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The Emperor Has No Clothes: Predatory Publishers’ Days Are Numbered

With the exponential growth of the Open Access movement over the past decade, it is undeniable that major steps are underway toward broadening both the reach and availability of scientific research. But not every development has been a step in the right direction, and for some, Open Access has become synonymous with negative connotations. The most notable unfortunate byproduct of the boom in numbers and access to scientific journals has been the dramatic rise in predatory publishing.

Predatory Publishers can be defined as any publisher that operates on an exploitative business model, which can involve, among other things, charging fees to authors and other contributors without providing adequate peer review, misrepresenting personnel affiliated with the company, misrepresenting the company’s location, contacts , addresses, not providing archiving, plagiarism-checking, and not providing professional grade editorial and publishing services on manuscripts.

The combination of the Open Access journal model along with an increased pressure for academics to prove their work by publishing more and being cited has created a prosperous environment for unethical practices looking to take advantage. By falsifying journal information, faking editorial board members, and hiding behind a general lack of transparency, predatory publishers have been able to prey upon the desperation of academics looking to act fast and get their names out there.

With so many new journals flooding the field, it can be very difficult to tell the quality publishers from the fake.

In some instances, it is the authors themselves who are taking advantage of the system for their own benefit. With such a glut of new material, plagiarism of others’ easily accessible work has skyrocketed, and self-plagiarism, where an author uses one of the author’s own previously published articles as a template for “new” work with only minor changes is increasing.

As part of a mounting backlash against such practices, a growing movement on social media platforms works to highlight and inform the public on the actions and methods of predatory publishers. The twitter hash-tag #predatorypublishing has been effective in spreading the message through current events and academic articles relating to deceitful open access trends. Facebook is also becoming an instrumental battleground in addressing predatory publishing culture, with a dedicated watchdog group with more than 500 members that works to spread awareness of the problem and practices to academics from countries and backgrounds that might otherwise not know of such dangers.

The open platform of social media and blogs is helping academics to identify and root out the culprits. One of the most prominent leaders of this effort is Jeffrey Beall, a librarian and professor at the University of Colorado, Denver. His vigilant commentary on the scientific publishing field help many to stay abreast of the changes and developments at work, but perhaps his most important contribution has been in creating and maintaining a list of known predatory publishers for all to reference. Beall has established 52 criteria for determining if a publisher qualifies as predatory. These conditions range from distributing spam emails to falsifying details of journals’ editorial personnel.

The open access movement in academic publishing is in a state of flux. The boom in growth, awareness, and access is founded in the needed press for all researchers to have a voice and platform through which to be heard and to learn. In time, a push for standards will establish an ethical and balanced playing field, and as more of these predatory publishers are identified every year, the honest and high-quality open access journals and publishers will become even more vital.