Predatory journals enter biomedical databases through public fundingBMJ 2020; 371 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m4265 (Published 08 December 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;371:m4265
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Manca et al. (1) highlight how predatory journals enter biomedical databases using public funds and make recommendations on addressing that specific part, of what is in reality, a far more complex issue. They suggest ‘Providing guidance to publicly funded authors on how to publish their work in legitimate open-access venues will likely stop the wasteful use of public money to cover the fees of predatory journals’. Though a reasonable suggestion, it fails to appreciate the role that reputable journals should play in protecting authors, or at the very least, not feeding the predators with our contact details.
As an early career clinical academic I am bombarded daily with emails from predatory journals, who have gleaned my contact details from the correspondence details I have provided in publications. The volume of predatory emails my colleagues and I receive outnumber that of genuine correspondence emails at an order of at least 100 to 1. This is beyond annoying, it impedes our research, as genuine contact from other researchers or others interested people get removed by spam filters or overlooked by us, on the assumption that it is yet another attempted scam.
As such, I propose that publicly visible correspondence details no longer serve their purpose. They should be replaced by a ‘contact the author’ service provided by the journal who publishes a research paper, filtering out the predatory assaults, with only genuine correspondence being forwarded to the authors. Correspondence is a vital component of academia, and as such should be encouraged and supported, but this requires a system that adapts to the reality of the current situation, we cannot simply suggest that ‘providing guidance to publicly funded authors’ is enough.
Somewhat ironically, by submitting this letter suggesting a change to how correspondence details are managed, I must provide my correspondence details, and as such can expect my daily bombardment to continue or even increase. However, if my request is heard and helps usher in a new approach, perhaps the net impact for my colleagues and I will be in the direction of progress. Correspondence could revert to being a tool for academia, rather than a tool for the propagation of aggressive, intrusive, and even criminal activity.
1. Manca A, Cugusi L, Cortegiani A, Ingoglia G, Moher D, Deriu F. Predatory journals enter biomedical databases through public funding. Bmj. 2020;371:m4265.
Competing interests: No competing interests
The extent to which questionable science is included in biomedical databases is clearly a valid and important source of inquiry. However, i would question whether this research should be conducted according to whether a journal is 'predatory' or not, as per the recent article 'Predatory journals enter biomedical databases through public funding'.
The authors write: 'Although the descriptor “predatory” has been criticised for grossly conflating poor quality with misconduct and for simplistically classifying the scholarly publishing environment into bad and good (predatory or not), the term is now widely accepted to describe the phenomenon.' Having rightly identified a problem with the term 'predatory', it is insufficient of the authors to then continue to use it simply because it is widely accepted. Indeed, it is precisely because it has become so widely accepted that scholars should be wary of referring to predatory publishers as a phenomenon in themselves, not least because of the stigma this term attaches to publishers based outside the Global North.
If we are to have an honest discussion about the indexing of invalid science within biomedical databases, this should not be conducted according to whether or not an actor is 'predatory', especially because many of the criteria for 'predatory' that the authors reference are themselves met by publishers that many would be considered trustworthy. Publishers of all kinds and business models publish bad science that should not be indexed within biomedical databases (not forgetting that so-called predatory journals may also publish sound science). We should not therefore limit such studies to 'predatory' actors of certain kinds – even if it is a ‘widely accepted’ way of doing so – unless we specifically include all those publishers who may publish questionable science or prioritise ‘profit at the expense of scholarship’, taking special account of what is known as the ‘oligopoly’ of for-profit publishers that control most of the industry and make great profits in doing so (1).
Much like we are taught not to judge science based on its outlet of publication, so too should we not seek to decide which science is invalid based on its outlet. Thus, the term ‘predatory publisher’ is an aporia: the moment you define an organisation as ‘predatory’ is the moment the term collapses and reveals the motivation to decide in advance which publishers are good and which are bad (often according to geographical boundaries). But this issue cannot be decided in advance and so is continually open to interpretation and shifting context. Either publishing is always-already a predatory practice or we have to find a different and more specific way of analysing trustworthiness.
Dr. Samuel A. Moore
1. Larivière V, Haustein S, Mongeon P. The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era. Glanzel W, editor. PLOS ONE. 2015 Jun 10;10(6):e0127502.
Competing interests: No competing interests