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.

2022: Year of the SDGs?

As a New Year year begins, Cabells would first like to wish everyone a Happy New Year, and kick 2022 off with some reflections on what could be the hottest trend in scholarly communications this year: the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Simon Linacre shares an update on this fast-moving area and surveys the runners and riders in a new digital arms race.


In 2012, the New York Times famously declared that year was the ‘Year of the MOOC’. Remember them? These ‘massive online open courses’ were going to disrupt higher education forever and lay waste to inefficient university programs. The truth was rather more mundane – while they proved a boon for lifelong learners and some who couldn’t afford college, and the lasting value was probably enabling a much better response from universities to the COVID-19 pandemic than previously envisaged as the whole world moved online for a few months.

So, it is not without trepidation that a decade later we are calling 2022 the Year of the SDGs. Like the MOOC, this acronym may be surpassed by events and a general withering lack of interest from the general public. However, there is some evidence to suggest that this could be the breakthrough year for SDGs and scholarly communications. Firstly, there are the goals themselves – the 17 aims are timebound to be achieved by 2030, and as every year goes by the urgency grows. This was reflected in the pledges made at COP26 in Glasgow in November, as wells as sustained coverage by global media linking freak weather events and policy decision-making to overarching sustainability imperatives.

Secondly, interest in the SDGs by publishers is undoubtedly growing. In addition to the numerous projects and initiatives by publishers linked to SDG themes, there are now 165 members of the SDG Publishers Compact committing to the promotion of the SDGs in their activities as well as a measure of internal adoption. For our part, Cabells was the Compact’s member of the month for December 2021 – here is a video explaining why we chose to join the initiative:

Thirdly, not only are publishers becoming more involved in the SDGs, but so is the content they publish. Just in the last few weeks, two major papers have been made public regarding the SDGs and the extent to which articles relate to them. Understanding these links is becoming more and more valuable – funders, universities, research offices, practitioners, and policymakers all want to understand what content is engaging with the SDGs to optimize decision-making to maximize the impact of research being funded and conducted. As with citations, what comes with this is not just the value of that impact but being able to count it as well.

In their paper ‘SDGs: A Responsible Research Assessment Tool toward Impactful Business Research’ (Rodenburg et al, 2021), the authors look at the relevance – or rather lack of relevance – the 50 journals used by the Financial Times for their business school rankings has regarding the SDGs. In a similar vein to Cabells and Saint Joseph’s University own research in this area, the authors want to highlight what can often be a yawning gap between the traditional notion of quality, and a more modern perspective of relevancy, impact and utility.

But are these quantitative approaches valid? As with the numerous criticisms of using citations as proxies for quality, there will be similar difficulties in equating simple mentions of the SDGs in articles to actual engagement and real-world impact. This and other concerns are methodically highlighted in a paper posted in the arXiv repository by industry expert Philip Purnell in his paper ‘A comparison of different methods of identifying publications related to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: Case Study of SDG 13 – Climate Action’ (Purnell n.d.). The paper looks at four major new approaches to wholesale rendering of SDG engagement across large swathes of article content, and in so doing identifies that no one service can encapsulate such engagement, and there is relatively little overlap between them either.

Just because 2022 is set to be the ‘Year of the SDGs’ for the scholarly communications industry, that doesn’t mean it has a clear path forward. There is a range of competing interests and systems at play which could go in any one direction. However, visit any publishing conference this year – real or virtual – and the SDGs and how to interact with them will undoubtedly by one of the main topics of conversation. And when we remember what the SDGs are actually for, this isn’t a bad thing at all.

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.


COMING SOON: PUBLICATION ETHICS WEBINAR

Join Simon Linacre from Cabells and Dr. Sumit Narula from Amity University Gwalior on Friday, December 10th to learn more about predatory journals and publication ethics.

Click here for more information


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.

The New Normal?

With 2022 promising to be either ‘back to normal,’ the ‘new normal,’ or ‘near normal,’ what does ‘normal’ actually look like in scholarly communications? Simon Linacre reports from two recent business school conferences on what to expect – and what should happen – in the next 12 months.


It first hit me when I sat down on the train to London for my first conference in nearly two years. The train was on time, but there were no seat reservations operational; some people were wearing masks (as advised in the UK), but some people weren’t (it’s not now mandatory); a lot of people were attending the event, but the interesting people I wanted to meet were dialing in for their talks.

Welcome to the new normal for scholarly communications.

Comparing events now to events in 2019 is a little like comparing Christmas or other festivals to 10 or 20 years ago. They feel different and should be better, but we can’t help feeling wistful for when things seemed a little simpler. Following my experience in the last week, academic conferences will be enhanced in terms of who they can get to speak at them and the variety of talks and activities, but they may be a little less satisfying as people dial in with the inevitable technical problems, and in-person meetings are diluted by absences.

The fact that such events are impacted in this way is actually a good thing, as in part it shows a willingness for academics to bite the bullet and stay away from events due to a need to cut their carbon emissions. This topic was very much present in the two conferences I have recently attended, but in slightly different ways. At the Chartered Association of Business Schools (Chartered ABS) event in London, the issue of sustainability was prominent, with a keynote panel discussion and breakout session dedicated to the topic and how business schools should respond. Among the hand-wringing, however, there was little in the way of answers. A key point was made by one business school representative who said to help meet emissions targets the school needed to half its carbon footprint, but the school’s strategic plan was to double the number of students. With student travel responsible for almost half the school’s footprint, it was difficult to see how it could meet both growth and emissions targets.

The second event was the Global Business School Network’s GBSN Beyond annual event which had decided to remain an online event due to its international audience and Covid issues. Sustainability was also a key element in the event’s agenda, with talks on issues such as community impact and corporate human rights, all supported by a virtual reality-inspired online hub for delegates (see below).

It was at this event two years ago that the collaboration between Saint Joseph’s University and Cabells began that has resulted in the development of the SDG Impact Intensity rating. I was really pleased to share an update on the project at the conference it started at this year, along with ideas for future development, but sad I couldn’t meet people in person. However, I was also glad I wasn’t burning up resources unnecessarily just to propel me somewhere I didn’t need to be. Maybe the new normal should be ‘new normals’, as whatever we do now there are multiple, often contradictory, emotions and feelings in play.

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.

Not Seeing the Wood for the Trees

There is much to learn from literature regarding scholarly communications, not least how to get messages across the divide to the wider public. Simon Linacre finds much food for thought in chewing over a modern classic.


Like many people, I tend to have two or three books on the go at once. This is due in part to different moods suiting different types of books, but also due to some fallacious idea that I will read them more quickly if I do so concurrently rather than one at a time. It also helps tackle larger books, and there are few larger than my recent fiction read, The Overstory by Richard Powers. A true epic intertwining several different stories that all become rooted to the conservation of redwoods in the Pacific Northwest of the US, it encompasses far more than environmental concerns. Liberty, corporate behavior, relationships and child welfare are all covered, as well as the often-blighted route taken by academic researchers.

The professor in question makes a quite literally groundbreaking discovery about how trees can communicate with each other in a forest through root systems, but as soon as she is lauded she then is put down by fellow academics pouring scorn on her ideas and effectively shunning her from her profession. It is only when her ideas are revived and proven again that she comes into her own, but not as an academic expert – rather as a rabble-rouser, polemicist, and leader of like-minded people.

One of the themes hinted at in this story is the impact debate, and how academic research or any kind of uncovered truth can possibly enable real change in the face of corporate hegemony, state bureaucracy and sheer noise created by those arguing for their individual rights to lead their lives as they see fit. The book offers a little hope among huge piles of despair, but is nevertheless an uplifting read due to the force of will exhibited from the main characters. Similarly, one can see that for those academics who raise their head above the parapet and choose impactful research over more popular or recognised research areas, the path towards individual and societal success can appear a long one.

In one telling passage in the book, one character trying to save a tree by living high in its boughs is almost blown off by a helicopter hovering over her perch. Those behind the actions of the helicopter argue they are saving livelihoods by cutting down the trees; those behind the protest say the same, but those livelihoods stretch far into the future and will be worth more than the short-term approach being adopted by the loggers. The parallels for scholarly communication are also stark, as the limited resources that have backed non-actionable research may soon switch to more actionable outcomes. It just needs all stakeholders to see the wood for the trees and move towards a much more impact-focused trail.

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.

Mountain to climb

As the return to university beckons for many of us, we are unfortunately reminded that many of the challenges facing scholarly communications persist. Simon Linacre assesses wider issues impacting on publication ethics as Cabells’ Predatory Reports database hits the 15,000 journal mark.


Last month saw two landmarks in my working life of the sort that makes you sit back and reflect on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. The first was my three-year anniversary of starting work at Cabells, which have been three of the most rewarding years I have spent in my career in scholarly publishing. The second was Cabells’ Predatory Reports database reaching a total of 15,000 journals – 15,059 at the time of this post to be precise – pushed to that level by a recent surge in positive identifications of predatory journals.

What links these two milestones personally, is that the Predatory Reports database hit the 10,000 journal mark just after I started work for Cabells, and one of my first tasks in my new role was to write a press release detailing the news for interested parties (a press release for the new milestone can be accessed here). At the time, it was mind-boggling for me to think that the problem had grown so big, and I wondered how many more journals would be discovered. Would the database reach 11,000 or 12,000 journals? Would the rate of increase level off or decline? In fact, the rate of increase has been maintained, with around 150 titles being added on average by Cabells’ journal audit team every month.

While the rate of increase has been steady, it has been interspersed with sharp gains when a new publisher is uncovered and its numerous cut-and-paste journals included. As we saw in this blog post in July where almost a third of the journals added were from a single publisher, new entrants to the market (or existing operators with new identities), are still driving up numbers and as a result making it harder for researchers to find legitimate outlets for their papers to be published.

One look at some recent stories in the higher education press point to a wider malaise for academics when it comes to publication ethics more generally. There has been a spate of stories where publishers have had to retract articles from their journals because of evidence they were from paper mills, increased scrutiny of data manipulation, and concerns over gift, ghost and fake authorship.

Luckily for authors, if the threats over publication ethics have never been greater, the solutions to this problem also seem to be proliferating. In addition to databases of information such as Cabells’ Predatory Reports that can aid decision-making for academics, there are many online courses now available, as wells as new studies into how to train academics effectively in publication ethics issues. So while the numbers of predatory journals and size of the publication ethics problem seems to be increasing, the tools to deal with these challenges at least seem to be keeping pace – which is the good news we need as we head back to school.