Saturday, 27 April 2013

Possible predatory open-access publishing and public health...


A couple of days ago I wrote about a piece of research published in a journal called "Food & Public Health" and written by authors including one Dr Ricardo Costa from Coventry University. I commented:

Nothing in the research suggests that Jamie, Nigella and Delia are making us all obese with their glorious culinary temptations. The authors however make a huge leap from these temptations to suggest that these wicked TV chefs are affecting our food preparation habits (again without any evidence) and that they are, as a result:

...a likely hidden contributing factor to Britain’s obesity epidemic and its associated public health issues.
Yesterday, while talking with Cullingworth's resident academic publishing guru, I mentioned that "Food & Public Health" was an open access publication. Kathryn's response was to wonder whether this journal - an its publisher - was on Jeffrey Beall's list of  "Potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers". I'd never heard of this list but it's a consequence of the open access publishing model:

This is a list of questionable, scholarly open-access publishers. We recommend that scholars read the available reviews, assessments and descriptions provided here, and then decide for themselves whether they want to submit articles, serve as editors or on editorial boards. 

Beale (who is an American academic librarian) provides a comprehensive list of the criteria he uses to determine whether the publisher or journal is included on his list.

"Food & Public Health" is published by Scientific & Academic Publishing, a publisher that is included on Jeff Beall's list. To indicate part of the problem check out the guidance to authors on review:

You may suggest information of some particularly qualified reviewers who have had experience in the subject of the submitted manuscript, but who are not affiliated with the same institutes as the contributor.

So in effect you can certainly influence - and maybe even pick who'll review your paper. But it gets better:

You may also submit a list of reviewers to be excluded. 

So any academic who might disagree can be excluded from the review process - hard to see how this is open and transparent publishing. Letting authors direct or influence review is, quite simply, a recipe for bad science, ideological capture of academic disciplines and the exclusion of challenge. Precisely the problem we see with public health.

What we can't determine from the publisher website is the publication fee - remember that in an open access academic publishing model the cost of publishing shifts from user (or user's institution) to author (or author's institution). The typical open access charge is $3000 to publish an article so we can assume that Dr Costa - or Coventry University or the Heart of England NHS Foundation trust - paid a charge of this sort to have the article published.

What some predatory open access publishers do (although we don't know this is the case for Scientific & Academic Publishing) is, in effect, spam academics to get material for publishing. This takes advantage of pressures to publish, especially for academics in less well-known institutions. Worse still, the journalist (say at the Independent) probably can't distinguish between this sort of predatory publishing process and processes of higher quality. With the result that ideological and weak articles such as Dr Costa's get the same credence as articles in established subscription publications - to that journalist it's all "academic publishing".


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