Evaluating academic texts
Many journals available through Library Search and your Subject Guides have gone through a rigorous vetting process, known as "peer review". Peer review is a process whereby any article submitted to an academic journal is vetted by several authoritative experts in that field. The reviewer decides if the article should be published, and may make suggestions of change before publishing. Peer-review is a rigorous vetting process. For example, a professor at the University of Sussex had his 8,000 word paper peer-reviewed upon submission to a scholarly journal, which resulted in 3,000 words worth of comments from 4 reviewers, 1 sub-editor, and one editor. Consequently, peer-reviewed articles are often held in higher regard than those which aren't.
Open Access Publishing
If you are searching Google Scholar or similar search engines and find a scholarly article you can freely access, this article is most likely an “open access” article. The rise of open access publishing have changed the ways scholars share and use journal articles. You need to be extra vigilant when evaluating what appear initially to be scholarly journals.
The rise of open access publishing has resulted in an increase of “predatory” or “vanity” publishing. Opportunistic publishing houses publish content in exchange for publication fees, paid for by the authors. These predatory publishers don’t provide any of the editorial and publishing services associated with legitimate academic journals, such as peer-review vetting process. As a result, there is a much higher number of unreliable, unvetted publications published and circulated online.
In a recent article entitled On Predatory Publishers: a Q&A With Jeffrey Beall published on the Chronicle of Higher Education website, Professor Jeffrey Beall defines Predatory open-access publishers as:
Those that unprofessionally exploit the gold open-access model for their own profit. That is to say, they operate as scholarly vanity presses and publish articles in exchange for the author fee. They are characterized by various levels of deception and lack of transparency in their operations.
Example of unreliable publications in circulation
In July 2017 a contributor to Discover Magazine wanted to test whether suspect journals would publish an “obviously absurd” paper. The author wrote a fictitious manuscript about “midi-chlorians”, based on the fictional entities which live inside cells and give Jedi their powers in the film franchise Star Wars. He made many other Star Wars references throughout the article, and submitted it under the author names of Dr Lucas McGeorge and Dr Annette Kin. Surprisingly, and worryingly, four journals accepted the paper for publication. This example highlights the lack of peer-review or fact-checking of information prior to publication.
If you have accessed an open access journal article and want to verify its authenticity as a reputable journal, you can check the name on the directory of open access journals (DOAJ).