Predatory Publishers, Batman! The news out of Gotham City (New York Times) tells a tale of deception and woe. “Pseudo-academia?” How can open access to information be a bad thing, and why does Nature call some of these journals “The Dark Side of Publishing”?
What is Open Access?
Open Access is a movement encouraging free and unrestricted access to published material. The movement takes many forms, from collaborations of authors and researchers, to creation of repositories. There are journals publishing in the open access model: a fee from authors covers cost of preparing the work for publication. That fee then offsets the revenue that otherwise would be generated from subscriptions and article purchases.
Open Access is sometimes confused with the Public Access Policy of the NIH. This is a policy that states that any NIH funded research must be made available to the public per the Freedom of Information Act. These works appear in PubMed Central. By the way, if this applies to you, the guidelines and penalties for non-compliance are changing as of July 1, 2013.
How is Open Access a good thing?
In the sciences, particularly in clinical research, the benefit to free and easy online access to research results is obvious. Information wants to be free! Works available via open access are cited and downloaded more, which can speed up research and bring benefits more quickly to the patient. With open access, there are more eyes reading your research, bringing glory to you and your institution. And libraries love it because it can significantly increase the access to content that our customers want and need.
What is the problem?
With the facility of online content, and the volume of data generated in health care, research and publishing are growing at an exponential rate. Has the editorial quality kept pace? Some open access publishers, like the Public Library of Science have contributed quality content to the medical literature. Unfortunately, other publishers provide a professional sounding journal title, an attractive web presence, but little or no editorial support. They may publish papers “as-is” with no peer review or copy editing. This allows them to pocket the fee from the authors while expending very little. They may even lure unsuspecting clinicians onto editorial boards, making use of their names and the prestige of their institutions to attract article submissions and more authors’ fees.
Where are the good guys?
Jeffrey Beall is a research librarian at the University of Colorado at Denver who has undertaken a critical analysis of open access journal publishing, and maintains a list of publishers he believes are predatory. Journal titles in a discipline may have very similar titles, and with the publishing world growing so rapidly, clinicians can be easily confused. The article in Nature provides a checklist to help authors watch for predators: look closely at author fees, read sample articles, and contact members of the editorial board. Approach the process with healthy skepticism and common sense.
Health science librarians are aware of the new landscape of open access. Include them in your publishing process – they can research and explain details such as the journal’s impact factor, and help you investigate a publisher. And, by the way, Batgirl was a librarian.
Dina McKelvy is a health science librarian.