For many students, getting a paper published in an academic journal can be a crucial step in furthering their education, particularly if they are planning on continuing into a competitive post-graduation program.
This tends to put a lot of pressure on students to submit their work to peer-reviewed publications, which can unfortunately lead to some costly mistakes.
On Jan. 25, Associate Dean of Arts Gregory Millard made a post to the Facebook page of the Political Science Club of Kwantlen warning students about “predatory journals” which take advantage of students looking to publish their work. These journals make students pay exorbitant fees and often subject their work to sub-par or incomplete peer-review processes, which can damage the student’s reputation in the long term.
“Traditionally, scholars don’t pay to publish in academic journals,” explains Millard. “The default position has historically been that they subject your submission to stringent peer-review, and then it gets published.”
Some legitimate journals that publish open-access articles online may charge processing fees in order to cover publishing costs. The fees are called article processing charges, or APCs, though this practice has led to some controversy due to the prohibitive costs of the fees—some which can exceed $3,000. Critics say that this can limit open access publishing to academics or institutions with higher funding.
“It’s something that some legitimate journals do, but that creates an opening for frauds who just look to make money by publishing work without any serious peer-review or rigorous process at all,” says Millard. “They’re just scam artists looking to collect the publishing fees.”
In addition to requiring payment for publication, there are some other signs that students can look for to determine if a journal is illegitimate. For example, if the submission takes a very short time to be accepted, that could mean it was not reviewed properly. Millard suggests that aspiring journal applicants look online, where several lists of known or suspected predatory journals have been created.
Jeffrey Beall, a librarian from the United States, was one of the first people to expose these kinds of practices after he started receiving an increasing number of requests to join editorial boards of suspicious journals. In 2008, he created “Beall’s List”, a popular resource for keeping track of predatory journals. Other sites like predatoryjournals.com have regularly updated lists that can also be referenced.
The creators of these lists tend to remain anonymous because of the backlash and threats that some have received in the past, which likely came from the profiteers of fraudulent journals.
Millard says that publishing in a predatory journal can be “disastrous” for students looking to build a reputation in academia.
“Because the credibility of the journal is non-existent, your publishing in the journal means your work has not been submitted to peer-review and therefore cannot be taken seriously,” he says. “Worst-case scenario, you’ve paid a significant amount of money, you’ve thrown away an article that you’ve worked on into a journal that nobody is going to pay attention to or respect, and you’ve damaged your credibility because you’re publishing in ‘junk journals’ that have no peer-review.”
Students looking to get into graduate school are often left with no recourse afterwards, and could even ruin their chances at getting into the programs they apply for.
“Because they’re con-artists, basically, they’re not likely to return your article to you or refund your money,” says Millard. “In fact, one of the characteristics of these journals is to have make-believe academics on their make-believe editorial board, but sometimes they’ll put actual academics on their editorial board without their consent or knowledge.”
“It’s just pure malfeasance,” he adds.