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.

Do we need the Journal Blacklist?

As any scholar will attest, one of the most annoying aspects of becoming an academic author is the incessant emails popping into your inbox on a daily basis offering to publish your next article for a knockdown price – in just a few weeks’ time, in a subject area you know nothing about, for a journal you have never heard of. Simon Linacre asks if the Blacklist of journals is actually worth the time and expense just to help eradicate this nuisance, or if there is more to it than that.


In the world of academic research, there is an equivalent to the emails everyone receives supposedly from a Nigerian prince who needs to deposit $30m in your account for a few days, for which you will be paid handsomely. These are the emails that promise rapid open access publication for just a few hundred dollars, most likely in a very generic-sounding journal that purports to have an Impact Factor, even though you have never heard of it. As with the emails promising a generous slice of $30m, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. And anyway, just how many gullible idiots pay these people?

Well, if you are sat in a lab or department meeting, you could be looking at one. While it is difficult to establish exactly how many authors fall for predatory publishing, some recent investigations can put the problem in context. Firstly, a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) judgment in the US in 2018 against OMICS Group Inc and related entities found damages totaling over $50m were owing due to the predatory practices of the organizations over a four-year period, based on the operation of predatory journals and predatory conferences. This figure was arrived at following an estimation of the total revenues accruing from predatory practices – revenues from individuals paying for publishing and conference services that were below the expectations they were entitled to have from such services. In other words, that’s a lot of disappointed people.

Human face

The FTC investigation brings the actual cost of predatory practices into relief, as that money will not just have come from the back pockets of some gullible academics, but from university grants and research funders, happy to support research in belief some of the money will enable it to published in reputable journals, cementing its place in the body of knowledge for others to use. Another investigation in 2018 put forward the human side to this problem, namely a joint enterprise by three German news organizations – Süddeutschen Zeitung, the NDR and the WDR. In the article Das Scheingeschäft – Angriff auf die Wissenschaft” (“The Bogus Business – Assault on Science), the various aspects, dangers and consequences of predatory publishing are considered using a sting operation as a vehicle. What is striking about the reports – supported by Cabells which gave gratis access to the Blacklist – is that the problem is not just one of annoyance, but large-scale fraud and misinterpretation of science. Amongst other things:

  • After analyzing over 175,000 of publications in predatory journals, authors included Nobel-prize winners and those from top German institutions
  • Individual employees from large firms figured significantly among the authors of papers, including BMW, Siemens and Airbus. Indeed, of the thirty top companies on the German stock exchange (DAX), employees of 12 of these companies had published in predatory journals
  • One top pharma company has published a study on Aspirin in a predatory journal, which purports to provide evidence that a new version of its product is more effective at treating flu symptoms than the original drug
  • Finally, one story emerged about a German celebrity who died of cancer after trying a drug where the only evidence for its efficacy was published in predatory journals.

The German team of journalists concluded that this final example was a warning for the dangers abusing predatory publishing to spread “false science”, citing examples where climate-change deniers had also published research in predatory journals. This highlights an often overlooked point – recently covered by Danish academic Tove Faber Frandsen in the article ‘Why do researchers decide to publish in questionable journals? A review of the literature’ – that far from being duped, many authors knowingly publish in predatory journals simply to tick the necessary box. This trend has also been noted by reports in The New York Times and other research journals like CMAJ and Journal of Scholarly Publishing.

Black and White

Cabells’ Journal Blacklist was several years in development and was specifically designed to provide researchers and their institutions a resource to help them avoid publishing in predatory journals and avoid the serious issues outlined above. The Blacklist uses over 60 different, weighted criteria to determine whether a journal exhibits predatory behaviors or not. It utilizes a team of academic and publishing experts to constantly monitor publishing practices and assess if an individual journal – not a publisher – is legitimate or not. Many journals are left off the Blacklist where they are legitimate, but of low quality, and as such are not listed in the Journal Whitelist either. The process is transparent and often time-consuming, with all the criteria published by Cabells as well as the violations if a journal is listed.

It has been almost two years since the Blacklist was first published, in which time it has grown from 4,000 journals to 11,000.

In all that time, there have only been three requests from journals for a review.

Cabells places a very high value indeed on the legitimacy and veracity of scholarly publishing, a value it believes it shares with academics the world over. It believes that the provision of the Blacklist is a valuable service to those institutions who believe they need to support their academics in a world of fake news, fake science and fake journals. Like any other commercial service, in order to recoup the costs of its investment it charges a fee for a subscription to the Blacklist which can be less than a single APC for many predatory journals, so universities can avert the problems caused by a faculty member submitting to a predatory journal just once to pay for the service.

As we have seen, faculty can be unaware of the problems, or in some cases, they can be aware but make unethical decisions. Either way, librarians or research managers are often tasked with policing publications, and Cabells continues to develop the Blacklist to support them in their work. Hopefully, a subscription is a small price to pay to ensure public or institutional funding isn’t wasted and quality research is published in the right journals.

Tracking predatory publishers

Recently, we here at Cabells were fortunate enough to have an article (Cabells’ Journal Whitelist and Blacklist: Intelligent data for informed journal submissions) published in Learned Publishing, the journal of the Association of Learned & Professional Society Publishers, which is read around the world. We were very excited about this opportunity and received many wonderful notes from around the academic community after publication.

One note, in particular, forced us to do a double-take. “Nooo,” we thought, “this can’t be a predatory journal inviting us to submit for publication (for only $770) our article on predatory journals…”

 

Sure enough, the editors of Social Sciences, published by Science Publishing Group (Science PG), wanted 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 also join their Editorial Board. Upon hearing this news our Blacklist team began an investigation (Science PG was already on our list of publishers to be reviewed, but we had not yet begun to investigate this particular journal) into Social Sciences and, with eight violations in total, the journal was promptly added to our Blacklist:

Just days after this episode, we were contacted by our friends at Emerald Publishing who were concerned that one of their respected journals, International Journal of Innovation Science, was being targeted by a possible fake journal with a very similar name, International Journal of Innovation Science and Research:

After our team carried out an investigation on the International Journal of Innovation Science and Research, it will come as no surprise that it too (with 10 violations) was added to our Blacklist (which as of this writing lists 9,156 fraudulent publications):

We love to hear from the scholarly community about situations like the ones described above, or any involving contact from deceitful publishers. While we have an ever-expanding list of publications slated for review for the Blacklist, we consider it a top priority to protect the community from active occurrences of predatory activity and to help shed light on these phony operations. Contact us with tips, concerns or to share your thoughts at blacklist@cabells.com.