Predatory Publishing: From “Fake Academia” to Real Extortion in Scholarly Publishing

Predatory Publishing: From “Fake Academia” to Real Extortion in Scholarly Publishing


MARCIA DAY CHILDRESS:
Good afternoon. I’d like to welcome you to
today’s Medical Center hour. Question for you. Have you ever received
an unsolicited email from a publisher
you’ve never heard of inviting you
to submit a paper to a journal with a generic
but believable-sounding name? Or how about a random invitation
to a conference abroad or at an airport hotel? If you’re like, me your
answer to this question could be all the time, several
times a week, even daily. Such invitations have become
common enough that just in case we’re tempted to just forego
opening these invitations, some now bait our
inboxes and our curiosity with patently un-academic words. Just last week, for example,
one of my journal invitations ostensibly came from Monica
Lewinsky of Bill Clinton fame. Now these publishers may
advertise their journals as open-access and
they may promise to make your work visible
to well-known indices. They often also
claim impact factors, and they tout editorial
boards staffed with leaders in your field. All they require of
you is a modest fee, an author’s processing
charge, in order for them to deliver the lifeblood
of academic career– a peer-reviewed publication. There’s just one catch,
the journals are fake. These journals are,
frankly, predatory, and to confuse matters
somewhat, they’re sometimes associated with the
broader open-access movement. This Medical Center Hour,
Predatory Publishing from Fake Academia to Real
Extortion in Scholarly Publishing, tours the strange
world of predatory publishing. Our tour guide is
Brandon Butler, director of information
policy for the UVA library. He keeps a keen eye on
these developments for us and for the institution. But, as he will argue, the fake
journals and bogus conferences are just a distraction. As he’ll clarify, the
Academy faces much more serious challenges
today as it wrestles with how best to share
research and knowledge. At issues here are institutional
and disciplinary relationships with the most well-established
scholarly publishers and with open access. These matters bear heavily
in universities’ and academic disciplines’ core
reputational concerns. In addition, they can have
very real consequences for individual faculty seeking
to report their scholarship in a fiercely competitive
academic marketplace, and to qualify for and
earn career advancement. I’m Marcia Day Childress from
the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Humanities delighted
to welcome you here today. I’m also pleased to
report that Mr. Butler has no financial conflicts
of interest to disclose. He’s merely here to
guide us into the realm of predatory publishing. Welcome, Brandon. BRANDON BUTLER: Thank
you so much, Marcia. So, thanks everybody for coming. It’s really a pleasure to
speak with you all today. Let’s see, how I
get my slides up. MARCIA DAY CHILDRESS:
They will come up. BRANDON BUTLER: They’ll come up. OK. So, I’m going to talk
to you a little bit about predatory
publishing, and I’m going to pull a little
bit of a fast one on you and I’m going to talk about a
lot of other publishing stuff that I think is interesting. And I’ll see if I can draw a
straight line from those things to predatory
publishing, but first I want to talk about my childhood. When I was a kid, I was
not raised by satanists, or by Geraldo, sadly. But I was raised in an
environment of moral panic. Off and on, my
childhood, whether it was music or the role playing
games I liked to play, there was this sense
that all these things may be infused with
Satanism, that I may become a victim of his
dark movements on Earth. My parents, thankfully, were not
hardcore concerned about this, but it was in the air
and every now and then I had to sort of
explain to Mom and Dad that I’m still a
good kid, I just play this game with
the dice and it’s easier than going to dances. So there was the
devil worship thing and my parents
worried about that and we talked about
that sometimes. They were also smoking
a pack-and-a-half a day, and we didn’t talk
about that at all. It was so interesting to me. This is a vintage cigarette ad. I thought about all I’d
read and I said to myself either I quit smoking
or I smoke True. And I decided to smoke True. My parents were
kind of like that. They were concerned
about satanism, but they were a pack a
day, and it seemed to me like there was– maybe they could turn their
eye from one ball to the other. My argument today is that
we’re in a similar situation with regards to
academic publishing. There are indeed bogus
conferences and fake journals, and they are in your inbox. They want your money,
they want your time, they are trying to divert
you, and to waste your time, and it is annoying
and obnoxious, and I’m going to try
to talk a little bit about that phenomenon
and help you avoid getting trapped by these guys. Sometimes researchers
are duped by these folks, sometimes they use these
folks to dupe other people. This is a handy-dandy way
to build up your resume. But they have little or
nothing to do with open access. That is a core point
that I want to make. They have little or nothing
to do with open access and they are a marginal
phenomena compared to a couple of other
really pressing issues for academic
publishing that I want to turn to and
compare to the specter of predatory publishing. In particular, they are dwarfed
by unsustainable business models. These unsustainable
business practices of traditional
for-profit publishers are actually twisting
the academic record and bankrupting the library. Sustainable posing
as possible, but it’s going to require coordinated
conscientious effort in the academy, and
the library can help and I’ll end with
playing to some of the things we do to help
you make sustainable choices. There is a case
for panic, though. There was Andrea Denton,
superstar librarian here in health sciences, brought
this article to my attention just the other day and
it was just too perfect. It is exactly the thing I was
thinking might exist out there. Predatory Publishing:
an Emerging Threat to the Medical Literature. Two Harvard professors, senior
practitioners at Mass General Hospital, published
in Academic Medicine, a big, reputable,
well-known, well-read venue, and they say, “The health of
our medical literature which is intimately linked to
the health of our patients is facing a serious threat. While practitioners
around the world use the literature to inform
high-stakes decisions, the literature we
rely on is in trouble. Retraction rates
are on the rise, irreproducible research
is far too common, and there is a flood of
inconsequential publications.” Things are bad. And they are distracting
our attention high-value scholarship. “Academic medicine must
identify the root causes” of all of these troubles
and quickly implement effective solutions. We are in trouble. Maybe it’s the
predatory journals. And I say one of the threats
to the academic literature comes from its dilution. An enormous volume of
papers may be accurate,” but they are not very
informative and not very consequential and we are
inundated with this garbage research. Interesting. It’s accurate, but it’s garbage. Anway– published and
often pushed to readers. So what is this
garbage research? What do these predatory
journals look like when they’re in your inbox? Well, here’s one when I got. The Journal of Social
Sciences: the Centre of Excellence for Scientific
and Research Journalism, call for paper. And they have lots
of things that try to make them look really
important and legitimate. There are supported sites,
just a laundry list. If you’ve heard of it,
our journal was in there, it’s indexed by it. Every important place where your
work can be found were there. We have an impact factor,
whatever that is, if you can if you think it’s
important we’ve got one. And we’ve got one for you. So they go up there
solicitations with this stuff. I got one from the conference
business, is another big one, in addition to
journals you can go present to conferences in exotic
places like Istanbul, Turkey. And the conferences are
extraordinarily wide-ranging, I mean this is really
Renaissance people who attend these conferences. They’re interested in
accounting, banking, economics, it’s all it’s all there for
you so it’s a wonderful place to go. It’s a feast for the mind as
Judge Bork said, to be topical. And I got one– we got one
literally just the other day. Asian Research and
Development Wing. Well, let’s figure out
who are these folks. I went to their website and
it’s all about the conferences. That’s all they do. That is their core business– is
facilitating these conferences. They’ve got them all over the
world, any day of the week. If you want to go to a
conference you can fly to one. I got one literally yesterday,
got that one yesterday. The patient letter from China. So these things are
fun to mess with, and people have
messed with them. They are sort of
like the folks who enter into a dialogue with
the Nigerian email scammers and then post them
on their web site. It is interesting to
experiment with these journal organizers, and
conference organizers, and see what you
can get away with. So here a paper
that was accepted by one of these journals– Atomic Energy Will Have
Been Made Available to a Single Source. Sounds science-y. There are some balls running
into each other and then fly fleeing in the
opposite direction per the rules of science. There is an abstract. The abstract is extraordinarily
opaque word salad. “Atomic Physics and
I shall not have the same problem with a separate
section for a very long way.” Who here hasn’t
had that thought? How did this thing come to be? That’s one of the best
parts of this story. Who wrote this journal article? Siri did. The person who came
up with this test started writing sentences
with science-y sounding words like atomic physics and then
just took the AutoCorrect suggestion from the iPhone for
the remainder of the sentence. So I’d say, “Nuclear– accept,
accept, accept, accept,” and then I’ve got a paragraph,
and then, “Physics– accept, accept.” So you generate a
whole paper with Siri and it was accepted
within a few hours. There’s your acceptance. Dear Dr. Iris Pear– Siri Apple backwards, right– Dr. Iris Pear,
pleasant day to you! Thank you for your
interest in submitting an abstract for the
upcoming scientific session, we are so glad for
you, etc., etc. So that was pretty good. But get a load of
this, it gets better. This is fun, I could
just do this all day. Brace yourselves for
some profanity, that’s part of the entertainment here. That is another article
that was accepted by one of these journals. It was an article
that was generated by a few scientists
for the express purpose of testing journals. And they sent these
things out any time they get a solicitation,
they send it out and it is accepted
over and over again. It is very, very science-y. Only in format, not
even in content. Read the title of
the dang paper. But if all you’re
looking for is 20 pages with a one-inch margin and
two columns, you’re business. They did include a figure, which
I think really illustrative and helps you get to
the heart of the thesis. So of course, The
Guardian picks this up. I mean, this is fun. The journalists love to
cover this stuff, it’s wacky, it’s zany. And it’s a good story, and
it’s totally fraudulent. And the feds have noticed, so
the Federal Trade Commission is now investigating this group– OMICS International,
which is a huge group. When I was doing
research for this talk, trying to find things like what
are some of the highest impact factor open access journals? Well, if you search “high
impact open access journal” the first 12 results are
for OMICS International. They have SEO’d
that term, they are very good at finding
people who want to publish somewhere please,
and then selling them what they want. But the FTC’s brought
charges against these people. They’re engaged in fraud. So what is it that’s fraudulent
about their activities? Well, often prominent
editors that are listed have never heard of
this your journal. It’s sort of The Isaac Asimov
Journal of Speculative Fiction and Mr. Asimov has never
heard of this journal. So that was one very common
trick– is just fake editors. Fake journals with fake editors. Another is to falsify
impact factors. Those numbers are just made up. They’re not generated by
the ordinary authorities who generate impact factors,
they’re just falsified. Lies about the platforms where
those things are indexed. “We’re going to be
in Pub Med, we’re going to be part of the
Science Direct package, we’re gonna be this, we’re
here, there, and everywhere. Total, again, just lies. This is fraud. As fraud as it gets. Hidden fees that
spring up– this is how they really get you. They accept your
paper, they said once there’s gonna be $150
author processing charge, and you say, OK, fine,
you walk through that. And they say there’s another
$200 open-excess charge. What is that? I thought the APC was
the open-access fee. And so the issue is
more and more fees. It’s just classic,
not-terribly creative, the things that scammers do. They lie to you, and
they surprise you with money demands. And then finally, the
fraud that’s actually, in a way, most concerning
is– at the end of the day, the CVs of the
people who publish there. Those are padded CVs. These are not legit
credentials, but if you publish in one of these
journals knowingly, then you’re defrauding your
institution and that’s, really, in a way, what a lot
of this world is all about. It’s a collaboration
between fake journals and fake academics who are
willfully working together to secure promotions
and positions. Why does this happen? Where do all these
people come from? One big reason is the
publish-or-perish incentives of academia. We have to get those lines
on our CVs to get tenure. And this is like a pretty cheap
and easy way to get a line. The economy of academia
wants this in some way. It creates the
incentive for this. The other is just
a steady increase in the global supply of PhDs. There is no stopping the global
output of graduate schools, despite, perhaps, less of a
need for all of these people, and less of a need
for all of them to always high-impact
research all the time, and yet that is the standard
by which there are judged. Developing countries,
in particular, where academic evaluation
is sort of arbitrarily tied to an international publication. There are countries where– you publish in a
domestic journal, that’s not going to get you promotion. So you have to publish in a
journal from somewhere else. But we don’t actually
look at the journals from somewhere else before we
decide that you get tenure. And so the need to have
a somewhere-else but not any particular need to
have that somewhere-else be rigorous means somebody
is going to provide it. This is the economy. And it’s easy money,
most importantly. Finally, that
changing businesses– I’m sorry, changing business
models and changing technology, I think this is a big one. That is, into the breach created
and the uncertainty created by real change, in some
ways, as I’lld argue later, needed change. Into that uncertainty, these
guys step and they are now soliciting papers in ways
that they hadn’t been before, offering to publish them in ways
that they hadn’t been before, and because of uncertainty about
the way publishing really works right now, and the ways it
should work or could work, there’s an opening to take
advantage of technology– like email, like the web– to create scam businesses. It’s not the first time. Technology has a long
and illustrious history with flim-flam and scam artists. I love this guy on the left,
that’s John Romulus Brinkley. He is a real character. I learned about
him from a podcast that I listen to called
Reply All, that’s sort of about the weird,
bizarre history of internet and technology stuff. And Brinkley was the guy
who was a doctor-ish, and he developed a
practice in Texas and he built his practice
around his radio station when radio was new. And he sold people a
cure for impotence. And people heard about
this cure on this sort of magical new technology and
it was right there on the radio, right next to the news,
and they thought, well, that must be true, too. The news is true, this
guy is coming to me live, 100,00 watts of power,
right into my home, it’s kind of like magic. Maybe it’s real. The email scams are, of course,
a very familiar thing, too. These latest– these
predatory publisher e-mails are just one version of
a million different kinds of e-mail scams. As Marcia was saying,
sometimes the worlds collide and you get a
predatory publisher who will also sell you Viagra. And then we also
have a world of fake, news which is a similar
kind of phenomenon where it is– we are in
a media environment where things are changing,
it is difficult to tell who is credible and who
is not, and bad actors will step into that context and
take advantage of uncertainty. So how can you avoid these guys? How can you protect yourself
from their solicitations? There are, luckily,
some very good tools out there online
that will walk you through very quick
and easy tests that you can do to avoid
getting scammed by these guys. One of my favorites is the
web site ThinkCheckSubmit.org. They’ve got a really nice
checklist of different factors that you can apply
to the journal to tell things that
will tip you off. Take a look at the
editors that they list, go look at the editor’s web
site, does the editor claim affiliation with this journal? It’s stuff that when you
think about it it’s obvious, but when you’re in
a hurry and you’ve got other things to do it
might not be so obvious. So ThinkCheckSubmit
is a great resource, it walks you through
those kinds of things. There are publisher
associations where open access and other
kinds of publishers have banded together
to say, look, we are the we are the real
ones and those associations are a nice signal. So, the Coalition on
Publishing Ethics, the Directory of Open Access
Journals, the Open Access Scholared Publishers
Associations. If your journal is
not participating in any of these
kinds of efforts, again, that’s a bad sign. There was another
entity called Publons, which is an entity that
evaluates publishers and helps people interact with
publishers in different ways, and Publons has also published
a list of the criteria that it uses to decide which
journals it will partner with, as well as publishing that list
of journals that they partner. And so those are some of
the kinds of resources that you can consult to
learn a little bit more about who’s got a white hat
and who’s got a black hat. So why is predatory often in the
same standards as open access? I want to explore that
for half-a-second here. Open access journals are
free online to the public. That is what it means to be
open access– available online free to all. Author-pays is a
common business model, although not a universal
business model. Many open access journals do
not require author processing charges, but that
is a business model and it is a business model for
a very well-regarded journals. There is nothing scammy about
asking an author to pay, rather than asking
a reader to pay. In fact, as I’ll explain
later, it’s not a bad model. Open access journals do
experiment with peer review. There are open
access venues where you can go ahead and publish
your pre-print review, and then people will appear
peer-review it later, and, for reasons again
I’ll discuss later, that’s not a bad idea. It helps to cure some of
the other dysfunctions in scholarly publishing. It’s an important
experiment, anyway. But these are things that
open access journals do, and into that world where
authors pay, where we’re publishing is a matter of
getting online for free, and where sometimes peer
review looks different than it used to, or maybe
doesn’t exist in the way that you’ve seen it. Into that breach
is the uncertainty that the predatory
guys step, and they try to masquerade as legit
open access publishers. Jeffrey Beal is a scholarly
communications librarian who used to keep a kind of
authoritative list of what he called predatory
open access publishers, and it may be due
to his list, more than anything, that
predation and open access are associated– excuse me,
associated with each other. And the list was a really
interesting and useful resource, and it was
used by a lot of people for a lot of good
things, but if you read some of the
other things Beal wrote it was clear that he
was not a fan of open access generally, and I believe
it was part of his agenda to associate open
access with predation. And I think that’s an
unfortunate byproduct of his work, which again was
quite useful to a lot of people for a lot of reasons. And again, all of the
journals that you see, and all of the
anecdotes that you hear, these people call
themselves open access. So it’s hard to disentangle
the real from the crummy, and the honorable from the scam. But we know that open
access journals can be high quality and high impact. Some of the highest quality,
highest impact journals in a lot of fields are
open access journals including in medicine. PLOS Medicine and BMC
Medicine are in the top 10 for the five-year impact
factor in medicine category. So there’s nothing
about open access that undermines something’s
credibility or makes it, necessarily, scammy. The mega-journal model that
PLOS One follows, emphasizing validity and speed over the
bias to success and novelty, again, is actually a
very useful intervention in the scholarly
communication landscape. It really counteracts some
of the other problems I’m going to describe in a minute. This is a good actor, it’s the
definition of a good actor. Somebody that’s really trying to
make the world a better place. So I want to try to– I hope, if nothing else, you
will disentangle predation from open access as a
result of this talk. So should we panic? I want to return to
our Harvard friends from the very beginning. They issued the call to
arms– we are in trouble. Our literature is under attack. There is a delugs
of bad science. In the introductory
passages of that piece the authors quote to big
editors of big journals to help motivate the notion
that the academic literature is in trouble. The first is Dr.
Marcia Angell, she is a former editor-in-chief
of the New England Journal of Medicine. And Dr. Angell
writes, “It is simply no longer possible to believe
much of the clinical research that is published.” Wow. That’s terrifying. She did say that. That is terrifying. Why did she say it? Had nothing to do with
predatory journals. If you read the article from
which that quote is pulled, the reason she is worried
is that drug company funding has skewed the
research in many areas. And she walks through some
of the research showing that industry-sponsored trials
published in medical journals consistently favor
sponsor’s drugs. 37 of 38 positive
studies are published. Of 36 negative studies, 33
are either buried or spun. Well, it didn’t work the
way we thought it did, but boy, gosh, look at
this secondary effect. It worked in a way. So it is a completely
separate phenomenon and a separate problem,
and the journals and the articles that are
susceptible to these problems are the big ones. That’s part of what’s alarming. It’s the prestigious
journals, it’s the people you’ve heard
of that are publishing bad science in this way. The other quote is from
Dr. Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief
of The Lancet. And again, Dr.
Horton says, “We have to recognize what a
growing number of academics are beginning to fear. The case against science
is straightforward, much of the literature maybe
half, is simply untrue.” May be simply untrue. Again, get terrifying. Oh my God. When Dr. Horton talks
about the literature, though, is he
talking about OMICS? Is he talking about the
Journal of Journals Studies? The Monica Lewinsky
Edited Journals? No. He’s talking about the
stuff that normal scientists write for normal journals. It’s a problem with traditional
publishing and the way that we all do our work
in academia right now. In the quest for telling
a compelling story, which you can tell I like to do,
too, scientists too often sculpt their data to fit
their preferred theory. Journal editors deserve their
fair share of criticism. We have an unhealthy
competition to win a place in those
select few journals, and that requires showing
impact, novelty, etc. That is what’s
skewing the research and making it difficult to rely
on the outcomes, at this point. Part of the problem
is that no one is incentivised to be right. We’re incentivized to be first. We’re incentivized to be
best, most compelling. But no one is incentivized
to be right about something that was– perhaps another of
putting it is– no one is incentivized to
admit they were wrong. Fraud and quality issues
haunt traditional scholarly publishing. Elsevier published six
fake medical journals that were created by the
pharmaceutical industry. They had published six
journals that published nothing but articles curated by
the pharmaceutical industry to tout the effectiveness
and utility of their drugs, and they got caught doing
it and they had to fess up. But they did it. Elsevier, BMJ,
and BioMed Central published journals
about acupuncture. I don’t know how you
feel acupuncture, but maybe that’s a problem. Big deal packages are bloated
with these titles, journals that nobody reads. Though expensive
journals– journals that were in the library
are told are very expensive but then no one reads them. What is going on here? The deluge is coming from big
publishers who are padding out these big deals with
journals full of stuff nobody cares about. Retraction Watch is
this is reporting an explosion of retractions. Those retractions, again,
are in reputable journals. That’s why it’s alarming. People are retracting
their citations in phony predatory journals. The reproducibility crisis,
which is that this is ground zero for finding and
talking about that here in Charlottesville. This is Brian Nosek at the
Center for Open Science. That crisis is a crisis because
it’s research we care about. Cures for cancer. And we can’t do again what
they did the first time and prove that there
really is a cure. Right The reason
this is alarming is because it’s real science
that being undermined. And on the other hand,
there’s been studies of the scam journals to show– longitudinal studies
show that this is not a major phenomenon in the US. It looks a major
phenomenon in your inbox. It looks like a major phenomenon
in your inbox, and when you get caught it’s embarrassing. And when someone you
know accidentally submits to one of these
things, it’s terrifying. And when you send a
Siri-regenerated article The Guardian will write
about it because it’s cute. But a longitudinal
study published in BMC Medicine,
open-access journal, said predatory journals
have indeed rapidly grown. They are putting out
a deluge of garbage. That’s scary until you realize
the regional distribution of publishers and
authors is heavily skewed away from the US. Asia and Africa contribute
3/4 of the authors, the US 6%. The things that are published
in these scammy journals are not US scholarship,
by and large. 3/4 of the publishers of these
journals are not in the US, or in Europe, or
in North America. Bio-medicine is the
third-largest field, though, so that may help explain why
your in-boxes in particular are so full of this stuff, and
why it was in a medical journal that the call was sent
out about this phenomenon. Again, it feels real. It is real in your inbox. But out in the
world, not so much. So something I can agree about
with the authors of that piece, is that one response to
low quality publishing would be to focus on
high quality publishing. But it turns out high quality
publishing is expensive. Access to really prestigious
journal literature is hard to get. So your practicing doctor
wants to know the cutting edge stuff has a hard time getting
to it if they don’t have an institutional
affiliation that gets them those expensive journals. Many physicians
turn to journals, in part, because they are free. A free journal is much
more accessible to them. And so a solution
would be trying, maybe, to make the high
quality literature more accessible to the folks that
need it to do their jobs. The real predation in publishing
is the cost of access. The Big Deal and
Serials Crisis are real. They have haunted
libraries for decades, now. Journal prices increased
273% over an 18-year period. Four times faster
than inflation. It is just– we
are getting killed by a cost of these journals. For-profit publishers charge
5 to 10 times the cost per citation, meaning indexing
the cost of production to how much of an impact
these journal actually have, how often are cited. 5 to 10 times as
expensive for us to subscribe to a
for-profit location versus a nonprofit publication. All of that difference
is not quality. Controlling over quality, we are
just paying for their profits. And there is an oligopoly, now. The top five publishers
accounted for 20% of papers in the 1970s, more
than 50% of papers today are published
in the top five. UVA is no exception
to this ecosystem. We are caught in it. The four big deals– are deals
with Elsevier, Wiley, Springer, and Sage– crowd out everything else
in our collections budget. We spent 43% of our collections
budget on those four people. Big deals from those
four publishers eat 43% of our budget. 40% goes to other
journals, and then 17% go to those dusty
old paper things. The books. Don’t really buy as
much as we used to. I can localize
this for you guys. The Elsevier deal and
the Medical Center. Responsibility
Center Management– you may have heard of it now– you guys get to pay the library,
or better yet, I think we just bill you directly for this
one, and so this is not, “oh poor library, I’m
really sorry to hear about your budget,
good luck with that.” This is your money, and
it is $590,000 this year, for that one big deal. And the cost is
just going to go up. We have a five year
agreement with Elsevier, and by the end of that agreement
we’ll be paying $685,000. Over the life of that
agreement, 3.175 million. And it’s just going
to keep going up. This used to just
be library budgets but now it’s your money. What better things could you
do if you had $3.175 million? What could you do? Who could you hire? What kind of research
equipment could you get? And the profit margins tell you
where all that money is going. They have skyrocketed
thanks to the big deals. Elsevier had a 17%
profit margin in ’91, they have a 39%
profit margin now. Probably more, because
it only goes up. It has not gone down in
that entire time period. They are recession-proof. 2008? They didn’t feel it. Sprinter Science and
Business Media, 35%. Wiley, 28. Taylor & Francis, 37. These are insane profit margins. This is just profit taking. This is monopoly behavior. It’s right up there with
drugs, and cars, and iPads. These are some of the
most profitable business in other sectors. Pfizer is the most
profitable business in pharmaceuticals with a 42%
margin, Reed Elsevier right behind them at 39. Bigger than Apple. Apple’s margins are 37. And then we have Taylor
& Francis and Springer, and then poor old biggest bank
in the world, the Bank of China can’t do as well as Elsevier. 29%. Wiley right behind them at
28, and the car industry is a piker at nearly 10. These are extraordinary. And the real kicker
of this whole thing is that all this
stuff should be free. This is what really
drives me nuts. We can talk about whether
they should be cheaper or should be more reasonable. It really should be free. The publishing ecosystem
made a lot of sense in 1970. Authors and universities
would give their copyrights to publishers for
free, as we still do. Editors at universities
would give their time, and peer reviewers would
give their time, again, all for free, generally. The vast majority of cases. Libraries give money
to the publishers and buy back– but what
do the publishers do? They do really important stuff
that we didn’t want to do. They managed all that paper,
all that ink, all those trucks, all that process
of back and forth, moving paper around, managing
peer reviews, was really hard. Like a lot of things,
it’s not so hard anymore. The internet makes it
possible for all of that stuff to be, essentially, in-house. There are service providers
that can support peer review at a level that is
comparable to the big guys for a fraction of a fraction
of a fraction of the price. If we invested in those
kinds of service providers, we could cut out all
those profit margins and reinvest them in other
parts of the university. So there are two real challenges
to the scholarly literature. One is prestige research
is too damn expensive. High quality research is very
expensive for the reasons I described. And the other is that journal
publishers and promotion and tenure committees have a
significance and impact bias. That’s really the
underlying force that is driving publish
and publish fast, is driving them to
change what they publish to bury bad results,
to tweek bad results, to make things un-reproducible,
and so on and so forth. Open access, actually,
far from being a problem or a predatory
threat to our ecosystem, has the answers
to these problems. We can decouple
prestige from costs. For the reasons I described
just a moment ago, we could publish things
very efficiently. Make them free to the reader. Cheap to the author,
or free to the author. If we take some of the what
institutions are spending on publishing and spend that
instead on the infrastructure to support publishing. If we can decouple
publication from impact, again, the sense that
everything that we publish has to be novel and compelling. Publish negative results,
confirmation studies, sorry about the typo. Other less-sexy but
still important work. We have to change the
incentives around publication. Open up the whole
research lifecycle. Make art make your
data, your software, everything you do more visible. All that stuff is
not really supported by the traditional
system, but it’s something that the tools are
coming together now. There are lots of strategies
to promote open access and to try and make
this change happen. You’ve probably encountered
funder-mandates, I know the NIH is a
major funder here. Open Research Funders
Group is another big entity that’s trying to push that
shift toward open access. The Gates Foundation,
the Heart Association. There are open access policies,
and even some in some places mandates, where
institutions pledge that all of their faculty
output will be made open access. And there are even boycotts. All these things, they’re
nibbling around the edges but we’re still
not getting there. It’s slow-going. I think some of things that
I’m more excited about are creating more open outlets. Open publishing
is coming to UVA. We are investigating
journal platforms to support open journals. Anyone here who is an editor
at a prestigious journal, or who would like to start
a new prestigious journal, come and talk to us. We will give you a
hosting platform that is sustainable and friendly. We have the Center
for Open Science here in Charlottesville,
providing all kinds of interesting tools
to open your whole process, again, to make everything
about your research more visible, more reproducible. There are pre-print
servers, hugely interesting and useful in other
disciplines, and they’re starting to get a
foothold here in medicine. There’s the Bio Archive, which
is an open pre-print server. You can post your
research there for free, and anyone can read it. And it, again, helps accentuate
access and visibility. And finally we have
institutional repositories here in the library. We have Libra and
Libra Data, where you can make your
research more visible. There are lots of local
and national resources that are interested
in these questions. Talk to your Health
Sciences librarians, they are your experts in-house. Andrea’s here in
the room, and I know there are just
tons of people here are super talented,
super knowledgeable, who would love to talk with
you about all these issues. Again, we have our IR– Libra.Virginia.Edu. Dave Ghamandi is our open
publishing librarian, and, like I say, he would
love to hear from you if you want to publish something,
start a new journal, explore a monograph. We have the Center for Open
Science right down the street. And SPARC, who is a major
national leader on open access publishing. So, I hope that wasn’t too
much of a switcharoo for you, and I hope you enjoyed
hearing from me. And I think we’ve got a
few minutes for questions, if folks would like to ask. MARCIA DAY CHILDRESS:
Well this is fascinating, and I hope that some in our
audience have questions. Not only, perhaps, about
the fake conferences but about some of these
very legitimate concerns that go right to the heart
of our academic system. So when I call on you to offer
comment or raise a question, please identify yourself. AUDIENCE: Well, John Snikey. So, two questions
that came to mind. One, at the very
beginning you talked about the dilution of science
in the literature and everything with too many journals, and
yet then with open access and not peer review,
then you’re just kind of putting
anything out there and it sounds like
you’re diluting it more. So that’s my first question. The second one is– even with these open access
journals, a lot of them, legitimate ones like
PLOS One and everything, charge $1,000 to
$2,000 to publish. That doesn’t sound
very friendly, whereas journals–
other ones that I submit to– you’ll say probably
are hidden charges, they’re largely free. So $1000 hit is pretty big out
of a budget for my grant, so. BRANDON BUTLER: Yeah. So those are both
great questions. So for the first
question I think, though I didn’t say
this explicitly, I think you’ve
identified a tension– a really clear tension
between on the one hand and one of the
problems, in a way, I think, again, if
you read the Lancet editorial, a lot of the
studies on reproducibility, studies on the ways that
the scholarly literature is influenced, what you see is a
big driver that distorts things is exactly what you say that
the bias towards impact, in the sense that only the
best things should be published and only the most compelling
things should be accessible. And so, if you want
to if you published, you should make your
work really good. And I think that envisions an
elite system where there could be the best journals,
and if you just read those you’ll learn
all the best information. And that should be the model. We should filter out
as much as possible and only get the best stuff. But trying to achieve
that model where we’re not deluged with too
much information is part of what has created
all the problems I described, so we’re caught in this tension. I think it’s at least
defensible that maybe we should embrace the deluge
more than trying to fight it. And that there is more– we’re likely to be
better off if we let more stuff
get into the open, so that we’re not
biasing results. So that we’re not giving people
reasons to change the way they report what
they find, and then afterwards sifting through
and filtering that stuff. So more things get
published, yes, and then we need
additional filters and additional commenters to
surface things that are maybe more impactful and so on. But we don’t want the
publishing to be tied directly to the impact,
because that’s what creates the warping
influence that I described. APCs are interesting. It’s a business
model, there are some in the scholarly
communications world that think it’s the right way to go. So if you want to
read more about that, there there’s an initiative
called OA 2020 that is based primarily in Europe. But there are some
libraries here in America– at UC
Berkeley, their dean of libraries, Jeff
MacKie-Mason, is an economist. He is a fan of this notion
of author-processing charges, and the idea is that, rather
than paying subscriptions, we have authors pay. Journals will compete in
exactly the way you describe. You say well I don’t want to
pay $1,000, I want to pay $500. And journals would in some
ways compete for your dollar and sell you access
at a lower price. Others worry that
authors don’t really have that much more market
power than libraries, and if Cell wants
you to pay $2,000, then you’ll pay $2,000
because it’s Cell. So I’m sympathetic
to that question, and I don’t know there’s a
very good right answer to APCs or not APCs, low
APCs or high APCs. I think it’s just something
we’re wrestling with. AUDIENCE: I am Robert
Chevalier Pediatrics. I get about five to 10 of these
fake journal requests per day. And the ones that have
an unsubscribe choice, I do that and it has helped in
the past, but most of the ones recently don’t have that
option, so how do you have to– delete is the simplest
thing, which is what I do, but do we have to divert
them all to the trashcan? BRANDON BUTLER: I’m afraid that
would be my suggestion, that is these guys, as I
mentioned earlier, they have their– some of them
anyway, and there’s a spectrum. There was a wonderful
New York Times article, it’s in suggested materials
and it’s on my last slide. There is an area of gray
where some of these journals are not intentionally
fraudulent, they’re just sort of borderline,
and it’s hard to say. But for the folks there are
just no better than the Nigerian scammer guys, you have
to treat them like spam. Just like you wouldn’t
unsubscribe from the Nigerian folk. Saw your head
shaking, I’m ready. AUDIENCE: I am Wladek
Minor, Molecular Physiology. I think that there are– you raise similar issues. But the main issue, in my mind,
is that 50 years ago, science was very elite. If even 20 years
ago, if somebody would come here to the college
at 9 PM, all labs were full. At least half full. Now, if you will come at 9 PM,
there are not too many people. So, 20 years ago or 50 years
ago, science was dedication. Now it’s another job. If people would like
to work eight to five, and unfortunately there’s
no way to make science when you are working eight to five. So when we treat
this as another job– administration is asking
me, “How many papers did you publish last year?” This is the basic question. And it’s not too important, what
was the impact of this paper. And I think that, I’m sorry
to say, that you are wrong. It should be very
strong coupling between publication and impact. The problem is how
we measure impact. And, in my mind, the only
way to measure impact is RCR. Something which,
NIH introduced now. And I can assure you
that if you would publish in some open science
journal, yes you may have many citations
which are really– I never heard such
rubbish as in this paper. But you will not have
legitimate number of citation from lousy paper. BRANDON BUTLER: So I
think you identified something really important,
and my colleague and friend over at the Center
for Open Science, Jeff Spies is
really good at this. If he ever comes and talks
to you, you should listen. And we should arrange
for him to come and talk. He is a scientist and he’s
really embedded in your world, and the theme of his
talks, repeatedly, is that the values of science– like the deep values, the
50-year-old, 100-year-old, 300-year-old values of science– require openness. And that it is only
the sort of pursuit of elitism and career-ism that
have intervened and actually taken openness out of the
center of the scientific agenda. And so, I would argue that
you’re absolutely right. That it is about a
change of culture, and about getting back to a
certain professional vision of what scholarship is, that
is less careerist and more about pure devotion to
knowledge and sharing. But I think that change
leads toward openness and not towards for-profit
closed access. AUDIENCE: Thank you,
really enjoyed the talk. Terrific. I too am subjected to
five to 10 requests for publications or
talks a day, it seems. So I have a comment
and a question. The first is a comment,
and this is maybe for other people in the audience
that are experiencing the same. This just occurred last
week, I missed an invitation to a real scientific
conference where I would be a plenary speaker,
speaking at the National Academy of Sciences, and
I missed the original one thinking it was a
scam invitation. I think I probably
auto-deleted it. Then they requested again,
I was on in service, and I came back
to it a week later and since they
didn’t hear from me they retreated the invitation. So you have to be
careful on what you’re culling from your inbox,
is the one cautionary note. But the question I
have, is I’m interested in the pre-print experience, and
exactly what you see that role. I actually had as
an interior author we did go through that
process with open archive– however you pronounce that
Cold Springs Harbor acronym. It was sort of interesting. I wasn’t quite sure
exactly what to do with it. Our collaborators at Oxford
were really interested in strong proponents of it. I’d still, and I actually
didn’t object to it because I felt like
our study was not something that was at all easily
reproducible, that putting it out before it been
under peer review would not endanger the
publication from being accepted in the end, but was still sort
of a funny process of putting something up– and
it was picked up. Again maybe the
2000-and-teens era then we started to
hear tweets about it. So it was sort of a very
somewhat uncomfortable experience as someone
that’s not a millenial. I just want to see you
could comment on that. BRANDON BUTLER: Yeah,
it’s so interesting. And some of my library friends
are smiling because they– I think this is such
a cultural thing, from discipline to discipline. In the physics world, pre-prints
are like second nature. Everything you do, you put
it up on archive, Bio Archive and SOK Archive. All of these pre-print
servers are all derivatives of the
original archive that Cornell created
for physicists. And it’s just what one does,
and one shares one’s work on the pre-print server
and that’s a great way to find out what’s happening. You can get RSS feeds, you
can see what people are doing. And it’s really a matter
of each discipline changing its expectations and the ways
that it consumes and produces to begin to incorporate
these new ways of sharing. So it’s foreign it’s
foreign, it’s just something that has not been
done in this discipline, and one of the hardest
things about all of this is it’s just a series of
collective action problems, and coordination problems. Where it doesn’t make
much sense unless everyone jumps at one time. You have to all hold
hands and commit to this new way of being. And it’s weird,
and it’s very hard, and it’s very
inconsistent with the kind of academic temperament
and freedom. It’s hard to pull these levers. But if it’s any consolation,
people who do it, love it. And come to love it. The communities– the
physicists love Archive, and if you read that
editorial on The Lancet, physics is a model that
the author alludes to. The title is What Is the
Sigma Five for Medicine? And in physics, the
standards for significance are extremely high, and
reproduceability and so on. The community in
physics has really driven itself toward
more rigor after a series of embarrassing scandals
in particle physics, in particular. And so it’s just
a culture change. I wish I had an easier answer
but I think the bottom line is it will take a collective move,
and the funders are the ones driving it, as I– you mentioned
it was a funder and it was a– that’s one way to move
things from the top down, is for a person
with a money to say this is what we’re gonna do. AUDIENCE: John
Colbert from Madison. I have talked to several
different editors of journals in the past few months. And I’ve discovered
that they all seem to send the papers
that they get out for examination for plagiarism. So what about that as a
part of this scandal thing? And you could presumably
publish hundreds of papers if you borrow it
from other people. BRANDON BUTLER: Absolutely. And plagiarized papers
are one very easy way to crank out a lot of papers. And there are a handful
of very– and I love this, I’ll give you a little sidebar. My real day job is I’m
a copyright lawyer. The things that I’m really
interested in in addition to all of this
stuff is fair use. And thanks to fair
use in copyright law, there are tools, now,
that make it very easy to check for plagiarism. They work like a kind
of Google search index for existing papers
out in the world, and it’s very easy for a
professional journal that wants to to catch plagiarists. And that may be one
thing, actually I think that’s one of the criteria
that either ThinkCheckSubmit or Publons– you want a journal
that is doing that as part of its review process. And there are Turn It In, I
think is one. iThenticate. We at UVA have a subscription to
one of the big ones that folks can use for their classes,
and for their own journals that they run. This is something
that technology has made it much easier to
catch people if you want to. Some people don’t want to. AUDIENCE: Kara Knight. Actually one way to be alert
that it may be a bogus journal is they’ll often ask you to
pay for the services of one of those authenticate– that’s
one of the first thing they ask you is you go out and
buy that service to do that. That was one way I
was alerted to a scam. The other thing, I just
want to mention, though, is you mentioned best
a lot, and I just want to say that I would
feel that best is represented by truth or validity,
and it’s not by the peerage of the journal
because we know the New England Journal of Medicine
has published some bad studies,
some bad research. So if we keep our
eye on the ball, that best equals truth
or validity, that should be our guiding star. In any decision or any
process we go through. Given that, I think
clinicians find it very hard to be good at
critical appraisal real time. And so, I believe that the
stakes are higher than physics when we’re talking
about clinical care. So it’s a very messy– it’s just even more
complicated, I think, in the medical sciences. And I may just feel that
way because it’s my area, but I think that I’m
still a little concerned about group peer review. I think in principle
it sounds great, but at some point somebody’s got
to say I know how to do this, and I’m good at doing it,
and I find these flaws. And then stop it
from getting further. Thank you very
much for the talk. BRANDON BUTLER: Absolutely. I thank you. And I agree, and I think
that’s shift away from– the definition of best
you give is right, but I think you highlight
the exact same tension from the earlier question. That is, if we want to reward
all valid or true research, then we do let through a
lot of research that may not be as helpful to
someone who needs to make a choice in a hurry. We need new filters and new
ways of serving people who need that kind of information. Clearly, though, The Lancet and
New England Journal of Medicine are not satisfied that they’re
doing a good enough job, so we’re in the
moment of change. AUDIENCE: I think that we should
be very careful with comparing physics to biomedical science. I am a physicist who moved
to biomedical science, so I know a little
about physics. BRANDON BUTLER: You know
more about both than I do. AUDIENCE: In physics, you
have sometimes in CERN or in Fermilab, you
have experiments– 10,000 people are working
on one experiment. And outer leads is
longer than the paper. So they have to do per
prints to be promoted or to show that they
are doing something. And in biomedical
science, you have labs were post-docs
are not allowed to speak to each other
about the project. So you see that the
fields are different. The fields are different, and
also you mentioned about this– big pharma who are paying
for skew the results. In physics, nobody can do that. There is no [INTERPOSING VOICES] So the scandals are not– we can to discuss
that in private– BRANDON BUTLER: It makes
me think of– another thing that I think is really
strange and a root cause of all this stuff is that the
law of publishing is copyright, and copyright cares about
authorship, and creativity. Copyright is primarily for
novelists, really that’s the paradigm case of copyright. Copyright wants you
to be John Grisham. 10,000 people working
on a physics experiment is not John Grisham. But the product of that work
is a copyright-protected piece in intellectual property that
is treated like a John Grisham novel, and it belongs
to Reed-Elsevier until all of those people are
dead and 70 years after that. It is insane. It doesn’t make
any sense at all. And that’s another big
reason that open access is so interesting. And I think a compelling
thing to explore is that it decouples the
dissemination of research, which is one kind of activity
that can vary in the ways that you describe from
all of the other things that copyright is about,
which, again, works in a completely different way. And it is absurd that
Reed-Elsevier has the ability to get the same kind of monopoly
profits out of a physics article that Warner
publishing has to get out of a Beyonce album. But we treat them
that way, and they treat us that way, that
is we the consumers pay through the nose for that
copyright monopoly privilege. So I think that
difference is a really interesting and important one. MARCIA DAY CHILDRESS: I’m afraid
we’re at the end of our hour, but I would like
to think Brandon Butler for a wonderful
talk, including those insights into the
publishing industry’s profit margins and our library’s
budgets, which I’ve heard about over the years as
these charges have gone up, and I agree these are
difficult problems that have an impact in various
sectors of the institution. We invite you to join us next
week for the last Medical Center Hour of the
semester, which is also the Joan
Echtenkamp-Klein Memorial Lecture in the history
of the health sciences. Welcome back to
UVA Paul Lombardo, who is now at Georgia State
University College of Law. He will be talking to us
about the continuing relevance of America’s eugenic legacy. So please join us here
next Wednesday, the 29th, and again thank you
to Brandon Butler.

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