Bringing clarity to academic publishing

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


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

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

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

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

When does research end and publishing begin?

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


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

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

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

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

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

Cabells is proud to be COUNTER Release 5 Compliant

Cabells is excited to have passed an independent COUNTER audit, the final step to being deemed fully compliant with the COUNTER Release 5 Code of Practice.

COUNTER tweet

COUNTER (Counting Online Usage of NeTworked Electronic Resources) is a non-profit organization that helps libraries from around the world determine the value of electronic resources provided by different vendors by setting standards for the recording and reporting of usage stats in a consistent and compatible way. The COUNTER Code of Practice was developed with the assistance of library, publisher, and vendor members through working groups and outreach.

By implementing the Code of Practice, publishers and vendors support their library customers by providing statistics in a way that allows for meaningful analysis and cost comparison. This allows libraries to closely asses user activity, calculate cost-per-use data, and make informed purchasing and infrastructure planning decisions, ensuring limited funds are spent in the most efficient way possible.

For more information, check out the COUNTER website which includes their Registries of Compliance.

Signs of a predatory publisher

The variety of tactics used by predatory publishers to fool unsuspecting authors into submitting their work are frustrating and dishonest to be sure, but they also provide us at Cabells with the motivation to keep working at exposing them. But what does it mean when these deceitful operations no longer try very hard to trick anyone?


“Really? That’s the best they could do?”  That was our initial thought here at Cabells after receiving the most recent invitation to publish that crossed our collective desk. We then thought, “Who would be tricked into thinking this is a genuine invitation from a legitimate publisher? Did they really think this would work?” Our second thought was a bit more troublesome, “Are they even trying to fool anyone at this point?”

Nice day!

We have learnt about your published precious paper in LEARNED PUBLISHING with the title Cabells’ Journal Whitelist and Blacklist: Intelligent data for informed journal evaluations, and the topic of the paper has impressed us a lot.

Researchers specializing in a wide range of disciplines have expressed keen interests in your paper.

That’s it. That’s the entire message followed by two links, one to “Contribute Your Articles” and another to “Become the Editorial Member.”  At least some of the language above is likely familiar to anyone who has had an article published in an academic journal and is fairly easy to identify as suspicious, to say the least.

However, there is usually a bit more of an “honest” effort to seem like a legitimate operation. At least a bit more wooing in the text of the invitation. To be frank, these folks seem to be mailing it in a bit. After clicking the link, there was not much evidence present to move us from our initial impression:

Among the red flags: despite claiming to publish 39 journals, SCIREA lists approximately 10,800 editors; that would be around 277 editors per journal. It is safe to say there are not enough articles to go around for each of these editors to be kept busy.

There are also many of the standard red flags waved by most predatory operations:

  • the promise of rapid publication (“manuscripts are peer-reviewed and a first decision provided to authors approximately 20 days after submission; acceptance to publication is undertaken in 5 days.”)
  • mention of an APC but with no further information (“free for readers, with article processing charges (APC) paid by authors or their institutions”) – the link leads nowhere, which brings us to our next warning sign
  • numerous non-working links:

The four links in the column on the left: Journals, Articles, Conferences, and Editors are functional and take the user to those respective pages. The remaining 17 links in the three columns to the right are all non-functioning links that simply bump up to the top of the current page.

These signs taken together would likely be enough to alert most academics that they are probably looking at a predatory publisher’s website. Here at Cabells, we have the luxury of a team of experts who can dive in to remove all doubt and shine a light on these types of operations through inclusion in our Journal Blacklist. Stay tuned for an update on the results of the investigation which is still in its beginning stages, SPOILER ALERT, things are not looking good for SCIREA.

The fact that there is not much of an effort on the part of SCIREA to come across as legitimate is a concern. Is this an indication that subterfuge is no longer necessary to achieve their goal of collecting manuscripts and APCs? Is it now enough just to announce your presence as an outlet for publication, even an obviously dishonest one, and the money will come rolling in due to authors needing/wanting to have their work published?

We will continue to monitor this situation and will report our findings. As always, we love hearing from the academic community with feedback, tips or questions on predatory activity; please don’t hesitate to contact us at blacklist@cabells.com.

If at first you don’t succeed…

Last year, we were approached by the editors of Social Sciences, published by Science Publishing Group (Science PG), regarding an article we published in Learned Publishing, the journal of the Association of Learned & Professional Society Publishers.  The article, “Cabells’ Journal Whitelist and Blacklist: Intelligent data for informed journal evaluations” presented readers with an overview of our Journal Whitelist and Journal Blacklist and delivered insight into the construction and maintenance of the products. The piece also discussed the troubling growth of predatory publishing and our efforts to help combat this problem. SciencePG contacted us to let us know that “the topic of the paper has impressed [them] a lot” and extended an invitation not only to publish the paper in their “journal” but to join their Editorial Board as a member/reviewer.  There were several red flags in their communication, so after an investigation by our Blacklist team, the journal was promptly added to the Journal Blacklist. You can read more about this incident here.

Well, the folks at SciencePG must not be faithful readers of The Source (?!), because they are back again (twice in three days, no less) with invitations to have our recent article from the Journal of Business-to-Business Marketing, “Publishing in an Environment of Predation: The Many Things You Really Wanted to Know, but Did Not Know How to Ask” included in their publication, International Journal of Business and Economics Research, and also for us to serve as “Lead Guest Editors” and/or editorial board members of the journal:

And then:

Having recalled our previous encounter with SciencePG, we were not at all surprised to find the International Journal of Business and Economics Research already included in our Journal Blacklist:

While we admit to being a bit amused by the irony of the situation, this contact serves as a reminder to us that our continued diligence and commitment to our mission is sorely needed. Predatory publishers are relentless and cast as wide a net as possible, knowing that just a few “bites” will keep them in business. The fact that they are repeatedly reaching out to us about our articles chronicling the dangers of predatory journals and publishers, speaks volumes.

Some invitations, like these extended by SciencePG, are rather easy to identify as deceitful, especially for our crack team of Journal Blacklist investigators. However, some communications are not as easy to classify and require thorough vetting. Rest assured, we will continue our work in exposing these frauds and will force them out of the shadows.

Publish and be damned

The online world is awash with trolling, gaslighting and hate speech, and the academic portion is sadly not immune, despite its background in evidence, logical argument and rigorous analysis. For the avoidance of doubt, Simon Linacre establishes fact from fiction for Cabells in terms of Open Access, predatory publishing and product names.


When I went to university as a very naive 18-year-old Brit, for the first time I met an American. He was called Rick who lived down the corridor in my hall of residence. He was older than me, and a tad dull if I’m honest, but one evening we were chatting in our room about someone else in the hall, and he warned me about setting too much store by perceptions: “To assume is to make an ass out of u and me,” he told me sagely.

Twenty years later, while I have come to realize this phrase is a little corny, it still sticks in my mind every time I see or hear about people being angry about a situation where the full facts are not known. Increasingly, this is played out on social media, where sadly there are thousands of people making asses out of u, me and pretty much everyone else without any evidence whatsoever for their inflammatory statements.

To provide a useful point of reference for the future, we at Cabells thought we should define positions we hold on some key issues in scholarly publishing. So, without further ado, here is your cut-out-and-keep guide to our ACTUAL thinking in response to the following statements:

  • ‘Cabells is anti-OA’ or ‘Cabells likes paywalls’: Not true, in any way shape or form. Cabells is pro-research, pro-quality and pro-authors; we are OA-neutral in the sense that we do not judge journals or publishers in these terms. Over 13% of the Whitelist are pure OA journals and two-thirds are hybrid OA.
  • ‘Cabells is anti-OA like Beall’ or ‘You’re carrying on Beall’s work’: Cabells had several discussions with Jeffrey Beall around the time he stopped work on his list and Cabells published the Blacklist for the first time in the same year (2017). However, the list did NOT start with Beall’s list, does NOT judge publishers (only journals) for predatory behavior, and the Blacklist shows considerable divergence from Beall’s List – only 234 journals are listed on both (according to Strinzel et al (2019)).
  • ‘Predatory publishing is insignificant’ or ‘Don’t use the term predatory publishing’: The recent FTC judgement fining the Omics Group over $50m shows that these practices are hardly insignificant, and that sum in no way quantifies the actual or potential hurt done by publishing fake science or bad science without the safety net of peer review. Other terms for such practices may in time gain traction – fake journals, junk science, deceptive practices – but until then the most commonly used term seems the most appropriate.
  • ‘The Whitelist and Blacklist are racist’: The origins of the word ‘blacklist’ come from 17th century England, and was used to describe a number of people who had opposed Charles II during the Interregnum. It is a common feature of language that some things are described negatively as dark or black and vice versa. Cabells is 100% pro-equality and pro-diversity in academic research and publishing.
  • ‘Cabells unfairly targets new or small journals with the Blacklist’: Some of the criteria used for the Blacklist include benchmarks that a very few legitimate journals may not pass. For example, there is a criterion regarding the speed of growth of a journal. This is a minor violation and identifies typical predatory behavior. It is not a severe violation which Cabells uses to identify journals for the Blacklist, and nor is it used in isolation – good journals will not be stigmatized by inclusion on the Blacklist simply because they won’t be included. In the two years the Blacklist has been in operation, just three journals out of 11,500+ listed have requested a review.

Building bridges at NASIG 2019

The theme of this year’s NASIG Annual Conference – Building Bridges – was appropriate for a number of reasons. Not only did the meeting take place in the City of Bridges, but the idea of connecting the various global communities within academia was present in many of the sessions. What’s more, the core mission of NASIG is to “facilitate and improve the distribution, acquisition, and long-term accessibility of information resources in all formats and business models”: in essence, building a bridge to knowledge.

There were an array of sessions building on this “connectivity” theme: discussions on linking to disabled members of the community through greater accessibility, to resource users through technical and customer services, and to future academics through digital preservation, to name just a few. However, the session that caught our collective eye at Cabells was one that focused not so much on building bridges, but rather on blocking the way down a dangerous road …

While there is no debate (we think) that predatory journals are causing problems in the scholarly publishing landscape, there are differing opinions on the magnitude of these problems.  “Minding Your Ps and Qs: Predatory Journals, Piracy, and Quality Questions” was presented by Marydee Ojala, Editor of Online Searcher Magazine and Regina Reynolds, Director of the U.S. ISSN Center and Head of the ISSN Section of the Library of Congress.  Ms. Ojala, a former academic and corporate librarian, spoke of the danger, especially in today’s ‘fake news’ environment, of calling into question the validity of scholarly research by muddying the water with junk science and ‘sting’ articles filled with nonsense.  Ms. Reynolds suggested the problem of predatory publishing is overstated and exists due to a market created by academia through several enabling forces.

What was made clear in this session is the fact that more and more librarians are becoming aware of predatory publishing and the dangers it poses. They are also becoming keenly aware that they must rethink how they evaluate collections and what researchers are finding in available databases. Instead of going directly to subscription databases, many researchers turn first to Google or Google Scholar. A quick search on these platforms will make it clear the results contain predatory articles alongside legitimate ones. The use of LibGuides, instructional videos, posters, presentations and even one-on-one communication to educate researchers can go a long way to changing the methods they use.

When discussing whether the problem of predatory journals is overstated (a firm ‘no’ in Cabells’ opinion), Mr. Reynolds made several interesting points.  Enabling market forces such as open access, a rapidly growing number of scholars worldwide, the disadvantages of the those in the global south, and the ‘publish or perish’ mindset have created a fertile ground for predatory publishing activity. To think that it will not be taken advantage of is short-sighted.  Predatory journals give scholars who wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to publish a chance to publish; this highlights an uneven playing field in academia that must be corrected to stem the tide of predatory enterprise.

Ms. Reynolds discussed the idea that predatory journals exist as a response to an environment, and market, created by academia itself.  Is the scholarly community willing to turn its collective back on predatory publications?  Is every academic serving on the editorial board of a predatory journal doing so without their knowledge and consent? Of course not, just as not everyone who publishes in a fake publication is duped into doing so. There must be a concerted effort throughout the scholarly community to reject the easy route to publication and CV glory on the back of fraudulent publications. As Ms. Ojala pointed out, there are resources (most notably the Journal Blacklist) that are working to shine a light on deceitful operations to alert researchers, librarians and administrators to stay away; as Ms. Reynolds pointed out, these stakeholders must be willing to heed the warning.

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.

Look to the North

Say what you like about Canada – and plenty do – but they are taking the threat of predatory publishing more seriously than just about any other country. Simon Linacre reflects on recent activities North of the 49th parallel.


It’s all about Canada at the moment. They have the new NBA champions in the shape of the Toronto Raptors, overcoming huge odds to beat defending champions Golden State Warriors in a thrilling finals series, and in the process becoming the first Canadian winner of a major US sports championship in over 25 years. Add to that one of the more likable (if under pressure) world leaders, and continued dominance of lists of best places to live, and those living North of the border seem to have it sewn up, eh?

They also seem to be leading the way when it comes to research integrity and publishing ethics, as a number of high-profile studies and articles have shown. A piece in Canadian news magazine The Walrus has highlighted the problems of predatory publishing in Canada, but also the fight to overcome these concerns. The article is entitled ‘The Rise of Junk Science’ and highlights the ways predatory publishing has infected scholarly activities in Canada, including:

  • Seeing predatory publishers buy out legitimate publishers and use their name to support predatory conferences
  • Wasting resources from funding organizations and universities on APCs for predatory journals
  • Forcing reputable universities to check every individual CV of every academic to ensure they haven’t published in predatory journals
  • Running the risk that ‘junk science’ published in seemingly authentic journals will be read and used, causing unknown harm
  • Allowing unscrupulous academics to take advantage of university policy to publish in journals with no peer review or quality control in order to be rewarded.

This last point was also highlighted by Derek Pyne in 2017, who pointed out that some of his colleagues at Thompson Rivers University had published in predatory journals and received rewards as a result. Pyne was suspended for a brief spell following publication of the article, but it acted as a wake-up call to many institutions to review their policies when it came to publications.

Canada also hosted a conference on predatory journals this year – as opposed to the numerous predatory conferences that have also sprung out of predatory publishing practices. These are also highlighted by the article in The Walrus which gives a great overview of the predatory publishing problem in Canada. Cabells’ own evidence shows that there seems to be a specific issue there as there are 119 confirmed and over 500 suspected predatory journals originating from there in the Blacklist, which is nearly 5% of the total. However, by shining a light on the problem and tackling it head-on, the country can at least lead the way for many others to follow.

Lasting impressions from another great SSP Annual Meeting

The Society for Scholarly Publishing’s Annual Meeting, the 41st such event, was held this year in beautiful San Diego and the Cabells team once again had an amazing time reconnecting with old friends, making new ones, and attending excellent sessions full of great discussions. The focus of this year’s meeting was on connecting stakeholders from around the globe to usher in a new era of scholarly communication. A common theme that emerged in so many sessions was the importance of previously underrepresented groups and markets being connected to the scholarly community as we move ahead to tackle new challenges and bring about the “New Status Quo.

Having had some time to step away and reflect on the meeting we are imbued with a sense of community and the pressing need to work toward removing barriers that prevent the sharing of research. Things were kicked off on a very high note by Dr. Mariamawit Yeshak, Assistant Professor of Pharmacognosy at Addis Ababa University, who spoke of the disconnect between the rate of publication and impact on societal development in Africa in her opening keynote.  Dr. Yeshak stated that “research is not complete until it is shared” and that was a common theme that could have been applied to many sessions throughout the meeting.  The need to leverage technology to ensure indigenous peoples and their methods in key areas such medicine, farming and animal husbandry are not marginalized was made clear.

Inclusion and diversity can not just be buzz words. They must be the tenets that we use to build the future of scholarly communication.  This thought was also front and center during the day 2 keynote talk by Betsy Beaumon, CEO of Benetech, a nonprofit organization with the mission to empower communities with software for social good.  Ms. Beaumon spoke of the need to think of those with disabilities from the outset when developing technology.  The key to her message was, “everything born digital must be, and can be, born accessible.”  There are one billion disabled people on the planet and the vast majority of them cannot consume information through the traditional methods that have dominated the information sharing landscape.

Technological innovations are opening a world of possibilities to those who were previously denied access to knowledge. While this is a huge move in the right direction, it is also important to think critically of existing technology and examine just how accessible the products and platforms are (or quite possibly, are not) and how they can be made truly accessible to all.  While there has been significant progress made in this area, and more and more technology is being developed to be accessible from “birth,” there is still a great deal left to be done.

Thanks to all who made this year’s SSP Annual Meeting a memorable one, and we cannot wait to see you all next year!