Are 'fake journals' or wealthy corporations the true predators?

Experts across the academic world have yet to reach a consensus on what constitutes a "predatory journal" even after 10 years since the term was coined in 2010.

This is not surprising given that nearly 100 different checklists exist to differentiate the bona fide journals from the fake ones and many of the lists tend to have contradictory criteria.

There are even stark differences in opinion on the use of the term "predatory" to refer to unscrupulous journals that compromise publication quality and integrity for profit and personal gain.

I would, therefore, prefer to use the term "fake journals" to refer to what is unanimously regarded in academia as a threat to responsible and healthy proliferation of academic and research scholarship.

Burgess-Jackson K (BJK), in his 2020 scholarly article "Why I Publish in Predatory Journals — and Why You Should, Too", argued that the "true predators (exploiters, oppressors and plunderers)" better fits the wealthy multinational publishing corporations "who treat researchers and authors as slave labourers".

BJK's criticism is especially scathing to me personally as an academician who spent decades of my career surrendering ownership of my intellectual properties (IP) by transferring copyright for free to so-called "reputable journals" owned by wealthy corporations who became filthy rich by selling IPs of mine and others to libraries.

BJK's assertion that wealthy publishing corporations are ruthless exploiters of authors and researchers is nonetheless an open secret.

Top universities like Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, Harvard, University of California and many others in the United States and beyond have long encouraged their communities to go open access (and not go fake, obviously) in order to make their research freely available while retaining their IPs and avoiding exploitation by so-called "reputable" publishers that "keep authors' articles behind paywalls".

In light of reasonable doubts about what constitutes predatory journals and publishers, one can well imagine how amused the world might be at the hyper reactions of some quarters to an article about the alleged infiltration of "predatory journals" in Scopus, an abstract and citation database launched in 2004.

The said article is authored by two Czech researchers who based their findings on a Jeffrey Beall's list. For the record, Beall, an American librarian, compiled his list of predatory journals based on criteria that was widely said to be lacking transparency and is best known only to Beall himself.

Under threat of being sued, Beall's list was discontinued in 2017, presumably over some credibility issues.

The aforementioned facts did not stop the hysteria among the oblivious (those who might have found their cheese being so shockingly removed, making them desperately craving for attention in the blistering pace of the 21st century world), to the point that they categorically and blindly copy and paste the term "predatory" and paragraphs of the Czech researchers' article to taint the academic community, world university rankings and academic promotion exercise with their same broad and filthy brush.

Let me end this with my uncharacteristically less diplomatic note. The next time you are hungry, do yourself a favour. At least check the labels before gobbling up your "prey".

You are either the "true predators" yourself or you are blissfully ignorant of ethical writing to be so gung ho and shameless in blindly spreading the cherry-picked findings of a third party article whereby its limitations have been so clearly spelt out in a disclaimer by the authors themselves and its source of data criticised as lacking in transparency and credibility.

The writer is the Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Academic and International, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. He is also a professor at the Faculty of Engineering, UTM

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times

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