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1 April 2016 Debasing the Currency of Science: The Growing Menace of Predatory Open Access Journals
Peter G. Beninger, Jeffrey Beall, Sandra E. Shumway
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Abstract

In recent years, the scientific publishing world has seen the creation and rapid growth of online journals, which do not respect the long-standing gentleman's agreement that has functioned as the primary quality-control mechanism for science: bona fide peer review and editorial oversight. Such predatory journals take advantage of the low cost and ease of online “publishing,” the open access movement, and use feigned associations with international standards and misleading claims of impact factors, aimed at deceiving researchers (especially inexperienced scientists) into believing they are legitimate. We present the history, evolution, and tactics of such journals, as well as recommendations for dealing with this threat to science itself.

INTRODUCTION

Call for papers and editorsOAJournal of Desperately Seeking Your Money - (Gold OA) ISO 9001:2008 - Certified ISSN 2277–3754 - Scopus ISI Thompson Reuters Indexed - High Visibility - Impact Factor 3.7.

Such “announcements” are part of our daily E-mail landscape, even when we have efficient spam filters. The corresponding websites claim to have “rapid publication,” “top innovation,” “thirst for excellence,” accompanied by an assortment of official-sounding labels, logos, and abbreviations. Most of us recognize such an organization for what it is: a pop-up website whose purpose is to lure us into sending manuscripts, which will be accepted, on condition of payment of page charges. They are predatory journals.

Beyond the wry smile or annoyed “delete” they may elicit, these “journals” have created problems so serious that we believe they threaten the very existence of science, more so than at any time since it began to emerge in 17th century Europe—and this peril has nothing to do with lack of funding. Rather, the very currency of science is being rapidly debased by thousands of predatory journals that have exploited a heretofore unperceived weakness in the scientific publishing system: the long-standing and multifaceted “gentleman's agreement,” which constitutes its quality control backbone.

Science cannot exist without the communication of scientific information. Scientific communication can only be credible if it has an efficient system of quality control. There are no international conventions or laws governing this quality control, which has evolved informally within the scientific community to become the present-day peer review and editorial processes. The miracle of the scientific enterprise is that it has advanced so well with nothing more than the “gentleman's agreement,” which morally binds authors, editors, and reviewers to producing good quality, honest work.

The foundation of the review process is to reduce “Type 1” error—accepting a manuscript that is fatally flawed. “Type 2” error—rejecting a goodmanuscript—is considered potentially less harmful to science. Although wemay quibble about this last point, we must recognize that the only way to ensure that no good manuscript is rejected, is to accept all submissions, and this would be fatal to science! Just as in statistics, it is impossible to reduce the probability of Type 1 errors without increasing the probability of Type 2 errors, so a rigorous approach to Type 1 publishing errors will invariably produce more Type 2 errors, but this is by far the lesser of the two evils.

Although there have been cases of malfeasance, and most scientists have experienced what they consider to be unfair quality assessments, it is truly a testament to the power of good will, and the scientific ideal of striving for truth that until recently, science has not been so hindered by corruption that it has been threatened with extinction. The progressive decline in the number of “gentlemen,” however, together with the intrusion of considerable numbers of the exact opposite in the scientific publication sphere, have combined to now threaten the very existence of science. Predatory open access (OA) journals, which by their very nature have no regard for Type 2 errors, have thrown the prevention of Type 1 errors to the winds, and we believe that science, the cornerstone of modern human civilization, now faces an existential threat.

THE PRELUDE

The advent of the Internet hasmade it possible to dematerialize scientific journals, reducing the costs of publication to the initial outlay of a computer, a few programs, and an annual fee for provision of a website.Online versions of established print journals, as well as the first online-only journals, began to appear in the early 1990s. These were “well-intentioned” journals that adhered to the values, and gentlemen's agreement, of the traditional journals.

Given the near universal access to Internet, the printing and mailing cost savings, and the growing expectation of “free” content on Internet, the “OA” publishing model emerged, in which the user (reader) would have free access to all articles, and the administrative costs would be offset by page charges—in effect, authors would pay to have their work published. The embryo of this model already existed in the traditional journals of scientific societies (such as NSA), which provided their journals to members, who typically paid small annual membership fees, ergo the necessity for page charges, to cover the much greater costs of paper publication.

On February 14, 2002, the ease of desktop publishing and the OA business model intersected with a clearly social and quasi-political message, in the form of the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI— http://www.budapestopenaccessinitiative.org/). “Open access” came to embody the “democratization” of access to knowledge, previously restricted to a perceived wealthy and exclusive scientific elite ( http://www.budapestopenaccessinitiative.org/boai-10-recommendations;  http://www.plos.org/open-access/;  http://openaccess.mpg.de/Berlin-Declaration;  http://blog.scienceopen.com/).

Like most manifestos, the BOAI statement is a cleverly designed document that substitutes “motherhood and apple pie” dogma for critical thought. It can be summed up in the “Vision statement” of the “Open Access Academy” website: “Freely available research results f