Predatory Journals

I haven’t had to deal with submitting a paper to a journal (yet). In my area, the conferences are actually the most prestigious places to publish. Which is not all that uncommon in computer science, although there are some research areas that still do a lot of journal submissions.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a huge increase in the number of “calls for papers” I get from, well, less than reputable journals and conferences. Calls that aren’t even marginally related to what I’m working on. And places that are willing to publish, as long as I’m wiling to pay (I’m not).

A journalist in Ottawa decided to dig a big deeper on this. Last year, there was the article floating around about how John Bohannon got a paper published with scientific errors (Who’s afraid of peer review?). Of course, that paper at least attempted to sort of present science. This time, the journalist, Tom Spears, made a paper that was complete garbage (a mix of medical science and soil science).

Now, to be clear, he submitted this paper to predatory journals. So it’s not to say that all journals are bad. And there are definitely still reputable ones out there. But, the predatory journals act fast. And are noticeable, not only by the speed at which they respond, but the immediate request (and push) for money.

The fact that the University of Saskatchewan has had three different professors use predatory journals to boost their chances at tenure or promotions is just terrifying. Are these really the kind of people we want teaching future students? And what does this say about the career promotion and tenure system that people, who got accepted into a professor job (which is not easy) are feeling the need to do this?

In the article, it also quotes David Moher, Senior Scientist at Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, as saying “We do not have any strong evidence anywhere that peer review works.” And this is true (from what little I’ve read on the subject). But even if I hadn’t read a bit about this, I’d still think it’s true. Because I see research being done that is, quite frankly, terrible. Or the number of studies that I’ve read (published), stating they have found this vital “link” or connection, and yet have a total of 8 people in their study.

I find this whole area a really sad commentary on the future of academia. And I think it raises some big issues that need to be raised and discussed. How do you counter these predatory journals? How do you make it possible for new researchers to publish, without huge fees or too few spots for new papers? There’s so much discussion about MOOCs these days, and the potential “downfall” of the traditional university. But I think this area is much more important. We can’t blame politicians for ignoring scientific advice, if the science that’s being published and pushed forward lacks reasonable scientific rigor. I really do wonder what this field is going to look like in another 5 or 10 years.


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