Predatory Publishers

Recently we were contacted by an academic author in Pakistan who asked us to edit an article that he had written for an English language scientific journal.  Several red flags waved right away. For example, there did not seem to be any kind of peer review process reflected in the letter from the journal’s editor to the author.  A bit more research confirmed our suspicions.  Noted in the very small print on the journal submission guidelines webpage was the information that there would be a publication charge of at least $500.00 per article. Our author in Pakistan seemed to believe that his work was to be published in a legitimate scientific journal, but to us this journal seemed more intent upon fundraising than on academic rigor. 

This story came to mind on Sunday when I read a fascinating New York Times article on predatory open-access scholarly publishers in the sciences. By now, I would guess that most academics in the humanities and social sciences also receive regular solicitations from questionable conference organizers, journal editors or book publishers. My own first encounter came in the form of a conference invitation, in 2008. The conference title exuded authority, the website impressed, the meeting place enticed, so I applied. I received my acceptance letter, along with the usual conference information. Then I looked at the registration price: US$500! I immediately sent a letter of withdrawal and complaint. Over the next two months I received entreaties from the conference organizers, begging me not to withdraw. They were willing to make any concession but one: the $500.  I have since received other requests to publish from a number of suspect publishers, some slick and others simply comic.

 The article really only touches the tip of the iceberg. (For two more interesting pieces on this topic, see here and here.) This phenomenon is most prevalent in the science and technology fields, where the move towards open access journals has blurred the line between legitimate providers and hucksters, but the problem is prevalent for the rest of academia as well. This all becomes even more complicated when we look at the problem from a global scale. With pressure to publish in English growing acutely high in universities worldwide, academic writers all over the world are now beginning to search for venues in which to publish. Linguistic, institutional and cultural differences make it difficult for all but a scant few to publish in the most prestigious journals and presses, but the pressure to publish in English persists. Is it any wonder that our Pakistani scholar would be willing to pay out of his own pocket for a publication that offers the veneer of legitimacy?