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Business & Education Professional Development

Here Be Monsters

The advancements of the “Information Age” have made it easy to distribute intellectual property such as research reports. Many publishers have moved to an open access (OA) model, in which the authors of the research report pay for publication and retain the copyright. Thereby, the publishers recover the lost revenue of selling reprints, while the research is accessible for all, including scientists in developing nations. These OA journals, many of which are online-only, have reduced production costs, creating the opportunity for many new start-up journals, some based in developing nations.

It’s a common scenario. You receive a request to submit a paper to a journal you have never heard of, that has nothing to do with your area of research or publication record. Usually not mentioned in the invite is the publication fee that is involved. In some cases, the editor can be quite forceful, as with the example below, which I received last year:

“As per previous conversation I am eagerly looking for your submission, but yet I have not received that. So I humbly request you to submit your eminent submission at the earliest possibility. In fact I have only few days to reach my goal.”

There had been no previous conversation, and the grammar is poor – both giveaway clues that I was being stalked by a predatory publisher.

You may also receive an invite to an editorial board of a journal or be asked to edit a special issue. In one case, a journal recruited an editor for a special issue on chemometrics. The special issue, which was supposed to have no publication charges for the submitted papers, was never published – all the submitted papers were rejected without review by the editor in chief.

Before agreeing to submit anything to a journal you haven’t worked with previously, check out their website and editorial board thoroughly, and read a few papers from past issues.

I have heard of other three- or four-day conferences ending after day one, because so few authors of the submitted abstracts attended the meeting.

The activities of predatory publishers now extend to conferences too. If conference invites, flyers, and descriptions are poorly written, or you haven’t heard of the event, proceed with caution. I was once invited to be a plenary lecturer at “the 9th Edition of International Conference on Analytical Chemistry” (although, strangely, no evidence of the previous eight editions could be found online…). The conference, from EuroSciCon Ltd, could not process my credit card because of previous reports of fraud by the company (another warning sign). When I authorized my credit card company to override the fraud alerts, the conference overcharged me for registration, but I was assured that they would reimburse me later – of course, this never happened. The night before the conference was to begin, I was informed that the conference organizer would not be present and that I would be the conference chair with the responsibility of giving the opening address, moderating all the sessions, and dealing with any problems, of which there were many. After the conference, my emails went unanswered, and I never received my refund. I have heard of other three- or four-day conferences ending after day one, because so few authors of the submitted abstracts attended the meeting.

Apart from poor grammar and a lack of online history, you may find other discrepancies in the claims made by these conference organizers. Two recent conference invites claimed that the number of attendees in the previous years had topped 400, but inspection of the website and the conference photograph showed no more than 20 people. Another tip is to check the technical programs from previous years – all too often, it is a hodge-podge of talks unrelated to the theme of the conference. Bear in mind that these conferences may list organizing board members, sponsors, and exhibitors without their consent, so if you have any doubts do not hesitate to contact a member of the board by email.

More information on what to look for is available at http://thinkchecksubmit.org/check and a list of known or suspected predatory publishers is available at https://beallslist.weebly.com/

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About the Author
Peter de Boves Harrington

Peter de Boves Harrington is based at the Ohio University Center for Intelligent Chemical Instrumentation, Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Athens, Ohio, USA.

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