It has been over five years since Jeffrey Beall, who coined the term “predatory publishing” and maintained a list of such publishers and journals (see archived version), was forced out of the University of Colorado Denver and had to shut down his list. We are still talking about predatory journals and predatory conferences. Now the latest topic is the predatory PhD., a.k.a. Predatory Hoax Doctorate.
I got involved in the struggle with predatory publishing as the librarian at the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies Information Services prior to the publication of Beall’s article on Bentham Open, a publisher that had contacted CAS faculty two years before this seminal article was published. With their NIDA and NIAAA grants considered ripe for the skimming by predatory publishers, addiction researchers became early targets, from grad students to emeriti. With no experience and no guidelines back in 2007-2008, I simply followed my gut and advocated for the researchers to ignore the “honor” of publishing in journals that no one at the Center had ever heard of. If this happened at the world’s first alcohol studies institution, which also published the oldest and longest running addiction journal in the United States, it could happen any number of places.
We all became increasingly interested in Beall’s work after he had coined the phrase “predatory publishing” to describe questionable scholarly Open Access publishers. To illustrate the need for an authoritative resource, we asked a group of researchers at the Center of Alcohol Studies not to automatically delete these invitations, but to forward them along to the library instead. In a three-month period, over 400 emails were collected by CAS faculty who were willing to play along with our survey. All senders met the criteria of “predatory publisher.” Several consultations, presentations, and other informative communications followed to spread the word and assist authors, among them the most vulnerable early career researchers, scholars with technology anxiety, and non-native speakers of English.
In an article published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Editor-in-Chief Thomas Babor and I argued that predatory publishers are diluting scientific quality in the addiction field by taking advantage of the open-access movement. We also suggested involving all sectors, such as authors, editors, and professional societies to protect the addiction field from predatory publishers. As we put it, “Declarations of ‘Buyer Beware’ and ‘the Emperor has no clothes’ are just the first steps in a process of preventing further damage to the integrity of addiction science. Concerted action will be required to clean up this mess” (Babor, & Ward, 2018, p. 513).
Based on this experience at the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies from 2008 to 2017 and with the help of the examples from the actual invitation letters received by our researchers (both to publish articles in such journals and to become an editor), I developed the Predatory Publishing research guide. With its more than 16,500 views since its inception in November 2017, the Rutgers guide has become not only part of the Responsible Conduct of Research Toolkit at Rutgers, but it also serves as the model for many similar resources nationally and internationally offering help with blacklists, whitelists, and checklists. However, as suggested in a post on Predators of Science in the Cite Right series, the best starting point to assess journals and publishers is still Beall’s criteria.
Ever since, helping our researchers to decide where to publish can be filed under “librarians providing services to researchers on campus at the university,” as Jeffrey Beall said in his interview (see excerpt below).
- Babor, T. F., & Ward, J. H. (2018). Caveat Emptor: Predatory Publishers, Rogue Journals, and the Potential Corruption of Addiction Science. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 79(4), 509–513.
- Beall, J. (2009). “Bentham Open.” The Charleston Advisor, 11(1), 29-32.
- Darbyshire, Hayter, M., Frazer, K., Ion, R., & Jackson, D. (2020). Hitting rock bottom: The descent from predatory journals and conferences to the predatory PhD. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 29(23-24), 4425–4428.
Excerpt from an interview with Jeffrey Beall
(by Judit H. Ward and William Bejarano in Denver, CO in May 2016)
CAS: How did you get interested in the topic of predatory publishers?
Beall: In 2008 and 2009, I was on tenure track as an assistant professor, and I started to receive spam emails from library science journals. At that time, I was very interested in looking for new places to publish. I noticed that the journals’ spam emails had grammatical errors. They said “call for paper” instead of “call for papers.” They were new journals, often soliciting manuscript submissions for volume 1, issue 1. They were broad in scope, like International Journal of Library Science. They matched the scope of existing journals, so there wasn’t really a need for a new journal, as the coverage was exactly the same as existing journals. I started to notice them, and at that time I would print the spam emails out, and I had the printouts in a folder. I had an old blog, and eventually I compiled them all and made a list out of them on the blog. I think it was in 2009 or 2010, and there were 18 on it. Nobody paid any attention to it. A year later, I created a new edition of the list. In December 2011, it was the third edition of the list. I updated it once a year. That’s when it started to go viral, in December 2011 with nurses and nursing researchers. Somebody sent it to a nursing listserv, and then it just hit a whole bunch of other lists, and it went crazy from there. I really had no idea that any of this would happen. I was just a quiet cataloger, working here in the back, just cataloging. I never imagined that any of this would happen.
CAS: Why did a librarian pick up on this trend?
Beall: I was a cataloger for most of my career. My lists are almost like a catalog, an index. Also, academic librarians are constantly reinventing themselves. We don’t have very many physical collections any more. As we reinvent ourselves, one of the ways we’re doing that is by providing services to researchers on campus at the university, and I’m following that. I’m helping researchers here and hopefully elsewhere avoid bad journals.
-The full interview was originally published in the CAS Information Services Newsletter, in May 2016, pp. 1-5. Reprinted by permission.