Strange journal invitations popping up in my inbox every day

Unless you are incredibly lucky your mailbox will regularly be flooded by spam. By the early 2010s academia had acquired its very own type of spam: emails soliciting the respondent to submit a paper to the journal mentioned in the email. Unfortunately, spam filters don’t seem to have caught up with this very targeted type of spam yet.

[Please note: This blog is not meant to imply any criticism on open-access publishing. In fact, I am a very strong supporter of the open-access movement. It simply highlights the problems of predatory open-access journals.]

spam

Academic spam

The emails in question are almost invariably badly formatted and badly spelled, but they have one major draw card: they promise the recipient that their article will be published very quickly. In most cases the entire trajectory between submission and publication is promised to be less than a month. Quite an attractive prospect given that conventional academic journals – especially in the Social Sciences - can take from 1 to 5 years for this same process! There even seems to be a bit of competition going on to achieve the fastest turnaround time: one journal now promises peer review within a day and publication within 2 days after paying the processing fee. Another one uses “blindly peer review” to achieve the same result.

The reason why these journals can promise such quick publication is of course that most of them do not actually engage in any sort of peer review. They are happy to publish any article as long as the author pays the processing fee. One creative author team even got a paper accepted that had the same sentence (Get me off your f------ mailing list) repeated over and over again for 10 pages, illustrated with a flow diagram and a picture of the same request. The reviewer’s report they received was just one word: “excellent”.

Jeffrey Beall has been following these journals – which he has termed predatory open access journals – in his highly entertaining blog since January 2012. He also publishes a frequently updated list of predatory publishers and journals. As of January 2016, it includes more than a thousand publishers as well as nearly 1000 standalone journals.

Predatory OA journals in Business & Management

With Nancy Adler I conducted a study of 45 predatory open access journals in the broad field of Business & Management. My favourite part of our journey of discovery was the mission statement for the International Journal of Management. Who wouldn’t want to be a “budding genius” on their “platform for interactive pleasure and argumentative progression”.

Transcending the familiar periphery of perfunctory substance, The International Journal of Management is offering to unfurl a newfangled panorama in the contemporary management study. We are rummaging around the web for progressive and clairvoyant minds for this exponential journal to focus upon various components of trade, marketing, finance, economy and behavioral study. This search can reach a culmination only with authors' as well as readers' cooperation at large. This is precisely meant to be an exploratory analysis over the given topics to stimulate the budding genius into aspiring eminent management personalities and present an international platform for interactive pleasure and argumentative progression. [sic] (http://www.theijm.com/, accessed January 2016)

Most academics would not take IJM seriously. However, they have published 4 issues a year for the last 4 years. And just like regular spammers, academic spammers are becoming smarter in their attempts at social engineering. Many now send out emails listing a paper you have presented at a conference and express their interest in publishing it. An unsuspecting PhD student pressured to get a publication pipeline before going on the job market might be sorely tempted. Others are offering you to become a guest editor, surely another brownie point on your CV?

advice

My recommendations

So what is an inexperienced academic to do? Before submitting to a journal, I recommend you to check:

  • Beal’s list of predatory journals/publishers at http://scholarlyoa.com/publishers/
  • The editor’s and editorial board’s publication records
  • Whether the journal’s articles can be found in Google Scholar
  • Some sample articles from the journal’s website, after all they are Open Access, so do some due diligence

And remember. As with any scam: “If it sounds too good to be true it usually is....”

Predatory open access: more than a fringe phenomenon

It would be easy to discard predatory open access journals as a fringe phenomenon, mainly targeted at unsuspecting authors in countries without strong scholarly traditions. However, some predatory open access journals managed to acquire a very central presence in the scholarly landscape.

By 2012, a Malaysian professor managed to acquire all five top positions in Thomson Reuter’s Essential Science Indicators’ list of the 38 “Hot Papers” in their Business and Economics category. Moreover, Thomson Reuters awarded nine of the same Super-Author’s publications, including his five “Hot Papers”, their designation as “Highly Cited”, i.e. being amongst the 1% most cited papers in the discipline for their year of publication.

Closer examination revealed that 7 of his 9 most-highly-cited articles were published in one and the same journal, the OA journal African Journal of Business & Management (AJBM). AJBM is one of many journals managed by Academic Journals, a commercial, Nigeria-based publisher. The other two articles were published in two other OA journals, both managed by the same publisher, Academic Journals. Surprisingly, all three journals were ISI listed.

AJBM published weekly issues and in 2011 published no less than 1350 articles. AJBM also had a very high rate of within-journal citations; 90-100% of the articles citing this Super-Author’s highly cited papers were from other articles published in the same journal. In fact, the majority of the citations were from the Super-Author himself. As this Super-Author published 41 ISI journal articles in just 2 years there was ample opportunity for self-citation.

Want to know more?

For a full write-up of the bewildering AJBM story see: How to become an author of ESI highly cited papers. The study about 45 POA journals referred to above was accepted in October 2014, but unfortunately did not escape the very publication delays it criticised, and was only recently published, 1.5 years after being accepted.

  • Harzing, A.W.; Adler N.J. (2016) Disseminating knowledge: From potential to reality – New open-access journals collide with convention, Academy of Management Learning & Education, vol. 15(1):140-156. Available online... Publisher’s version.