The power of four

After hearing so many different ways that its Journal Whitelist and Journal Blacklist have been used by customers, Cabells has started to map out how any researcher can use journal data to optimize their decision-making. Fresh from its debut at the World Congress on Research Integrity in Hong Kong last month, Simon Linacre shares the thinking behind the new ‘Four Factor Framework’ and how it could be used in the future.


The 6th World Congress on Research Integrity (WCRI) was held in Hong Kong last month, bringing together the great and the good of those seeking to improve the research process globally. Topics were surprisingly wide, taking a look at such diverse areas as human rights, predatory publishing, data sharing, and policy. It was significant that while much of the focus of the conference was on the need to improve education and learning on how to conduct research ethically, many of the cases presented showed that there is still much to do in this respect.

Cabells was also there and used its presence to share some ideas on how to overcome some of these challenges, particularly with regard to engagement with improved research and publishing practices. Taking the established issues within predatory publishing encountered the world over as a starting point (i.e. choosing the wrong journal), as well as the need to look at as much data as possible (i.e. choosing the right journal), Cabells has very much put the author at the center of its thinking to develop what it has called the ‘Four Factor Framework’:

 

The framework, or FFF, firstly puts the onus on the researcher to rule out any poor, deceptive or predatory journals, using resources such as the Blacklist. This ‘negative’ first step then opens up the next stage, which is to take the four following factors into account before submitting to a research paper to a journal:

  • Strategic: understanding how a journal will impact career ambitions or community perspectives
  • Environmental: bringing in wider factors such as research impact or ethical issues
  • Political: understanding key considerations such as publishing in titles on journal lists, avoiding such lists or journals based in certain areas
  • Cultural: taking into account types of research, peer review or article form

Having talked to many customers over a period of time, these factors all become relevant to authors at some point during that crucial period when they are choosing which journal to publish in. Customers have fed back to Cabells that use of Cabells’ Whitelist and Blacklist – as well as other sources of data and guidance – can be related to as benchmarking, performance-focused or risk management. While it is good to see that the databases can help so many authors in so many different ways, judging by the evidence at WCRI there is still a huge amount to do in educating researchers to take advantage of these optimized approaches. And this will be the main aim of Cabells’ emerging strategy – to enable real impact by researchers and universities through the provision of validated information and support services around scholarly publishing.

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!