Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Scamferences and Scam Journals ...

... have become so numerous that even the king of the MSM jungle -- I mean, NYTimes -- has an article about it [I thank Prof. Dheeraj Sanghi for the e-mail alert]. The bottomline is that since their numbers have become large, and they have become better at deceiving their audience, even the smart and the savvy have fallen prey to them. In other words, the list of victims goes beyond the clueless and/or the greedy.

The article does a good job of identifying the problem and its variants (both conferences and journals) with plenty of illustrative examples. Where it goes horribly wrong is when it indulges in a bit of drive-by shooting by conflating the problem (scam journals and conferences) with open access models of scientific publishing.

I mean, while it is true that there has been a huge increase in the number of journals and conferences that take money from authors and publish their papers with little or no peer review scrutiny, it is also something that would have happened irrespective of whether these papers are placed in the public domain. The drivers for this trend are easy to enumerate, and include:

  1. the huge expansion in scientific research (especially in the non-OECD countries) in recent years.

  2. the ever-increasing pressure on researchers to publish, publish, publish.

  3. the global university ranking business that puts a premium on research publications (and now, citations and other scientometric indicators), which in turn adds to (2).

Since the number of papers has grown (but the number of journals has not), someone is just going to come along and provide an outlet for all these new papers. And since a growing fraction of these extra papers is junk, the said someone is just going to take money to publish them. Insert your favorite cliche here -- Win-Win, the Invisible Hand, Magic of the Market, Nature abhors unpublished papers, whatever.

And none of this has anything to do with open access.

It is a fact that almost all of these "journals" are online-only operations. But open access has nothing to do with this business model, except perhaps as an unintended consequence.

* * *

I became aware of this problem quite sometime ago -- in November of 2009 -- when someone perpetrated a scam by "organizing" a scamference in an auditorium in the IISc campus! See this, this, and this (and see this as well!).

Since then I have also been alerted about all kinds of online journals. At least one of them used Google Sites (a free website builder) for its operations; that is, it didn't even bother to have, and pay for, its own domain name!