Predatory publications: what is the situation in Delft?

Predatory publications are the other side of the coin of open access in science. Researchers must take care not to fall victim to bogus publishers. “I get emails from predatory publications every day .”

Unknown scientific journals can be like wolves in sheep's clothing.

Whether coincidental or not, this very week Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Ingrid van Engelshoven answered D66’s questions in writing on scientists who publish in ‘predatory publications’ on the very day that a leading group of European countries announced that they would look into open access in science seriously.

These 11 countries, which includes the Netherlands, are no longer willing to pay for enormously expensive scientific journals. Their intention is that as of 2020, the outcomes of publicly financed research is freely available to everyone.

From now on, scientists should thus publish in open access journals. Instead of readers making a one-time payment to scientists for the article, anyone will be able to acquire knowledge for free.

Earnings model for bogus publishers
The new model, however, may be subject to abuse. There is now an earnings model for bogus publishers. They ask scientists to publish, do no or very little quality control and cash in. There are also scientific conferences which, upon close examination, appear to be more a sham than a real conference.

This is not a new problem. This summer, the newspaper De Volkskrant discovered that hundreds of scientists in the Netherlands, whether they know it or not, have been published in these journals. They are relatively small numbers compared to the several thousand publications that appear by Dutch authors every year. But still, this situation is troubling D66 to such an extent that the political party raised questions in Parliament.

However abhorrent the Minister finds the predatory publications, she will not fight them and is also not rapping the scientists over the knuckles. “I do not assume that the scientists involved have bad intentions and see no reason to associate the consequences of publishing in these journals with the scientists or their institutions.”

Scientists simply have to be more aware, she says. “Scientists should be expected to thoroughly check the reputation of journals. They can do this, for example, through the Web of Science, Scopus or the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), or through the checklists that academic institutions maintain themselves. That said, a definitive check of predatory publications cannot be guaranteed.”

(HOP, Bas Belleman/Tomas van Dijk)


43 Predatory publications at Delft
The rise of predatory publications is also a worry for Alenka Prinčič and Anke Versteeg of the TU Library. They regularly receive mails forwarded by researchers who are approached by unknown publishers. The most important tip that they give them is to check the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) database to see whether the journal and/or the publisher is bonafide.

At the request of Delta, TU Library looked back at how often Delft researchers were published in predatory publications between January 2013 and now.

The figures are worrying. Of the 16,500 articles published during this period, 43 were in predatory publications and 12 in publications that could potentially be listed as such. This amounts to about 0.3%.

“The problem at TU Delft appears small,” says Prinčič. “There is also not an increasing trend. That said, we have not looked at conference papers. Some notorious publishers are known for publishing conference papers. This could push up the numbers somewhat.”

TU Library recommends being careful. “TU Library provides information about open access publishing,” explains Versteeg. “We give courses and workshops. And we have produced a MOOC. Please see our page about predatory publishers, and read our open science guide and the TU Delft website about our open access policy.”

Versteeg explains that the problem can partly be helped by removing any financial transactions between publishers and authors. “We are now trying to do business like this in the official open access part whereby direct financial transactions between researchers and publishers are restricted. We see purchase regulations with publishers at all the university libraries in the Netherlands and with The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) whereby any payments go through the library.”

Versteeg does not agree with the allegation that there is a causal relationship between open access publishing and predatory publishers. “There is more of a relationship with digital publishing whereby publishers do not need to invest much any more and which gives bogus profiteers a chance to recruit authors.”

How do bogus publishers cheat researchers?
Some researchers are sick and tired of this. They receive mail after mail that resemble phishing mails. The mails are not rackets from Nigeria offering millions of dollars. They are more refined and are about science. The messages come from bogus publishers who publish online for a fee without any form of peer review. The impact of publishing is extremely low and the articles are seldom read.

Materials researcher Prof. Joris Dik (3mE) knows all about this. He receives flattering emails almost every day requesting collaboration.

‘Dear Joris Dik, I hope this email finds you well. I represent PiscoMed Publishing Pte. Ltd., a highly reputable publishing, and strategically located in Singapore. We would like to cordially invite you to become an Editorial Board member of our journal, entitled Insight – Physics. […]We would like to cooperate with such an excellent scholar as you.’

This quote comes from one Adolph Miles. The company that Miles works for, PiscoMed Publishing, is now listed on the highly respected ‘Beall’s List of Predatory Journals and Publishers’. You need to keep well away from PiscoMed Publishing.

“A few years ago, I was receiving these types of emails every week,” says Dik. “I now get them every day. The messages are becoming more and more personal. They often cite the title of one of my publications. They have seen a publication and are interested in publishing another work. I fell for it once but luckily found out that it was not a reputable journal. I can image that you take the bait if you’re a researcher at the start of your career. And certainly if your article has been rejected elsewhere and you are under pressure to publish so that you can obtain your doctorate. There is a big chance that there are errors in these journals. If your name also appears in them, your reputation will also be damaged. This could be really bad for your career. It is important that doctoral students are aware of this.”

Editor Tomas van Dijk

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