The Predator Effect: Understanding the Past, Present and Future of Deceptive Academic Journals

During his time working at Cabells, predatory publishing practices turned into a near obsession for Simon Linacre – so much so, he wrote a book about it: The Predator Effect. Here he shares details of the book, and how predatory journals could form part of a publishing ethics crisis.


In a recent conversation with a senior academic regarding publishing ethics, the discussion veered between predatory publishing, paper mills, paraphrasing software and the question of whether an article written by AI could be regarded as an original piece of work. Shaking his head, the academic sighed and exclaimed: “Retirement is starting to look pretty good right now!” The conversation demonstrated what a lot of people in scholarly communications feel right now, which is that at this moment in time, we are losing the arms race when it comes to research integrity and publishing ethics.

In the last year, we have seen the number of predatory journals included on Cabells’ Predatory Report database approach 17,000, thousands of articles be retracted by major publishers such as Wiley and IoP, and major scandals, such as one I worked on with Digital Science company Ripeta, where one author was responsible for dozens of plagiarised articles. The concern is that many more articles might have leaked into the scholarly communications system from paper mills, and this coupled with leaps in technology that enable students and authors to buy essays and articles generated by AI without lifting a finger themselves. Now wonder older scholars who didn’t have to deal with such technologies are shaking their heads in despair.

Negative Impact

These issues can be rather abstract as they don’t necessarily translate into tangible impacts for most people, but this also means they can be misunderstood and underestimated. For example, what happens when an individual reads about a cure in a predatory journal and tries to use it and makes the condition of a patient worse? Or what about someone qualifying for a position based on coursework they cheated on? There are numerous instances where a breakdown in ethics and integrity can cause major problems.

More broadly, the whole fabric of trust that society has in academic research risks being undermined with so many options open to bad actors if they wish to buck the system for their own ends. We have seen this with the fateful Wakefield article about the MMR vaccine in the 1990s, the effects of which are still being felt today. That was an anomaly, but if people ceased to believe that published research was trustworthy because of these numerous threats, then we will indeed be in a perilous position.

Digital Solutions

The scale of these problems can be seen in three recent publications, which I discussed in a recent talk at the ConTech 2022 Conference in London:

  • In September, The State of Trust & Integrity in Research (STIR) report was published by Ripeta, which outlined some of the issues facing research integrity, and how greater standardisation and investment in technology is required
  • In October, the State of Open Data (SoOD) report was published by Figshare, Digital Science and Springer Nature. It produced the results of a huge survey of researchers which showed open data sharing was only growing gradually, and policymaking needed to be more joined up and consistent
  • In November, The Predator Effect was published – a short open access ebook detailing the history and impact of predatory publishing practices. 

While each of these publications offers some sobering findings in terms of the problems faced by scholarly communications, they also offer some hope that technology might provide some solutions in the future. In terms of predatory journals, this means using not only using technology as one solution, but using multiple solutions together in a joined up way. As I say in the book:

“Using technology to improve hygiene factors such as legitimate references may be another strategy that, if adopted together and more widely, will have a significant impact on predatory journal output.” (Linacre, 2022)

Concerns around trust in science are real, but so is the anticipation that technology can show how scholarly communications can move forward. As a former publisher, I thought technology could easily solve the problem, but thanks to working at Cabells I understood much more work is required in equipping researchers with the right tools, knowledge and know how to avoid predatory journals. In the past, collaboration in the industry has often been slow and not fully inclusive, but this will have to change if a breakdown in research integrity and publication ethics is going to be avoided.

Peer Review Week 2022: If Research Integrity is About Research, What Part Does Peer Review Play?

This week is Peer Review Week, “a community-led yearly global virtual event celebrating the essential role that peer review plays in maintaining research quality,” and a time of joy for Cabells. Protecting research quality and integrity is at the core of our mission, and supporting initiatives around this issue is very important to us. Our work as a company in researching and evaluating journals and providing key information on their peer review processes, among many other things, is built on this foundation – protecting and facilitating, however we can, research integrity.

Peer Review Week (PRW) brings together stakeholders from all corners of scholarly communications to champion peer review and the critical role that it plays, share innovations and research, and strengthen best practices. Cabells was excited not only to join the PRW Steering Committee to help guide this week’s efforts, but to also attend and serve as sponsors of the Ninth International Congress on Peer Review and Scientific Publication, held earlier this month in Chicago. We’re way into peer review.  

Cabells CEO, Lacey Earle, at the 9th International Congress on Peer Review and Scientific Publication, held earlier this month in Chicago.

So, we wanted to get even a bit more involved with the proceedings and thought this would be the perfect time to share some of our experiences and thoughts about the state of peer review as things now stand in scholarly and medical communications, and hopefully answer the question:

  •  If research integrity is about research, what part does peer review play?

I was recently able to virtually gather with a few members of our team – Sheree Crosby, Kathleen Berryman, and Dr. Julia Neufeind – to consider ideas such as:

  • What makes good peer review? Does the answer differ slightly, depending upon the role of the individual—author, researcher, editor, publisher, the industry as a whole?
  • Whose responsibility is it to ensure the peer review process is sound and working like it should?
  • What are the some of the problems, and potential solutions, in peer review today?

Our experts touched on these and other important issues around peer review:

  • The need for increased transparency in peer review with documentation and accountability in place
  • The lack of training for reviewers on how to perform efficient and effective peer review
  • How best to reduce biases, to whatever degree possible, that are inherent in the peer review process (and the human condition)
  • The lack of a standardized system within the industry to establish a uniform and consistent format for peer review and the resulting output
  • Managing expectations on the timing of reviews, with reviewers having to find time in their workday (or outside of it) to conduct reviews

Ideas on how to move peer review forward, building upon existing initiatives and innovations, strengthening its position as the backbone of quality research were also discussed:

  • The need to establish training or mentoring programs in peer review, particularly involving early career researchers
  • Should some form of peer review training be added to Ph.D. programs, equipping researchers with a foundation to perform effective peer review?
  • The creation of an agreement on acceptable industry standards and practices for peer review
  • The expansion of peer review networks and platforms to champion further innovation, including potential new models for peer review, guidelines, and training
  • Establishing data sharing and privacy policies

The discussion was wide-ranging and was edited quite a bit for the sake of digestibility – the seed for future webinars from our team examining peer review and other important issues in scholarly communication has been planted. We were really excited to come together to take a look at peer review to consider our experiences and the current landscape. Hopefully ours and other discussions like it on peer review will lead to more improvements and innovations in the process, and will serve to elevate scholarly and research communications across the board.

“Building a More Connected Scholarly Community” at #SSP2022

The theme of the Society for Scholarly Publishing’s (SSP) 44th Annual Meeting, which kicks off today and runs through Friday, is “Building a More Connected Scholarly Community.” It has been (and has felt like) a long, COVID-‘inspired’ two years’ worth of remote work, Zoom meetings, and virtual conferences. While not fully out of the woods yet (will we ever be?), 2022 has afforded the scholarly community the opportunity to get back to in-person gatherings to reconnect with old friends and establish ties with new ones. The chance to meet with so many friends and colleagues face-to-face might have been taken for granted in year’s past, but that is no longer the case.

For our part, Cabells has jumped into the reinvigorated 2022 conference season with both feet, with stops in Arlington, VA for the PRME Biennial Meeting at George Mason University, New Orleans, LA for the AACSB’s ICAM, New Orleans, LA again for our first visit to the Medical Library Association’s annual conference, and now on to Chicago for one of our favorite annual gatherings with SSP.   

As if being back together in person wasn’t enough to get us psyched for SSP, we have more to look forward to in Chicago. In addition to proudly serving as Diamond Sponsors of this year’s meeting, we are also honored to be receiving a certificate of gratitude for our support of the SSP’s Generations Fund, which provides sustainable funding for SSP’s Fellowship, Mentoring, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs. Like the SSP, we believe that a community is only as strong as its leaders, and we stand behind their commitment to supporting and developing an inclusive next generation of difference-makers.

The capper to SSP 2022 for us will be when our CTO, Lucas Toutloff, takes part in an exciting panel on Thursday for Session 4F, “Open Science and SDGs: Harnessing Open Science to Address Global Issues.” As signatories and Fellows of the SDG Publishers Compact, Cabells is driven to champion the UN’s SDGs and promote dynamic, mission-driven research and journals. This session will examine ways that the scientific community and journalism can drive change and wider societal outreach through open science policies and by embracing SDGs as a key topic in research impact.

Lucas, along with Dr. David Steingard from Saint Joseph’s University (with whom we’ve developed the SDGII™ journal rating metric), Dr. Laura Helmuth, Editor in Chief of Scientific American, and Paul Perrin from the University of Notre Dame, will discuss case studies around the current state of open science, open science policy, and the practical ways that open science is impacting the SDG program. Also, and key to Cabells’ mission, the panel will explore a method for operationalizing SDG-mindedness as a tool for measuring both research impact and potential.

Check out the full 2022 program here and or find out more about the annual meeting here. We hope to see you in Chicago!

Seeds of Change

If you plan on attending the Society for Scholarly Publishing’s (SSP) 44th Annual Meeting next month in Chicago, be sure to make time to attend Session 4F, “Open Science and SDGs: Harnessing Open Science to Address Global Issues.” Lucas Toutloff, CTO at Cabells, will be part of an outstanding panel that will be discussing ways the scientific community and journalism can drive change and wider societal outreach through open science policies and by embracing SDGs as a key topic in research impact.

Over the past year we have written extensively about our commitment to doing our part to move the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and, ultimately, their 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, forward. We were proud to join the SDG Publishers Compact as one of the first U.S. organizations and non-primary publishers globally to be awarded membership, and we look forward to becoming more involved in the rankings, ratings, and assessments HESI action group, tasked with guiding the changes to the criteria for assessment of the performance of higher education institutions to include contributions to the UN SDGs.

We’ve also been thrilled at the growth of and excitement for the SDG Impact Intensity™ (SDGII) academic journal rating, the first system for evaluating how journals contribute to positively impacting the SDGs. The SDGII is the result of our collaboration with Dr. David Steingard, Director of the SDG Dashboard initiative and Associate Professor of Leadership, Ethics, & Organizational Sustainability at the Haub School of Business at Saint Joseph’s University, and his team of researchers.

The SDGII uses SJU’s AI-based methodology to look at article output in journals from Cabells’ Journalytics database and gives those journals a ranking determined by the relative focus they have exhibited in their article publications over the last five years with respect to the SDGs. The SDGII provides a rating of up to five ‘SDG wheels’ to summarize the SDG relevance of articles published over a five-year period (2016-2020).

Last month, we had the chance to champion the potential benefits and impact of the SDGII at the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) North American Biennial Meeting in Virginia, and at the AACSB’s International Conference and Annual Meeting (ICAM) in New Orleans. David and his team discussed their vision and efforts to inspire a transformation from “quality” to “impact” in academic publications.

From right to left: Dr. Julia Christensen Hughes, Dr. Kathleen Rodenburg, and Dr. David Steinberg speak at the PRME 2022 Biennial Meeting at George Mason University in Arlington, VA.

At PRME, we discussed how impact-focused metrics can support progressive publication and business education agendas and unveiled a new iteration of the metric – the SDGII 3000, which provides a rating to measure the SDG-intensity of 3000 academic business journals, as well as the net impact of a business school’s faculty on publications advancing the SDGs. The SDGII 3000 will analyze 95%+ of all relevant business school and SDG-related journals where faculty publish and represents a massive expansion of the measurement of the social and environmental impact of publications through the SDGs.  

Dr. David Steingard presents the SDGII 3000 for the first time at PRME.

We look forward to continuing this discussion in Chicago at the SSP conference, both during our session and beyond. We will discuss the ways that open science is impacting SDG initiatives and programs and explore methods for operationalizing SDG-mindedness as a tool for measuring both research impact and potential. The momentum is building for this game-changing initiative and we hope to see continued interest and excitement from all corners of academia.

Conference Season Continues…Back in the Big Easy!

This week, we are on the road attending the Medical Library Association’s annual conference, MLA ’22, in New Orleans, where we’re excited to showcase our soon-to-launch new product, Journalytics Medicine & Predatory Reports. If you are at the conference in New Orleans, be sure to stop by booth 520 to say hello and take a look at our exciting new offering designed to help medical researchers, librarians, administrators, and funders ensure their work and resources are protected and impactful.

We have had a busy and wonderful 2022 conference season so far. At the Principles for Responsible Management Education North American Biennial Meeting in Arlington, Virginia, and the AACSB’s annual ICAM conference, also in New Orleans, we had the amazing opportunity to discuss our collaboration with David Steingard and Saint Joseph’s University (previously discussed here and here) in examining how the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can inspire a transformation from “quality” to “impact” in academic publications.

We look forward to chronicling our adventures and sharing the successes of the conferences after we’ve had the chance to reconnect with everyone and make our way back home. Stay tuned!

SDGs and the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative: The Way Forward


The 17 integrated UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a global call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Research and higher education will play vital roles in society’s march toward achieving the SDGs by the end of the decade and in building a sustainable future by providing current and future stakeholders with the knowledge, skills, and ethos to make informed and effective decisions to this end.

The Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) is a partnership that gathers over two dozen UN agency members and Higher Education Sustainability Networks. The Initiative tackles the most crucial challenges of our time by redesigning higher education to provide leadership on education for sustainable development, spearheading efforts to ‘green’ campuses, and supporting sustainable efforts in communities, while also ensuring the quality of education, equity, and gender equality.

Initiated in 2012 leading up to the Rio+20 conference, and bolstered with support of the United Nations, HESI provides higher education institutions with a vibrant confluence of higher education, science, and policymaking by enhancing awareness of higher education’s role in supporting sustainable development, facilitating multi-stakeholder discussions and action, and sharing best practices. The Initiative emphasizes the crucial role that higher education plays in educating the current and next generation of leaders, propelling the research agenda for public and private sectors, and helping to shape the path of national economies.

HESI also aims to directly address the problem of aligning research programs and outcomes in scholarly publications. By highlighting those journals that are already focused on this alignment – and those that could do better – Cabells and Saint Joseph’s University are hoping to play a big part in facilitating this process.

One of the overall goals of Cabells is to optimize decision making for both researchers and institutions. The SDGs are becoming increasingly important to these groups, and we strive to support them in enhancing the impact of the work they’re doing. One way we’ve been able to do this is through our collaboration with Saint Joseph’s University and Dr. David Steingard, developers of the SDG Dashboard at Saint Joseph’s University, to create a new metric called the SDG Impact Intensity™ (SDGII) journal rating. The SDGII seeks to contextualize and understand the relevance of academic research in terms of the SDGs. Climate change, sustainability, and equity are among the most powerful forces for change in society, and yet they are ignored by traditional citation-based metrics.

The SDG Impact Intensity uses a sophisticated AI methodology from SJU to look at article output in journals from Cabells’ Journalytics database and gives those journals a ranking determined by the relative focus they have exhibited in their article publications over the last five years with respect to the SDGs. The SDGII provides a rating of up to five ‘SDG wheels’ to summarize the SDG relevance of articles published over a five-year period (2016-2020).

As previously discussed in The Source, the SDGII show that journals well-known for perceived academic quality in business and management performed badly when assessed for SDG relevance, while journals focused on sustainability issues performed much better.

We believe our work with SJU and Dr. Steingard will be a key collaboration within the industry and its work on the SDGs, and we’ve joined the SDG Publishers Compact (Cabells was proud to be named the Compact’s member of the month for December 2021) to help further this partnership and the pursuit of the SDGs. In the coming months, Cabells and Dr. Steingard will be on hand at the upcoming PRME, AACSB, and SSP annual meetings to discuss a new iteration of the metric and lead discussions on how impact-focused metrics can support a progressive publication agenda. Greater than a change in perspective, there is an ongoing paradigm shift occurring as the value of journals moves past ideas of quality based largely on citations, reputation lists, and prestige, to impact and mission-driven research outputs.

BOOK REVIEW: Predatory Publishing, by Jingfeng Xia (Routledge)

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

One, Two, Three… Blog!

It is a little over three years since Cabells launched its blog The Source, and over 100 articles later it is still here dispensing wisdom on publication ethics, scholarly communications, and even the odd cartoon character. Simon Linacre reviews the good, the bad, and the ugly from the last 1,000 days and counting…


A quick look at the tag cloud at the bottom of this blog tells you everything you need to know about the main topic of conversation that has dominated its content for the last three or so years. While the number of predatory journals appearing and being identified in Cabells’ Predatory reports shows no sign of abating – 15,715 and counting – it is a topic that always generates the most interest among readers. Part of this fascination, I think, is that for many of us law-abiding citizens, coming face to face with actual crime and misdemeanors happens relatively rarely in our lives, But with every unwanted spam email we receive we are up close and personal with actual criminality in action.

Posts concerning predatory publishing that have garnered most interest – and this is replicated in the many webinars that Cabells delivers globally – tend to cover practical advice on avoiding predatory journals, as well as the wackier side of the phenomenon. For example, the post in 2019 that featured a journal with Yosemite Sam from Yale on one journal’s Editorial Board attracted a lot of attention, as did an article last year answering common questions about predatory journals. Despite the widespread coverage in academic journals and wider media, the topic still holds huge interest for all stakeholders in academia.

Other topics that have also been popular have focused on ‘how to…’ guidance, such as the latest criteria used to identify journals for inclusion in the Predatory Reports database and an ‘A to Z’ of predatory publishing in 2020. This perhaps highlights there is still great uncertainty amongst the many authors, librarians and publishers who read the blog about how to navigate the predatory journal landscape.

More recently, posts about hijacking journals and various issues highlighted in scholarly journals on wider issues of publication ethics have also garnered significant interest, with growing threats such as paper mills worrying many academics. Indeed, reflecting on the 100+ posts shared on the blog, there does seem to be a disproportionately large number of topics on bleak topics such as climate change, threats to academic freedoms and lack of research funding. However, some positive items have shone through and inspired a good deal of response and hope amidst the gloom. Chief among these is the work being done by Cabells and others to highlight the increasing engagement research reported in academic journals is contributing toward the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In addition to Cabells’ pilot collaboration to create a new metric, one of the most viewed recent posts was on how this ‘new perspective’ could change the entrenched paradigms of research publications for the better. Such interest in new ideas and positive change offers a glimpse of a more open and collaborative future, one that is not mired in scandal and tired thinking. There is much, then, to look forward to in The Source over the next three years and hundred posts.

2022: Year of the SDGs?

As a New Year year begins, Cabells would first like to wish everyone a Happy New Year, and kick 2022 off with some reflections on what could be the hottest trend in scholarly communications this year: the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Simon Linacre shares an update on this fast-moving area and surveys the runners and riders in a new digital arms race.


In 2012, the New York Times famously declared that year was the ‘Year of the MOOC’. Remember them? These ‘massive online open courses’ were going to disrupt higher education forever and lay waste to inefficient university programs. The truth was rather more mundane – while they proved a boon for lifelong learners and some who couldn’t afford college, and the lasting value was probably enabling a much better response from universities to the COVID-19 pandemic than previously envisaged as the whole world moved online for a few months.

So, it is not without trepidation that a decade later we are calling 2022 the Year of the SDGs. Like the MOOC, this acronym may be surpassed by events and a general withering lack of interest from the general public. However, there is some evidence to suggest that this could be the breakthrough year for SDGs and scholarly communications. Firstly, there are the goals themselves – the 17 aims are timebound to be achieved by 2030, and as every year goes by the urgency grows. This was reflected in the pledges made at COP26 in Glasgow in November, as wells as sustained coverage by global media linking freak weather events and policy decision-making to overarching sustainability imperatives.

Secondly, interest in the SDGs by publishers is undoubtedly growing. In addition to the numerous projects and initiatives by publishers linked to SDG themes, there are now 165 members of the SDG Publishers Compact committing to the promotion of the SDGs in their activities as well as a measure of internal adoption. For our part, Cabells was the Compact’s member of the month for December 2021 – here is a video explaining why we chose to join the initiative:

Thirdly, not only are publishers becoming more involved in the SDGs, but so is the content they publish. Just in the last few weeks, two major papers have been made public regarding the SDGs and the extent to which articles relate to them. Understanding these links is becoming more and more valuable – funders, universities, research offices, practitioners, and policymakers all want to understand what content is engaging with the SDGs to optimize decision-making to maximize the impact of research being funded and conducted. As with citations, what comes with this is not just the value of that impact but being able to count it as well.

In their paper ‘SDGs: A Responsible Research Assessment Tool toward Impactful Business Research’ (Rodenburg et al, 2021), the authors look at the relevance – or rather lack of relevance – the 50 journals used by the Financial Times for their business school rankings has regarding the SDGs. In a similar vein to Cabells and Saint Joseph’s University own research in this area, the authors want to highlight what can often be a yawning gap between the traditional notion of quality, and a more modern perspective of relevancy, impact and utility.

But are these quantitative approaches valid? As with the numerous criticisms of using citations as proxies for quality, there will be similar difficulties in equating simple mentions of the SDGs in articles to actual engagement and real-world impact. This and other concerns are methodically highlighted in a paper posted in the arXiv repository by industry expert Philip Purnell in his paper ‘A comparison of different methods of identifying publications related to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: Case Study of SDG 13 – Climate Action’ (Purnell n.d.). The paper looks at four major new approaches to wholesale rendering of SDG engagement across large swathes of article content, and in so doing identifies that no one service can encapsulate such engagement, and there is relatively little overlap between them either.

Just because 2022 is set to be the ‘Year of the SDGs’ for the scholarly communications industry, that doesn’t mean it has a clear path forward. There is a range of competing interests and systems at play which could go in any one direction. However, visit any publishing conference this year – real or virtual – and the SDGs and how to interact with them will undoubtedly by one of the main topics of conversation. And when we remember what the SDGs are actually for, this isn’t a bad thing at all.

OA Week: Open Spectrum

This week sees the 14th Open Access Week (#OAWeek #OAWeek2021) since it started in 2008. To mark the event, Simon Linacre looks at the challenges and opportunities the movement may face in post-pandemic times.



For many in the scholarly communications industry, Open Access Week is a fixture on the calendar just as much as Frankfurt Book Fair and The Charleston Conference, which bookend OA week. So, it may surprise people to learn that it only started as ‘Open Access Day’ in October 2008 as a follow up to the National Day of Action for Open Access in February 2007, growing to a week’s worth of activity in 2009. OA has come a long way since then – but how far does it still have to go?

Open Access content was minimal in those days, with an estimated 8.5% of published articles available as OA in 2008, and a further 11.9% available in repositories. By 2020, several estimates put the total number of research articles available via some form of OA as well over half of all articles published.

Judging the success of this growth since the inception of OA Week is difficult, and it probably depends where you are on the spectrum of opinion on OA itself. If you strongly believe that all research should be freely available period, then there is probably some frustration that a significant slice of content is still behind a paywall. The growth of OA as a percentage of all content has been sustained and consistent but is unlikely to reach the vast majority of published articles for some time yet. However, this availability varies hugely in terms of geography, with some countries such as the UK having national mandates in place to ensure almost all newly published articles are Open Access.

If you are on the other side of the spectrum and have no problem with the traditional subscription model, then you may be surprised how developed OA has become. So-called transformative agreements, initiatives such as Plan S and the increased use of repositories for scholarly communications have all contributed to the tide turning in favor of OA.

And if you are on this side of the spectrum, then you may also have concerns about the decrease in use of peer review as a method of validating research. The COVID-19 pandemic has both highlighted the risks of research being shared without peer review checks, and also stressed the importance of the sharing of vital medical research as quickly as possible. The net result is probably an acceleration, both of the availability OA research and worries about the consequences of this.

But where does this acceleration lead to? It was inevitable that most research would become available as OA, and if funding – either for authors or for publishers – was available to cover the costs of that, then few would disagree with this outcome. But for many it was not about when most research would be made OA, but how that would happen, and for them the validation of research in an age of fake news and deep fake images is perhaps more important than ever.