Help with Research: Recognizing a Fake Publisher

Since the demise of Beall’s List, it’s become increasingly difficult to recognize a predatory publisher. That does not mean that it’s any less important to recognize who’s legitimate and who’s not. In the original publishing post, I mentioned this topic briefly as part of Tip #2. But based on the unscientific survey of “people who spam my inbox,” the number of predatory publishers is growing, and therefore is worth its own post. In this post, I offer a few tips for avoiding a bad deal, as well as reasons why you should not publish at any cost.

Let’s start with the rationale first. We all know that academia is a “publish or perish” environment, which is to say that for most of us from the late stages of graduate school onwards, publication is the most important metric by which we are judged. Why? Because when you apply for grants or other funding, for scholarships, for post-docs, for (academic) jobs, and, eventually, for promotion, the first item that people see is your CV. And your CV has a list of publications, usually towards the top. A first glance at your CV will show people your name, where you got your degree(s), and what, if anything, you’ve published. Depending on where you are in your career, “nothing” is acceptable. Once you reach a certain stage, which in classics is still post-PhD, that is no longer the case. You need to have something.

But that something needs to be real.

I’m not talking about the difference between a “good” and a “bad” publisher; in classics, I’m not sure that those terms mean very much. Instead, I am talking about a peer-reviewed publication (whether book or journal) with a relatively active editor. A good publisher is important not only for those external reasons that I gave above, but also for internal reasons: you believe that your ideas have merit, don’t you? Your reviewers will challenge you and improve your thinking and arguments. You want people to read your work, don’t you? Most libraries only subscribe to legitimate publications.  So there are a number of reasons to choose a reputable home for your work.

But how do you do that?

I’m going to start by sharing an email I received recently. Usually, this blog does not post the full contents of websites or even results of searches, because we believe that doing so is detrimental to the labor or others. But predatory publishers are called “predatory” because they benefit from stealing the work of academics under the guise of publishing it. We don’t think that they deserve the respect of anonymity.

So, onto the email:

predatory publisher email

At the beginning, this doesn’t seem all that threatening: the Sender field is not unusual for an academic journal, and CFPs do make their way to my inbox. (It’s also worth pointing out that I use Gmail for work, and this came to my personal inbox, not the Spam folder. Don’t trust Google to identify your junk mail!)

So let’s take a look at the inside.

predatory publishing email inside text

There are a few hints of legitimacy here: the journal has an ISSN, or a serial number that identifies it as a continuing publication (that is, not a standalone publication, such as a book). But ISSNs do not guarantee legitimacy. The ISSN Centre is very clear about that:

issn info

Source: International Standard Serial Number, International Centre

So the presence of an ISSN is not an indication of quality. Think of it this way: you can buy a frying pan at a dollar store and at a Williams-Sonoma, and both will have a bar code, because bar codes are how computers recognize and distinguish items . But that doesn’t mean that your dollar-store pan is Williams-Sonoma quality — and if it is, please tell me where your dollar store is!

If we go back to the email, you’ll see that there is a name attached to the CFP, as well as an email address. But here’s something a little odd: the editor’s email address is different from the submission address.

predatory email publisher

This difference isn’t in itself a red flag, and there are certainly legitimate and well-established journals whose editors have a different email address from the main publication’s. Usually, that is because the editor is an academic, and retains his/her academic address, while the journal has a more formulaic address: submissions@journal.org, or editorial@journal.org, etc. It is strange to have two different non-personal email addresses in one email.

Also strange: why is the sender English@arj etc.? Is there another address for French, Spanish, etc.? Use your critical thinking skills: does this seem right?

The biggest red flag should be the non-standard capitalization of the main text. (This particular message is much better at English than others I’ve received, and its quality may be why it got sent to my Inbox rather than Spam folder).

Authors are invited to submit their Research Papers, Review Papers, Case Reports, and Short Communications to “American Research Journal of English and Literature” which helps in promotion of your research work. The Scientists, Professors, and Research Scholars can publish their high-quality papers for global scientific visibility on our online platform.

A few typographical and stylistic errors here can alert you to a non-standard publisher. Usually, generic academic materials are not discussed In Capital Letters (as we see with Review Papers, Case Reports, etc.). Likewise, you should not expect titles, like professor, to be capitalized when not referring to specific individuals or positions. Journal titles are italicized, but not “italicized in bold quotes.” And the missing articles and extra nouns (“helps in <the> promotion of your research {work}”) don’t inspire confidence.

Finally, know your genres: it’s the rare literature journal that will seek out “case reports” (maybe in relation to classrooms?) from “scientists.”

Lastly, if you are past the MA stage and not yet an eminence grise, it is very unlikely that you’ll get an email from a respectable journal asking you to submit. Does it happen? Yes — especially for special issues or themed issues. But those will come through the usual channels, like your local professional listserv, not personal emails. Do editors see your conference paper and say “hey, you should submit this to Myjournal?” Yes, definitely. But then it’s not from a stranger. Publishing is not like winning the lottery: you’re not going to have a huge stroke of luck. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Everything I’ve said so far marks a journal as sub-standard. But I can’t guarantee that they are necessarily “predatory“, which is a term that’s usually confined to journals that require writers to pay in order to have their work published. Legitimate journals do not have publication fees. There may be fees associated with publication; in classics, these usually involve obtaining reproduction rights for images, sketches, or published translations. But these fees are, in a sense, optional: you could publish the article without the image or or with your own translation. You don’t have to pay just to see your name in print.

To be fair, I did not reply to this email, so I don’t know if they charge a publication fee and are truly “predatory” or not. But I also think that’s the wrong way to approach the idea of a predatory publisher. As a scholar, you only have your name and publications to vouch for you. When you offer your work to an opportunistic source, you’re not only losing (potentially) money: you’re losing the time and effort that you put into writing an article that could have been published elsewhere, and you’re losing the credibility that’s associated with your name. These publishers still show up on Google; you can’t count on the fact that no one will notice your publishing venue.

The takeaway: publication is important, but so is your professional identity. If you’re not sure about a journal, ask your librarian before submitting!


~j.

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