Fake editor exposes the fiction in academic journals


By Mardi Chapman

28 Mar 2017

A fictitious scientist created to test the legitimacy of so-called ‘predatory’ journals has been offered an editorial position at 48 different journals.

The success of the fake scientist’s application suggests all is not well in academic publishing – a multi-billion dollar industry dominated by a handful of companies and challenged in recent years by the open-access movement.

As revealed in a comment article in Nature, Dr Anna O. Szust’s fake CV cited made-up degrees and book chapters and was supported by social media accounts and a webpage. No citations existed for her in any literature database.

Her application for an editorial position was emailed to 360 journals – 120 indexed on Journal Citation Reports (JCR), 120 listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and 120 ‘potential, possible or probable predatory journals’ on a list compiled by University of Colorado librarian Jeffrey Beall.

Overall, 40 journals from Beall’s list and eight DOAJ titles offered Dr Szust a position – essentially undermining any pretense that the journals ‘meet basic standards of scholarly publishing’.

Excerpts from their responses included “… as an editor, you have to publish some of your research articles with the Journal”; “If you want to start a new journal…you will get 30% of the revenue earned thru you” and “It’s our pleasure to add your name as our editor in chief for this journal with no responsibilities”.

The authors of the charade said the rise of predatory journals threatened the quality of scholarship and publishing in illegitimate journals had to be made less attractive.

“Those who reward academics for publishing must make efforts to assess journal quality and to reward only best practices,” they wrote.

They said the open-access movement which also collect fees from authors had unwittingly modelled the predatory journals’ modus operandi.

Emeritus Professor Stephen Leeder from the University of Sydney said the good intention of open-access unfortunately came with negative side effects.

“The goal to make information more accessible is honorable and the unprincipled raid on the process by predatory journals is unfortunate.”

He urged clinicians to base their reading on the mainstream journals and for early career researchers not to be beguiled by publications of unknown providence.

“My advice to is to work with an established group until you become established in your own right. Well-recognised, good people on the team can promote publishability,” he said.

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