Measuring Sustainability Research Impact

Last month, Cabells was excited and honored to have the opportunity to take part in the EduData Summit (EDS), which took place at the United Nations in New York City. The EDS is the “world’s premium forum for data-driven educators – a platform for strategists, data scientists, CIOs and other dataheads to discuss and share best practices at the intersection of big data, predictive analytics, learning analytics, and education.”

The theme of this year’s Summit was “The Virtuous Circle: Sustainable and inclusive life-long learning through EduData” and sessions focused on areas such as access to education, continued and distance education, innovation in data science and AI, and sustainability.

Cabells CTO Lucas Toutloff was joined by Rachel Martin, Global Sustainability Director at Elsevier, and David Steingard from Saint Joseph’s University’s Haub School of Business for the virtual presentation “Industry-University Collaboration for Impact with the UN SDGs.” The panel discussed the importance of connecting research and science to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) widely, and more specifically, bridging the gap between researchers and practitioners. The SDGs are 17 highly interconnected goals spanning a large set of environmental, social, and economic topics and represent a universal call to action for building a more sustainable planet by 2030.  

Scholarly publishing can steer research and innovation toward the SDGs if we specifically and collectively shift the focus to address these crucial objectives and solutions. Researchers must lead the way by providing solutions for practitioners to put into action. As one of the first U.S. organizations and non-primary publishers globally to be awarded membership to the SDG Publishers Compact, along with having the privilege of being part of the Compact’s Fellows Group, Cabells is fully invested in helping to leverage the power of scholarly publishing to achieve the SDGs.

The SDG Publisher’s Compact core mission is to create practical and actionable recommendations for stakeholders in every corner of academic research – academic publishers, editors and reviewers, researchers and students, academic authors and librarians – for how they can have the SDGs at the forefront of their research agenda so we can collectively bridge the gap between researchers and practice. The goal of the Compact Fellows Group is to encourage all areas of the ecosystem to share in incentivizing researchers to perform work that supports and addresses the SDG and help smooth the transition from research to practice. The Compact has created specific best practices and recommendations for each sector that can be acted upon immediately to drive research into the hands of practitioners. The goal is to incentivize research that is driving innovation to address the SDGs which means we need to have ways to parse through, discover, and measure this research, because “what gets measured gets done.”

A major component in this process is establishing a broad spectrum of reporting and insights to drive incentives and measures of impactful research to gauge how an institution, individual researcher, or journal is performing in terms of SDGs. SDG Publisher’s Compact members have a responsibility to drive research to action and impact and devise ways to measure its effectiveness, reward those who conduct and publish impactful research in impactful journals, and continue to encourage those who don’t.

Toward this end, and in the spirit of SDG 17 “Partnerships for the Goals,” we are working with SJU on a publisher-neutral, AI-driven academic journals rating system assessing scholarly impact on the SDGs, called the SDG Impact Intensity (SDGII) rating. Data, scholarship, and science will be the driving forces for meeting the 2030 goal and as SDG research output is increasing, funders, universities, and commercial and not-for-profit organizations need to know money, time, and research is being well spent and having an impact.

We have discussed (here and here) our commitment to doing our part to advance progress on meeting the SDGs and, ultimately, the 2030 Agenda. Our work with Professor Steingard and his team from SJU in developing the SDGII to help business schools determine the impact their research is having on society by addressing global crises has been some of our most rewarding work. Working within the business school ecosystem, we’re examining how the SDGs can inspire a transformation from quality to impact in business by looking at journals in terms of their alignment and taxonomy connection to the SDGs.

The top 50 business school journals (according to Financial Times in 2016) were examined by the United Nations PRME group and it was discovered that only 2.8% of articles published in ‘top-tier’ journals address challenges such as poverty, climate change, clean energy, water, equality, etc. This is a problem that continues today, many of the same journals are still among the top in business journal rankings and they are not championing and featuring impactful research to any meaningful and impactful degree.

Cabells and SJU are trying to address this problem through the SDGII by shifting the philosophy on what “counts” when looking at business journals and noting which publications are driving impact with respect to the SDGs. We are working to integrate, promote, and ultimately change the benchmarks of what matters in academic output and the data that drives decision-making.

To continue to promote this initiative and encourage the shift from quality to impact, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to discuss our progress at the AACSB’s International Conference and Annual Meeting (ICAM), in April in New Orleans.

Sustainability is the crisis of our generation, and sustainability‑mindedness has been an important point in academic research. The SDGII is designed to give stakeholders on every level the ability to measure what they’re doing and to serve as a cross‑motivational tool to drive the industry forward on issues of sustainability. As mentioned earlier, when it comes to incentives, what gets measured gets done. The traditional metrics of evaluating the quality of research journals focus mainly on citation intensity which evaluates journals based on how much they are used and cited. While this makes sense on some level, research must be read to have an impact after all, it’s missing the mark by not considering, and measuring, impact on SDGs.

The SDGII is an alternative, complementary metric that will evaluate a journals SDG research and output through artificial intelligence and machine learning and build a profile for the publication to demonstrate its impact on these issues. Rather than throw out the traditional approach of evaluating quality and value of a journal, we are seeking to build on the foundation that good journals have in terms of things like scholarly rigor, audience, citations, and rankings. We want to move the needle to highlight research and journals that address the SDGs and the SDGII will help business schools demonstrate how their research is achieving societal impact and meeting the Global Goals.

Update: A Journal Hijacking

Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted in August, 2021.


As members of our journal evaluation team work their way around the universe of academic and medical publications, one of the more brazen and egregious predatory publishing scams they encounter is the hijacked, or cloned, journal.  One recent case of this scheme uncovered by our team, while frustrating in its flagrance, also offered some levity by way of its ineptitude. But make no mistake, hijacked journals are one of the more nefarious and injurious operations carried out by predatory publishers. They cause extensive damage not just to the legitimate journal that has had its name and brand stolen, but to medical and academic research at large, their respective communities of researchers and funders, and, ultimately, society.

There are a few different variations on the hijacked journal, but all include a counterfeit operation stealing the title, branding, ISSN, and/or domain name of a legitimate journal to create a duplicate, fraudulent version of the same. They do this to lure unsuspecting (or not) researchers into submitting their manuscripts (on any topic, not just those covered by the original, legitimate publication) for promises of rapid publication for a fee.

A recent case of journal hijacking investigated by our team involved the legitimate journal, Tierärztliche Praxis, a veterinary journal out of Germany with two series, one for small and one for large animal practitioners:

The legitimate website for Tierärztliche Praxis

by this counterfeit operation, using the same name:

The website for the hijacked version of Tierärztliche Praxis

One of the more immediate problems caused by cloned journals is how difficult they make it for scholars to discover and engage with the legitimate journal, as shown in the image below of Google search results for “Tierärztliche Praxis.” The first several search results refer to the fake journal, including the top result which links to the fake journal homepage:

“Tierärztliche praxis” translates to “veterinary practice” in English, and the legitimate journal is of course aimed at veterinary practitioners. Not so for the fake Tierärztliche Praxis “journal” (whose “publishers” didn’t bother/don’t care to find out what “tierärztliche” translates to) which claims to be a multidisciplinary journal covering all subjects and will accept articles on anything by anyone willing to pay to be published:

Aside from a few of the more obvious signs of deception found with the cloned journal: a poor website with duplicate text and poor grammar, an overly simple submission process, no consideration of the range of topics covered, to name a few, this journal’s “archive” of (stolen) articles takes things to a new level:

Above: the original article, stolen from Tuexenia vs. the hijacked version

A few things to note:

  • The stolen article shown in the pictures above is not even from the original journal that is being hijacked, but from a completely different journal, Tuexenia.
  • The white rectangle near the top left of the page to cover the original journal’s title and the poorly superimposed hijacked journal title and ISSN at the header of the pages, and the volume information and page number in the footer (without bothering to redact the original article page numbers).
  • The FINGER at the bottom left of just about every other page of this stolen article.
Predatory Reports listing for the hijacked version of Tierärztliche Praxis

Sadly, not all hijacked or otherwise predatory journals are this easy to spot. Medical and academic researchers must be hyper-vigilant when it comes to selecting a publication to which they submit their work. Refer to Cabells Predatory Reports criteria to become familiar with the tactics used by predatory publishers. Look at journal websites with a critical eye and be mindful of some of the more obvious red flags such as promises of fast publication, no information on the peer review process, dead links or poor grammar on the website, or pictures (with or without fingers) of obviously altered articles in the journal archives.

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.

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.

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.

Academic Sleuthing

With plenty of advice and guidance on the internet on how to identify and avoid predatory journals, many argue the game is up. However, Simon Linacre argues that while so many authors and journals slip through the net, numerous skills are required to avoid the pitfalls, not the least of which is, as one case study shows, being an amateur sleuth….


Back in the day when I used to lecture researchers on optimizing their publishing strategy, I always used to use the refrain ‘Research your research’ to underline the importance of utilizing the investigative skills of academic research for the purpose of understanding scholarly communications. Knowledge is power, as the saying goes, and knowing how the medium of academic publishing works can enable effective and robust decision-making, especially in academia where those decisions can have a long-term bearing on careers. Knowing the best journals to publish in can prove to be a huge benefit to any given academic.

Turns out knowing where NOT to publish can also have the same benefits.

This notion was underlined to Cabells this month when an academic publications advisor highlighted a case they had been involved in at their university. The advisor – whose identity and that of the institution has been anonymized at their request – was based at a research institute and among other duties advised its researchers about submissions to academic journals, including such things as copyediting, publishing licenses, and open access payments.

Recently, one of the institute’s academics had been invited to present at a conference in 2022, but the invitation was brought to the advisor’s attention as it was a little outside their normal sphere of activity. The advisor thought the invite and presentation were a bit unprofessional and advised against accepting the invitation. Upon further investigation, they found the conference was linked to a suspected predatory publisher, which had been highlighted online in several different sources.

However, the advisor was still not satisfied as while there were suggested links and implications, there was also some evidence of legitimate activities and details. It was only when the advisor scrutinized some of the journals’ articles that she found further evidence of fake journals and scientific anomalies and requested confirmation of their suspicions. We were glad to confirm that the publisher in question – Knowledge Enterprises Inc. (KEI) – indeed looked suspicious and had six journals included in our Predatory Reports database [see image below for example].

Predatory Reports entry for Journal of Economics and Banking from KEI Journals

The moral of this story is not just that ‘researching your research’ can help identify bad actors. It also shows that persistence with an investigation and a wide range of inputs from different sources are required to support ethical publication practices. In some cases, nothing less will do.

No Hiding from Predatory Menace

If you thought predatory publishing had had its day and things were improving, there is bad news. As Simon Linacre reports, there is even more bad news and surely worse behavior to follow in the coming weeks and months. However, the InterAcademy Partnership’s ongoing project studying predatory journals and conferences aims to educate researchers on how to identify and avoid these dangers.


As we wind down to the end of what has been yet another tumultuous year and some of us look forward to the various holidays and celebrations that lie ahead, it is common for us to reflect on what has gone before and look forward to what a new year may bring. Particularly against the backdrop of the global pandemic and dangers of climate change, it would be comforting to look at some issues that may be close to being resolved or at least lessened in their negative impact.

Just don’t look to the fight against predatory publishing activities for any relief.

In a year that has seen Cabells’ Predatory Reports database pass 15,000 journals, a major study has started to release its findings from its global investigation into predatory journals and conferences. The InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) is an international network of scientific academies collaborating on issues to provide trustworthy advice and guidance. In the last 18 months it has tackled predatory activities as one of its projects, releasing some initial findings earlier this year. These showed that from a survey of over 1,800 academics on 112 countries:

  • nearly a quarter had either published in a predatory journal, participated in a predatory conference, or didn’t know if they had
  • over 80% thought predatory practices were on the rise or a serious problem in their country of work
  • over half thought that such practices widened the research gap between high income and low income countries.

The full report is currently at the peer review stage and due for release early in 2022, with a research article also in the works. IAP believe that one of the main things it has learned from the study is that researchers in all countries, at all stages of their career and in any discipline can be vulnerable to predatory practices, and as a result raising awareness is now a vital mission for IAP.  In this vein, it has announced it is running four regional webinars through its IAP Regional Networks and one global webinar with The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), both with the Global Young Academy, focused mainly on the research community.  

Tickets for the free webinars are now available and open to everyone. If we can’t end the year on a high note with respect to predatory journals, at least we can try and ensure ourselves and our networks are as aware as possible of this dark phenomenon.

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.


New Kid on the Block

The publishing industry is often derided for its lack of innovation. However, as Simon Linacre argues, there is often innovation going on right under our noses where the radical nature of changes are yet to be fully understood, for good or bad.



There is a clock ticking down on the top right of my screen. I have 15 mins and 28 seconds to upgrade to premium membership for half price. But what do I need to do? What is the clock for? What happens if I don’t click the button to stop the clock in time…?

This isn’t an excerpt from a new pulp fiction thriller, but one of the elements in a new journal many academics will have received notification of recently. Academia Letters is a new journal from Academia.edu, a social networking platform for researchers worldwide to share and discover research. Since it started life in 2008, the site has become popular with academics, with millions signed up to take advantage of the platform to promote their research and find others to collaborate with. It has also been controversial, accused of hosting thousands of article pdfs in breach of copyright terms. Up until now, the site has focused on enabling researchers to share their work, but now they have joined the publishing game with their own journal publishing short articles of between 800 and 1,600 words.

The new offering provides several other different takes on the traditional journal:

  • All articles are Open Access but for a lower fee than average (£300 in the UK)
  • Peer review times are promised to be “lightning-fast”
  • Articles are accepted or rejected at the first round, with only minor revisions required if accepted.

Now, some people reading this will ask themselves: “Doesn’t that sound like a predatory journal?”. However, it is very clear that Academia Letters is categorically NOT predatory in nature, because far from attempting to deceive authors into believing there is in-depth peer review, it is clear that the light-touch process and access to millions of users should mean the publishing process is both fast and cheap compared to other OA options. However, the quality of articles would not be expected to match those in a traditional journal given the brevity and lack of intervention from peer reviewers in the new model.

It will be interesting to see how many authors take advantage of the new approach chosen by the journal. If it takes off, it could open up other new forms from traditional publishers and other networking sites, and be held up as a clear example of innovation in scholarly communications. However, the journal may run afoul of its approach to marketing as authors have become increasingly wary of promises of fast turnaround times and low APCs from predatory publishers. For example, what happened when the ticking clock ran down to signify the end of a half price deal to become a premium member of Academia.edu? It simply reset to 48 hours for the same deal. Such marketing tactics may be effective in signing some authors up, but others may well be put off, however innovative the new proposition might be.

A New Perspective

What should a good quality journal include in its make-up – rigorous research, well-regarded editorial board, plenty of citations? But what if we challenge these assumptions and demand commitment to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as well? There are solutions to this challenge, and here Simon Linacre introduces the first SDG Impact Intensity™ rating from Cabells and Saint Joseph’s University.


It is said that some of the best deals are done in a secluded restaurant or in the back of a cab. For academics, perhaps the equivalent is the fringes of a conference gala dinner and in a coach back to the hotel. That’s what happened when I met Dr. David Steingard from Saint Joseph’s University (SJU) in Lisbon in late 2019, where we discussed what an appraisal of journals from the perspective of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) might look like.

First trialed in March of this year, the fruits of this meeting are released today in the shape of the SDG Impact Intensity™ journal rating. This pilot study – the first full ratings are expected in early 2022 – seeks to highlight the differences between business and management journals regarded as leaders in their disciplines, and those which have focused on sustainability and related issues. The pilot consists of 100 journals rated according to their relevance – or intensity – to the UN’s 17 SDGs, determined by the relative focus they have exhibited in their article publications over the last five years. Using a sophisticated AI methodology from SJU and journals based on Cabells’ Journalytics database, journals were rated from zero to five, with six journals achieving the top rating.

Traditionally, citations and rankings have been a proxy for quality, none more so than the list of 50 journals used by the Financial Times for its FT Research rankings. However, to what extent have these journals started to reflect on research on climate change and the SDGs in recent years – a focus which should surely be a top priority for business and business schools alike?

The evidence from the SDG Impact Intensity™ journal rating is that… there has been very little focus at all. As you can see from the list of 100 journals, only two journals from the FT 50 appear in the top 50 of the list, showcasing the fact – as if there was any doubt – that sustainability journals that have typically lagged behind top business journals in terms of citations and prestige far outperform them when it comes to engagement with the SDGs and the research agenda they represent. We will view with interest the FT’s plan for a “slow hackathon” this Autumn as part of a review of their journal list.

Cabells started to investigate this area to see if there was another way to assess what value journals represented to authors looking to publish their work. What the last two years have shown is that more than a shift in perspective, there is a paradigm shift waiting to happen as the value of journals to authors moves from old-fashioned prestige to a more dynamic representation of mission-driven research. While Cabells and some publishers have backed this general shift by signing up to initiatives such as the UN Publishers Compact, much more can be done to progress the impact agenda in scholarly communications. Events such as the upcoming Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) Webinar aim to tackle the problem of aligning research programs and outcomes in publications head on. By highlighting those journals that are already focused on this alignment – and those that could do better – Cabells and SJU are hoping they can play a part in genuinely moving the dial.