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.

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.

Feedback loop

Last week the Scholarly Kitchen blog reviewed the Cabells Blacklist for its readers and inspired the second highest number of comments for any post so far in 2019. As a follow-up, Simon Linacre answers some of the questions the post and comments have raised while providing an update on the product itself.    



The publication of Rick Anderson’s review of the Blacklist last week gives Cabells some great feedback for us to improve the product, both from an industry expert and the blog’s readers from the scholarly publishing community. We have answered some of the specific queries already in the Comments section, but thought it would be helpful to address some wider points for the benefit of those who have been so engaged with the post.

Firstly, Rick pointed out that for those journals under review, there was no indication as to why that was the case. Journals are recommended for review through the Cabells website, from members of the academic community, through word of mouth and from our own research, so often the reason they are being reviewed is not recorded. Some journals check out just fine, so we have to be careful not to stigmatize a journal unfairly by repeating claims that may be unfounded, which could also have legal implications.

Secondly, Rick felt that some of the criteria for inclusion were a little ambiguous and unclear, and this is something we have very much taken on board. We have recently revamped the criteria and added some new items, but due to the nature of predatory publishing this review process is ongoing and we will look to clarify any ambiguities we can. In addition, there was clear concern that the appeals process for the Blacklist was not visible enough, and this is something that will be changed to make the appeals policy more visible. A page for the Blacklist appeals process has been added to our blog, The Source. In addition, we will add a link to the Cabells Blacklist product page under the Blacklist criteria link. 

Rick’s final point was with regard to the functionality of Advanced Search on the Blacklist, with recommendations it should be expanded to offer searches by violation type, for example. This development is currently on our roadmap, as we constantly seek to improve the product’s utility for users. Other product development ideas mentioned in the Comments section – such as integrating the Blacklist as a tool for customers to run checks on journals and checking citation activity – are also in on our to-do list, and we hope to be able to share some product development news shortly.

Moving on to the Comments, it is clear some in the community feel the Blacklist should be free or at least available at a lower subscription price. As has been noted by our colleague in the Comments, the price one contributor quoted for a subscription was far more than a typical subscription, which tends to equate to a handful of APCs. One of the Scholarly Kitchen chefs commented that many institutions and funders unfortunately waste many thousands of dollars for academics to publish their papers in predatory journals, which use of the Blacklist would help mitigate.

Finally, there were two very interesting comment threads around author services and offering a ‘gray list’ to customers in the future. Cabells has a strategic partnership with Editage, and in collaboration with them offers users an opportunity to improve their articles before the vital submission stage. As for offering a Gray List, while there is a de facto list of such journals – i.e. a list of journals NOT on the Whitelist or Blacklist – this list could easily include 50,000 journals or more, and as noted above could unfairly taint essentially decent journals. Cabells is very much a global operation and understands new, regional, niche, innovative or low-cited journals can be legitimate and offer a vital publication outlet for many researchers. If we were to think of another list, it would be to champion these titles rather those that offer little or no value for their contributors.
 
PS – If you would like a quote for your institution to subscribe to the Blacklist or any other Cabells products, please email us at sales@cabells.com and we will get straight back to you.

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!

Book review: Association of University Presses 2018

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Academic freedom fighters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Difficult to swallow

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

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

Global Challenges

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

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

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

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