Dear sea level

It’s ever a source of wonder to open my mailbox.

It’s warming to see, for example, that

“It is an honor and privilege to invite you as a “Speaker” at upcoming 3rd International Conference on Medicinal Chemistry and Drug Design [ ]. As a Speaker we are impressed by your excellent profile and that you will be able to bring more inspiration to all the participants of our conference if you would oblige to our invitation since your contribution to this field is unparalleled …”

Well, to be honest, not so much unparalleled as non-existent, but they got my name right, which is more that can be said for Satellite Oceanography and Meteorology when they invited me to join their “distinguished Editorial Board”. Their message was addressed “Dear Sea Level.”

I get many solicitations from journals. Some, like this from the Open Journal of Trauma, are quite reserved:

“We have communicated you earlier, but there is no response from you, so we would like to contact you another time! In view of your previous contributions and research interests, we…”

Others, like the International Journal of Oral and Craniofacial Science are more fulsome:

“We have tried to contact you several times, but with no response from you, we would like to contact you again! In view of your previous very important contributions and research interests we are contacting you again.” (my emphasis)

Coincidentally, the Open Journal of Plant Science also wrote:

“We have tried to contact you several times, but with no response from you, we would like to contact you again. In view of your previous very important contributions and research interests we are contacting you again”

The Global Journal of Biotechnology and Biomaterial Science explained why I should publish in their journal:

“Our organization is well affiliated with giant strides in the field of publishing papers on Biotechnology. It is providing excellent services to the researchers with knowledgeable information.”

The International Journal of Sexual and Reproductive Health Care lost patience with me. With the message title "Feeling much big-headed to publish your article in our journal: Gareth Leng." it wrote:

“Dear #name#,
We have tried to contact you earlier, but with no response from you, we would like to contact you again. Our organization is well affiliated with giant strides in the field of Sexual Reproduction…”

Oh, the humiliation of being addressed as “Dear #name#.

A common feature of the above invitations is that they come from people with apparently no clue about what I do. But another invitation had some rationale:

“Due to your involvement in the field, and the research you published in your paper, "The rat suprachiasmatic nucleus: the master clock ticks at 30 Hz," IntechOpen invites you to extend your work and offer a more comprehensive overview of your studies. Contribute a chapter to "Mites, Ticks and their Impacts on Humans," an upcoming Open Access book edited by …”

There seem to be many credulous souls willing to be separated from their money by such scams. ‘Predatory publishers’ make money from authors by claiming to follow high editorial standards, including rigorous peer review, but which publish with little if any concern for quality. In 2017, it was reported in Nature that there were about 8,000 predatory titles that collectively 'published' more than 400,000 items a year (1). Surprisingly, most of the papers in suspected biomedical predatory journals were authored by researchers in high- or upper-middle-income countries, and many were based at prestigious institutions.

One organisation, the ‘World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology’ holds “conferences” in major cities, linking participation to publications in its numerous pay-to-publish journals; its website lists more than 2,000 “conferences” to be held in New York over 2 days, January 30-31 2020. The conferences and publications appear to have little if any scientific value, and appear to be supported simply on the basis of artificially boosting the cvs of participants (2).

A while back I was asked by a University in another country to review the case for promotion of a candidate to full professor. All of the candidate’s publications were in predatory journals, and one was in a “highjacked journal” –“La Pensée” – these are respectable (if sometimes obscure) journals whose websites have been hijacked by cyber criminals. I was deeply sad for the candidate, whose career has been irretrievably burned.

It seems clear that it is important to know what impact the rise of predatory journals is having on academic activity. Derek Pyne, an economics professor at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in Canada, is one who has looked into this, and his research was supported financially by TRU’s research office. He revealed that many of the administrators and professors in his own faculty had furthered their careers “by getting work printed in outlets with highly questionable professional credentials.” (quote from Gary Mason, a columnist at The Globe and Mail” Shortly after publishing his research, in 2018, Dr Pyne was suspended by TRU. TRU stated that the basis for Dr Pyne’s suspension included insubordination and making inappropriate, threatening, and defamatory statements. Dr Pyne responded that his statements in question were factual.

The issues involved in disciplinary action by a University are typically complex, but last November, an investigation by a committee of the Canadian Association of University Teachers concluded that the TRU’s actions breached academic freedom (3). The Committee noted that TRU, in a formal agreement with the TRU Faculty Association, had recognized that academic freedom includes “freedom to criticize the institution” and “freedom from institutional censorship”. In the words of the Committee, “The language creates a positive obligation for the TRU Administration to consider academic freedom in any management processes used to respond to workplace complaints involving a faculty member’s speech or other communications that are critical of the institution and its members.” They found that the actions of the TRU Administration were inconsistent with the principle that “Academic freedom allows faculty members to express their views on other scholars’ work without fear of institutional reprisal or censorship.”

For many years, Jeffrey Beall, a University librarian,maintained a widely-used website, “Beall’s list”. The site maintained a (long) list of journals with questionable publishing practices. In 2017, the website was abruptly closed; Dr Beall wrote “In January 2017, facing intense pressure from my employer, the University of Colorado Denver, and fearing for my job, I shut down the blog and removed all its content from the blog platform.” (4)

The issues raised are complex. It might be considered that judging a book be its cover often leads to disappointment, that many poor papers are published in reputable journals, and that the mountains of papers published in predatory journals might contain a few worth reading. The existence of junk journals and conferences is only possible when promotion committees are too busy or too lazy to judge the worth of papers by reading them, and are lax about verifying the academic status of journals and conferences.

But paying to publish a paper in a journal that pretends to operate a rigorous peer review system but does not, seems to speak of a casual contempt for scholarship. Not just academics but also academic institutions should be offended by this.

Author: Gareth Leng | Date: February 2020


1. Moher D et al. Stop this waste of people, animals and money Nature comment 06 September 2017

2. Grove, Jack (2017-10-26). "Predatory conferences 'now outnumber official scholarly events'". Times Higher Education (THE).

3. Report of the Ad Hoc Investigatory Committee Regarding the Situation of Derek Pyne in the School of Business and Economics at Thompson Rivers University November 2019

4. Beale J (2017) What I learned from predatory publishers. Biochemia Medica 27: 273-278.