Predatory Publishing (punctum books)

Who’s the “Predator” Again? An Introduction to “Predatory” Publishing

The ‘predatory publishing’ label is often linked to open access in order to discredit it, evoking as this concept does both vanity and self-publishing. Today, however, more and more critical attention is being paid to how this label has been and is still being constructed. On the one hand, the rise of unscrupulous OA publishers who charge author-facing fees and provide little to no editorial oversight is indicative of the increasing pressure placed on scholars to produce more and more research “outputs” and to increase the citability and indexing of such. Fuelled by various national incentive systems, it is a pressure that can lead to serious violations of traditional publishing ethics: by authors who self-publish or self-plagiarise in order to meet their targets, and by a certain breed of journals that seem more concerned with making a profit than with disseminating academic knowledge, as will be shown in the papers in this panel by Vaclav Stetka and by Luděk Brož, Tereza Stöckelová, and Filip Vostal, especially relative to the notorious case of Czech scholar Wadim Stielkowski, who at one point boasted of having published 17 monographs and 60 articles in just 3 years and who, even after departing Charles University, Prague under a hail of scandal, continues to teach and publish. Stielkowski’s “case,” as it were, for which one of the contributors to this panel, Vaclav Stetka, served as chief whistleblower, serves as a somewhat spectacular exemplum of what can happen when two malevolent forces converge: a dishonest scholar hellbent on maximizing their publications and citations and fraudulent, for-profit “fake journals.”

On the other hand, do we need to be careful when it comes to accusing all those labelled as predatory publishers as being driven exclusively by profit? After all, much the same can be said about commercial publishers such as Elsevier who are perceived to be legitimate if not, indeed, prestigious. They too are involved in extracting exorbitant profits from the academic publishing system while also locking behind paywalls a vast majority of the world’s research. And as Kirsten Bell demonstrates in her essay for this panel, for-profit citation indexing companies such as Web of Science are biased in favour of English-language and particularly American sources. Indeed, a closer look at those journals that have been labelled as “predatory,” the majority of which are published in the Global South, shows that most of the contributors to these journals are likewise from the Global South. As Reggie Raju, Lena Nyahodza, and Jill Claassen demonstrate, far from being predatory, these journals (to be distinguished from “fake journals” that have no editorial oversight whatsoever) can be considered to provide a critical dissemination channel for their authors, especially given the elitism of journals based in the Global North. In this respect, they could be viewed as a response to the rise in fees-based open access, and the very idea of ‘predatory publishing’ also plays into (post)colonial discourses of power/knowledge. In which case, the so-called “predatory” publisher may signal a fault line in the authority that traditional forms of scholarly publishing depend on.

Eileen A. Joy
(punctum books)

Kirsten Bell (Kirsten.Bell@roehampon.ac.uk) is Professor of Social Anthropology in the Department of Life Sciences at the University of Roehampton. She has published widely on the anthropology of public health and her most recent book is Health and Other Unassailable Values: Reconfigurations of Health, Evidence and Ethics (Routledge, 2017). Her interest in scholarly publishing stems from her editorial sojourn with a commercial academic journal, which ultimately led to her decision to complete a Master of Publishing to explore alternative models of scholarly publishing. Kirsten is a member of the executive committee of Libraria, a collective of journals and societies in anthropology and related fields that are exploring cooperative alternatives to the existing ecology of academic publishing, and she has published papers in tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique and Medicine Anthropology Theory on the politics of scholarly knowledge production.

Jill Claassen (jill.claassen@uct.ac.za) worked as a research librarian at a research institute and was an institutional repository manager for an academic library prior to joining the University of Cape Town (UCT) Libraries as the section manager of scholarly communications and publishing in November 2014. Her section is responsible for implementing UCT’s Open Access Policy by making UCT’s scholarship discoverable through the institutional repository, OpenUCT, which has over 25, 000 scholarly works available. This section also offers Open Access Publishing service to the UCT community since 2015, which includes publishing scholarly journals, monographs and textbooks. She is a registered PhD student in Library and Information Science and her research is on developing an open access publishing model for the African context.

Lena Nyahodza (lena.nyahodza@uct.ac.za) joined the University of Cape Town Libraries in 2015 as Scholarly Communication Librarian managing various scholarly communication activities on the institutional repository (OpenUCT) and Open Journal Systems (OJS) platform. Her passion is to support the open scholarship movement, through guiding content creators on how they can fully participate in the sharing of scholarly output in order to reach out to the information-marginalised. She works on copyright education and the importance of retaining copyright for the purpose of promoting content sharing, and supporting and managing of open journals hosted by UCT Libraries.

Reggie Raju (reggie.raju@uct.ac.za) is the Deputy Director (Research & Learning) at the University of Cape Town Libraries. He holds a PhD in Information Studies and is the author of journal articles, book chapters, and a book on issues in and around scholarly communications. He has participated in several national and international forums engaging the issue of research librarianship with a focus on openness in scholarly communications. He currently serves as a member of the Academic and Research Libraries Standing Committee of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), is a Fellow of the Library Publishing Coalition (LPC), and the Chair of SPARC Africa. Raju is also a member of the Editorial Management Team of the South African Journal of Libraries and Information Science in the capacity of Journal Manager.

Václav Štětka (varan13@gmail.com) is Lecturer in Communication and Media Studies at Loughborough University. Having started his academic career at Masaryk University in Brno in 2006, he then worked as Research Fellow at University of Oxford (2009-2013) and as Head of the Political Communication Research Group at Charles University in Prague (2013-2015). He was forced to leave the latter position after he exposed unethical publishing practices and the systematic exploitation of predatory journals at his institution. His research interests encompass political communication, the role of new media in political participation, and the relationship between media and democracy in Central and Eastern Europe. He is Vice-Chair of the Political Communication Section of the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA) and Chair of an evaluation panel in sociology, demography & media studies at the Czech Science Foundation (GACR). Among his most recent publications, he co-edited the volume Social Media and Politics in Central and Eastern Europe (Routledge, 2017).