Predatory Publishing and Global Scholarly Communications

ACRL announces the publication of Predatory Publishing and Global Scholarly Communications by Monica Berger, book number 81 in the Publications in Librarianship series. This thorough book provides tools for understanding and teaching the impact of predatory publishing and contributing to its mitigation in the context of advocating for a more balanced, sustainable, and humane scholarly communications ecosystem.

Learn more about Predatory Publishing and Global Scholarly Communications in this excerpt from Chapter 1, © Monica Berger.


The Philosopher and the Scientist

The narrative of predatory publishing is a clash of the philosopher and the scientist. I believe these two opposing positions can be balanced without one negating the other. The philosopher[*] highlights how predatory publishing is an expression of racism in scholarly communications and is a false flag that distracts from the true predators—commercial publishers that monopolistically and excessively enrich themselves by monetizing scholarship as well as our privacy. The expression predatory publishing itself is considered problematic, if not offensive, and the binary nature of its conceptualization is inherently flawed. Scientists, however, focus on how predatory publishing is a problem that directly harms people: for example, patients who die from unsound medical treatment. They are also concerned about how predatory publishing damages science and medicine by disseminating methodologically flawed scholarship that does not adhere to basic ethical protocols; additionally, publishing in predatory journals results in the waste of grants funded by government monies.

Predatory publishing is an extraordinarily complex problem stemming from failings in scholarly communications, and it harms a broad array of stakeholders and concerns. Specific conditions in scholarly communications that are adjacent to predatory publishing include accelerated publish-or-perish requirements, unproductive and poorly conducted peer review,[1] the excessive commercialization of scholarship and scarcity conditions for higher education, the valuing of quantity over quality, and the use of proxies for evaluation. Predatory publishing particularly shines a light on the inadequacies of scholarly assessment and related reward systems[2] and holds up a mirror to overdependence on heuristics, rapid problem-solving techniques that include the use of surface traits and other shortcuts that save scholarly labor and compromise meaningful evaluation. It is also concerning that the peripheral position of many scholars, editors, and publishers in less developed countries is exacerbated by predatory publishing and its discourse. Lastly, predatory publishing also has a negative impact on universal appreciation and acceptance of open access.[†] Predatory publishing’s direct harm to stakeholders will be addressed separately.

A recent article in Nature on predatory publishing confirmed that some predatory publishers continue to be very bad actors.[3] I found it affirming that the article’s authors pointed to the same solutions discussed in this book, addressing changes needed in science and academia. However, education for authors and not for other stakeholders is mentioned once and not elaborated upon. This lacuna is remarkable. Tressie McMillan Cottom stated, “Fundamentally pedagogy is about changing something.”[4] Accordingly, in order to fix what is broken in our scholarly communications system, we must approach our task as educators. Without a pedagogy that stimulates critique, the status quo of scholarly communications will remain unchanged. Academic librarians in particular play a vital role as teacher-advocates and are especially effective in partnership with other stakeholders who have the agency to change how scholarship is produced, assessed, and rewarded.

Book Overview

Although this book will be of interest to the wider community of scholars and scientists concerned about predatory publishing, it is intended for academic librarians, particularly those like myself who work at non-research-intensive educational institutions. Many academic librarians, particularly in their roles as subject (departmental or disciplinary) liaisons, support faculty authors and encounter questions about predatory journals and journal selection, provide campus workshops on publishing, and design support materials. Full-time scholarly communications librarians also train their fellow librarians and will find this book’s unique and comprehensive exploration of predatory publishing beneficial. Librarians will gain a more critical perspective of scholarly communications that questions the status quo and, in the final two chapters, applies information literacy[‡] frames to scholarship.

My ideal reader is curious about scholarly communications and wants to deepen their knowledge of open access, scholarly assessment, peer review, and other topics such as the geopolitics of scholarship. Whether new to the subject or not, the reader will discover how predatory publishing fits into the broader landscape of scholarly communications. As with any rapidly evolving field of scholarship, this book represents a snapshot; readers should consult the current journal literature for emerging studies. I am, however, confident that my main arguments remain cogent.

The book is organized into four parts. In part 1, chapters 2 and 3 provide background information on open access, the history of predatory publishing, the impact of the business values superimposed on scholarship and the academy versus its antithesis, the commons, and basics of scholarly assessment. Chapter 3’s section on research misconduct and unethical scholarly behaviors provides useful knowledge for librarians who are less familiar with this subject area. [§] Part 2 (chapters 4 through 6) explores the characteristics of predatory publishing and the related research and employs personas to help readers appreciate varied motivations and mindsets of authors and editors. Discussion of predatory journals and citation, indexing, and bibliometrics in chapter 6 addresses two important topics: the discovery of predatory journals and related alternative metrics.

The geopolitics of predatory publishing constitutes part 3, providing critical context to understanding predatory publishing and scholarly communications beyond the default position of the high-income Global North, and concludes with an examination of nonprofit, community-based publishing in Latin America. Part 4 concludes the book by providing an overview of structural and pedagogical solutions including OPR, alternative approaches to scholarly assessment, fostering free-to-author open access, and, of most relevance to librarians, scholarly information literacy instruction. Lastly, the final chapter of this book is devoted to sharing teaching materials that will be helpful to librarians in their work with authors and others.

The chief strength of this book is also its weakness: By not taking on a specific aspect or position about predatory publishing, the book is broad. I believe, however, that since predatory publishing continues to be such a complex and misunderstood topic, there is a need to use a comprehensive and pedagogical approach. That said, an exclusively pedagogical focus would minimize its insights into the complex debates and discussions related to the topic and how myself and others envision mitigating predatory publishing. This mitigation is intricately linked to appreciating how predatory publishing is the expression of macro, systemic issues in scholarly communications. Solutions to predatory publishing are both structural and pedagogical—they are deeply complementary. This book benefits librarians who seek insight on the discourse on predatory publishing outside of the library community, and, in turn, nonlibrarians will appreciate how librarians play an important role educating authors and others.

Notes

[*]    or justice-oriented individual

[†]    Open access is defined as “digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.” Peter Suber, Open Access, MIT Press Essential Knowledge series (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012), 4.

[‡]    The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) of the American Library Association (ALA) defines information literacy in higher education as a “set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning.” Association of College and Research Libraries, Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2016), 8, https://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework.

[§]    This knowledge is useful in creating partnerships with institutional research officers. It also provides a better understanding of the conditions that drive all unethical research behaviors as well as a nuanced appreciation of how plagiarism and predatory publishing share commonalities.

[1].   Danny A. Kingsley and Mary Anne Kennan, “Open Access: The Whipping Boy for Problems in Scholarly Publishing,” Communications of the Association for Information Systems 37 (2015): 14, https://doi.org/10.17705/1CAIS.03714.

[2].   Martin Paul Eve and Ernesto Priego, “Who Is Actually Harmed by Predatory Publishers?” Triple C: Communication, Capitalism and Critique 15, no. 2 (2017): 758, https://doi.org/10.31269/triplec.v15i2.867.

[3].   Kyle Siler et al., “Predatory Publishers’ Latest Scam: Bootlegged and Rebranded Papers,” Nature 598, no. 7882 (October 2021): 563–65, https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-02906-8.

[4].   Tressie McMillan Cottom, “Opening Keynote” (speech, Association of College and Research Libraries 2021 Virtual Conference, April 13, 2021).