Open season on academics: My brush with predatory publishing

One morning I opened my email to find that I had become editor-in-chief of an academic journal. Well, ‘chief editor’ to be precise. This came as a surprise. It was not something I could recall applying for, and the journal was outside my areas of expertise. I had received a message from a prospective author who wanted to know if it was normal practice to send $100USD after acceptance in order to secure publication – and, after some Googling, why was my affiliation different from the institution listed on the journal’s website?

The nightmare into which I awoke is unfortunately now all too common on the fringes of academe. My name was up there on the masthead as Chief Editor of the International Journal of Education and Research (http://www.ijern.com). The title and affiliation listed – Professor of Education – was right on rank but far from correct as my home is in a Communication program. The institutional site – Victoria University (Melbourne, Australia), an actually existing institution with a College of Education – was at the antipodes from Toronto, where I am actually employed.

I found myself in the murky domain of predatory publishing. The University of Colorado librarian Jeffrey Beall has compiled a valuable list of dubious and predatory publishers (http://scholarlyoa.com/publishers) – those who prey upon academics who face more and more pressure from their administrations to build their CVs. The IJER selected me as its editor without seeking my consent. In this respect, it meets several of Beall’s criteria for predatory open access publishing since it doesn’t identify a legitimate editor, focuses on authors’ fees, and is guilty of various editorial concoctions.

Often journals like the IJER invent fictitious institutes that support their exploits, in this case the Contemporary Research Center, Australia. They display all the signs of a cheap academic knock-off, right down to the poor English, ersatz fine print, and outrageous five-to-seven day turnarounds for acceptance of papers. An ‘issue’ of the journal consists of a posted list of author-formatted pdfs on a mish-mash of subjects on a single page of the website. To call it a publication would be a stretch.

So, I quickly got down to some editorial correspondence, as it were.

I wrote to the ‘editor’ of ‘my’ journal, which isn’t me, and isn’t identified in emails, who responded to the effect that my designation was honorary (later implying that I had ‘volunteered’) and rotating (a new editor’s name would be within place in 7 days I was assured!). It was apparently meaningful that my resumé wasn’t on the website, unlike those members of the editorial board, who may or may not be aware they have been drafted into service. Twice it was confirmed that I have “no relation” to the journal. Indeed.

The journal did change one letter in the spelling of my name as a feeble gesture to protect the innocent. But since my surname is distinctive enough, scholars unlucky enough to drift onto the website think it’s me. Last week, another potential author contacted me with a question about my ‘real’ institution, and was flabbergasted when I told him about my predicament.

Debates about open access publishing continue to rage on a number of fronts, but most would agree that the combination of author charges for mere posting, non-consenual appointments, impossible turnaround times, and fabricated supporting institutions does not inspire confidence. Yet, many credential-hungry academics around the world continue to succumb to the charms of fast and easy publication and test the delicate ecology of predator and prey when they face their tenure and promotion committees. So long as we continue to escalate the publish-or-perish culture in today’s metric-obsessed universities, predatory publications will continue to thrive.  

My brush with predatory publishing is less about the tribulations of open access publishing than it is a first-hand introduction to field conditions during open season on academics.

Gary Genosko is Professor of Communication at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada.