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— Today’s post is by Michaela Willi Hooper, Scholarly Communication Librarian at Oregon State University Valley Library

Do you conduct research? If you’re a graduate student, chances are the answer is “yes.” And if so, you might spend days in the lab or weeks analyzing data. I encourage you to spend a small fraction of that time exploring the options available for disseminating your research. Where you publish can change how often your article is read and cited. It can affect how it’s weighed by future tenure and promotion committees. One thing you definitely want to avoid is publishing in “predatory” journals.

Definitions & the landscape of scholarly communication

To understand predatory journals, you must first be familiar with open access (OA). Open access advocates believe that research findings, particularly those that are government funded, should be freely available to all. The OA movement began to gain traction in the scholarly community in the early 2000s in response to what many perceived to be a crisis in academic publishing, particularly STM journal publishing.

Before the OA movement, the subscription model dominated. Subscribers, either individuals or organizations like libraries, covered most of the costs. Even though this model prevented many people from accessing scholarship, it went largely unchallenged until publishers began raising prices to the extent that even wealthy universities, like Harvard, were unable to afford the content their researchers needed. OA advocates see this as doubly outrageous since academic researchers write and vet the content in journals. In essence, these publishing companies assume copyright for academic works and then sell them back to the institutions and individuals who produced them. I won’t go into further details here, but I’ve provided you with some resources (Ash; Panitch & Michalak; SPARC) if you want to read more about the scholarly communication landscape.

Digital publishing has reduced printing costs, but reviewing and publishing research is still expensive. Without paid subscriptions, many OA journals rely on article processing charges (APCs) paid for by the authors. This is where we finally arrive at predatory journals.

I like Berger & Cirasella’s definition:

“These are OA journals that exist for the sole purpose of profit, not the dissemination of high-quality research findings and furtherance of knowledge. These predators generate profits by charging author fees . . . that far exceed the cost of running their low-quality, fly-by-night operations.”

Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado Denver, coined the term “predatory journal” and maintains a list of journal publishers he considers predatory. He has made his criteria public. Some maintain that Beall’s criteria include practices that shouldn’t be labeled predatory and might simply characterize less established publishers who don’t have the resources to put into web development and editing.

I think it’s important to note two other things. First, only a small fraction of OA journals could be considered predatory. There are many reputable, high-impact OA journals. Second, OA alone has not led to predatory publishing. Low-quality research and publishing existed before OA, and the pressures of current systems of tenure and promotion also encouraged the rise of these academic scams. Predatory journals certainly do exist, and their numbers have been on the rise in recent years.

My tips on how to avoid these scams and choose reputable journals

Identify reputable OA publishers with the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). DOAJ members are expected to follow a set of best practices.

If it’s an OA journal, see if the publisher is a member of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA). This is a strong indicator of the publisher’s good faith and dedication to quality.

Use Beall’s list to identify unscrupulous publishers. But take it with a grain of salt, particularly if it is contradicting the DOAJ and OASPA lists. For criticism of Beall’s list, see Crawford; Berger & Cirasella; Murray-Rust.

Self-archive. Many subscription journals now permit researchers to post a version of their article on their personal website or the university’s institutional repository (IR). This means you can often reap the benefits of publishing in prestigious subscription journals, avoid APCs, and make your research available to all. You can use SHERPA/RoMEO to identify the self-archiving policies for specific journals. OSU has a robust IR (ScholarsArchive@OSU) where you can easily upload your scholarly work. The IR can also help you fulfill any funder mandates to make your work publicly available.

Evaluate the journal yourself. Questions like those provided by Think. Check. Submit. and Butler’s checklist (at the end of this Nature article) can help you be confident you’re choosing to entrust your hard work to the right venue.

Seek advice. Your advisors can be great resources for identifying reputable journals.

And please remember, I’m also happy to talk to you about these decisions. Let’s make sure that you escape these predators and live another day on the grassy plains of academia.

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