Sunday, October 06, 2013

thoughts on Science's predatory journal sting

I commented on this discussion on the American Chemical Society's LinkedIn page, but I know LinkedIn posts don't stay up for long, so I thought I would preserve it here for posterity.

The post was about this story from NPR, reporting on a piece in Science about a sting to expose predatory journals.

Here's my comment:

"The fatal flaw of the spoof study was that it lacked a negative control, but so too did this piece of stunt journalism.  Maybe he told too many coworkers about his project to be able to send it to Science, but what about Science Translational Medicine, Nature, The Journal of Biological Chemistry, etc. etc.?  It's true that the rate of acceptance of the spoof paper among open access journals was shockingly high, but if he's going to make the claim that this is a problem with open access and not with publishing in general, he really needs the traditional publisher control.  Any sort of argument that traditional publishers don’t have the same financial incentives to publish bad papers as open access journals that charge publication fees, and therefore are unlikely to accept the spoof study, is cute, but is not science.  Besides, many subscription-based publications, such as The Journal of Biological Chemistry, also charge publication fees, too, and have the same financial incentive to publish as many papers as possible.

"Predatory journals are an important issue, and I’m glad he’s raising awareness about it, but I’m not convinced this was the best way to do it.  In particular, I’m puzzled as to why he pretended to be from Africa.  He says “My hope was that using developing world authors and institutions would arouse less suspicion if a curious editor were to find nothing about them on the Internet”, but I thought the whole point was to reveal that editors of some journals don’t even bother to do even the most basic homework on the papers submitted.  By deliberately making the manuscript difficult to read, he undermines his claim that “This sting did not waste the time of many legitimate peer reviewers.”  I fear that this sting could very well erode trust in the scientific process, and might make Western journals even more suspicious of papers submitted from developing countries, simply because they are from developing countries."