I’m just sitting down to have my evening meal. The phone rings. I answer with the usual “Hello”. There is a pause. Then a very obviously recorded message begins to try to sell me something I’m not interested in. It’s another cold call. I go back to my meal, cursing the interruption. Now, if this was a once off, it’d not be a problem. If it only happened now and then, it’d be bearable. But it’s a very regular occurrence and it seems that there is nothing that can be done about it. All of the nuisance call-blocking processes we’ve tried in our house don’t seem to be able to keep up with out-of-country call centres with automated tele-advertising systems. It’s an ongoing irritation. We now don’t answer the phone during mealtimes at all and we often let calls at any time of the day or night go to answer phone before picking up.
There’s an academic equivalent to these nuisance phone calls – the cold-calling journal. I seem to get large numbers of emails from journals I’ve never heard of which generally start something like Dear Professor Thomson, I recently read your article entitled …… published in … The email usually then goes on to say something like As an expert in the field, I would like to invite you to contribute to…. Then come details of some kind of online journal I’ve never heard of, from a publisher I’ve also never heard of and a link to a journal site which is equally uninformative. I always trash these emails straight away.
Not everyone dismisses these emails as quickly as I do, particularly if they are new to the publishing game and they don’t have anyone handy who can help them decide whether this is an opportunity worth pursuing (and some of them are, as I’ll suggest later). I recently got an email seeking advice about a new journal. This is what it said – and the email is reprinted here with permission.
I am an Early Career Researcher who was somewhat cast adrift during my part-time PhD with regards to publishing. I am all too aware of the push to publish and, less than a year out from the Doctorate, am working relentlessly at conferencing and networking towards this end. I have some nibbles, one of which is from a “good” journal, but along the way have sent my writing out to a “brand new on-line journal”. It was snapped up immediately for “their” first edition, but everything about this feels too easy and very wrong. The “editor in chief” is in …, there does not appear to be any true peer-review with most of its “editorial board” non-existent, and the very bare web presence does not put my intellectual property or copyright concerns at ease. I am being pushed by this gentleman to get him the work “immediately” and to his private email address. I fear I cannot pull out but also fear I am going to throw away some of the best of my recent work in haste and for nothing: the journal is unknown? I’ve not published for a journal before so do to know what to expect, but did not expect this? Would you advise pulling out? And if so, how?
My answer was an “Absolutely yes, pull out”. I suggested that a polite email to the ‘Editor’ was sufficient. As a first publication it was better for the writer to look for a journal that they had regularly used in their research, or perhaps the ‘good’ journal that was interested.
My answer gave the writer support to follow her analysis of the journal’s shonkiness and back away quickly. But applied more generally my advice just supports the publication status quo. While avoiding this journal was probably the best strategy for this writer at this point in their career, it actually isn’t good enough as a longer term approach. If my suggestion was followed by everyone all of the time, there’d never be new journals – certainly those of the more edgy kind. We’d largely end up always writing for mainstream established pay per view/subscription platforms. ( Bear in mind I edit one of these so Im obviously not going to suggest we never write for them!)
The problem is how to tell which new journals are worth considering.
I do get cold calling journal emails that I don’t dismiss. Superficially these unsolicited emails are somewhat similar to the one I outlined at the beginning of this post. They are often from new journals. They often come from parts of the majority world, rather than from the centre of English speaking academic publishing. They are generally online and open access. So what do I look for to see whether these are likely to be more reputable?
The answer is one of provenance. Just as we can now trace the origins of some of our fruit, vegetables, meat and fish to something like its origins, we can also do the same with journals and their publishers. All journals have a provenance and we do need to check them out, particularly if we haven’t heard of them before. Checking a journal provenance is the equivalent to the answer phone – you hear who’s there before you respond.
It may just be that the cold call is from a perfectly respectable new journal which will provide a relatively speedy publication and the opportunity to get in ‘on the ground floor’ of a new venture. It may be that this is an academic community that we’d like to support. It may be a group we’d like to work with. It may be put together by early career researchers keen to bring together like-minded people. It may be a community that simply wishes to take conversations outside of pay-walls. It is important to be able to see any of these is the case, as it makes the decision whether to trash a cold calling journal email qualitatively different from that of the fly by night operation. It’s potentially a new journal with something else going on.
So how to find a journal’s provenance …. Here are a beginning set of questions that I ask of the cold calling journal emails that do seem to be more plausible.
• Is the journal associated with an academic community? (This might be a university, or connected to a scholarly organisation.) Can I find it on the web? Can I see what people in the community are researching and publishing? Can I read some of their work? Does it seem to be ‘legit’?
• Do I know the editor? Can I find them on the web? Can I read their work? Do I rate it? Do I think that they will be able to exercise the kinds of judgments about ‘quality’ that are required of editors?
• Do I know anyone associated with the journal, perhaps in the Editorial Board? I might email them and see what they have to say, just to make sure that this isn’t an instance of someone being listed without their knowledge (it happens).
• What is the process of review? How is the review process managed?
• Who has published with the journal? Do I know them and their work? Maybe I will email them and get their view of it.
• What is the journal’s mission statement? Does it seem to be offering something that isn’t available elsewhere/is important to me?
Would you add any more questions to this list?
Related posts: writing for top ranked journals here and here.
It’s a common issue – I found after speaking at a conference in April that within a week I was targeted by a dodgy journal. Luckily the standard of English in the email and the personal email address meant that it was pretty obvious it was a scam, but maybe if I was a bit less savvy it might not have been so obvious. Beall’s list of predatory publishers is a useful resource (google it: the comment wouldn’t let me include the link here).
Bealls list http://scholarlyoa.com/publishers/
These days, I immediately check their author guidelines and publication processes for the dreaded “publication fee” statement. Particularly for my area of research (humanities/lit.studies), this is always a bad sign as most kosher journals do not charge fees to publish a paper.
I have passed out Beall’s List quite often to ECRs (and profs!) in my research network who have been cold-called by ‘new journals’.
Bealls cant keep up, I’ve found, with the new ones. Too many out there wanting to make money from and suckers out of us.
This is real problem, and especially so for early-career researchers who are just starting to engage in the world of research publication (and reviewing). You’ve put forward some good suggestions on how to help identify legitimate journals.
Marcus and Oransky from the Retraction Watch blog have suggested the introduction of a Journal Transparency Index, which I think is a great idea. In the following article they list some of the things that might go into it, and that could be added to your list
Even reputable and established journals aren’t very good at publishing, or making easily accessible, basic information about their review processes, editorial board composition, editor contact details, etc, so a structured way to present this information uniformly across journals would be a good step forward. It would make it much easier for authors, reviewers, and potential editors to assess the legitimacy and trustworthiness of journals.
If anyone can’t find this sort of information on a journal’s website (whether it’s a new or an established one), I’d suggest contacting the editorial office or editor and asking about it. All reputable journals should be happy to provide this information or point to it. Hopefully it’ll also make them think about adding it to their websites or making it more easily discoverable.
I think just as a sidenote that academic blogs deserve a mention. There’s a new movement in many disciplines to embrace blogging – e.g. the London School of Economics are very big on this. This makes a lot of sense as a model given it’s open source (unlike a journal), can get research out much more quickly than a journal, and can potentially engage a wider audience. I certainly support this and I think blogging could in many ways take over from journals in the long term.
However because academics are sceptical about things like blogging, the only way these sites can survive is by inviting contributors. I would hate to think that some of these bogus online journals might turn people off blogging and lead them to trash these e-mails at first sight.
Thanks for sharing this post.
I do search for one of their previous articles on Google scholars and if I can’t find it there, I am skeptical. It also mean no one might find my work if I publish with the journal.