How could open access unwittingly encourage bogus research?

The open access movement aims to make quality research available to everyone. Yet some see a different kind of opportunity in this bold new way of sharing information.

Dr Kasia Pisanski was receiving daily spam invitations to submit papers to or become an editor of journals entirely outside her field of expertise. Along with her colleagues, she decided to investigate further.

Working alongside researchers from the University of Wrocław and Adam Mickiewicz University, Kasia's team contacted 360 scholarly journals – 120 suspected predatory journals, 120 from the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and 120 indexed by Journal Citation Reports. They emailed the journals an application for an editor position.

Their applicant was Anna O. Szust (whose name means ‘Anna, a fraud’ in Polish). The book chapters listed on her CV were fake and not indexed in any online database. The publishers were fake, too. Szust had never published a single research paper and had no editorial experience. She was completely fictional.

Their undercover operation resulted in 40 of 120 so-called ‘predatory’ journals offering Szust, an unlisted and unqualified applicant, a position on their editorial board without checking the veracity of her CV, or even that she existed. Eight journals from the DOAJ also offered Szust an editor role.

Kasia says, ‘Predatory publishers collect fees from researchers and accept papers without first vetting them for quality. Many researchers might respond to flattering invitations, without checking whether the journals are reputable. Worse yet – some scholars submit their papers wittingly. Academics undergo immense pressure to publish and build reputations as active members of the scholarly community, sometimes at any cost.’

Kasia’s team hope that their study alerts others to the growing problem of academic journals that do not provide quality control.

‘Currently there are an estimated 10,000 predatory journals, and that number is increasing. Predatory publishing is harmful for everyone. Without a qualified editorial board, published papers are unlikely to have undergone any kind of quality check or review process.’ says Kasia. ‘Our aim was to bring attention to this problem, but a real solution will require de-incentivising publishing papers in these bogus journals, for both the authors and the publishers.’

Kasia Pisanski is a Marie-Sklodowska Curie Research Fellow at the University of Sussex.

Predatory publishing threatens to give the open-access movement a bad name. In fact, it puts the credibility and authority of the entire academic publishing system at risk.” Dr Kasia Pisanski
Marie-Sklodowska Curie Research Fellow at the University of Sussex

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