it, together with labyrinthine subtexts and politicking of various factions pushing their angle. One of the problems with open access is a lack of adoption by academics – something which has been backed up by numerous studies – and yet there is an inability to simply explain what it is and what you should do as a researcher. And as a result, few resources to support academics, particularly if things go wrong.

It is this lack of understanding that leads to problems such as predatory behaviors, which can be anything but overstated when they strike. Last week saw the case of an unfortunate academic from Scotland (reported by Times Higher Education here) who admitted being duped by a fake conference organized by the World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology (Waset). The academic decided to speak out as she feared many others would refrain from doing so for fear of embarrassment or repercussions at their institution. The £2,500 she lost on the event could be repeated many times, as the same newspaper reported in 2017 that some figures showed that predatory conferences could outnumber legitimate ones. 

Open access is a big deal and will rightly be discussed and refined during Open Access Week – but there are also unintended consequences that have to be recognized and addressed, and the personal damage both financial and reputational to those who fall prey to predatory publishing is anything but overstated.

(NB: For help in identifying potentially predatory journals, ask your librarian if your institution subscribes to the Cabells Blacklist)