Predatory publishers in the crosshairs

At the Council of Science Editors’ meeting in San Antonio, Texas, this May, there was a lively session on predatory publishers. And an important step has been taken in turning the tables on these fraud artists.

Four major organizations are uniting to address the problem in a constructive way. The groups involved are the World Association of Medical Editors, the Committee on Publication Ethics, the Directory of Open Access Journals, and the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association. They have agreed on a joint statement on The Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing, available on the web sites of each of the organizations.

The statement sets out the expectations for a peer-reviewed journal, and the requirement that this information be fully available on the journal’s web site. The statement can be used by authors as a checklist to help ascertain that a journal is bona fide and not predatory.

More importantly, the organizations plan to ensure their members adhere to these requirements. While the first step will be to give the journal a chance to comply, if there are serious failures to meet these requirements, the journal is out.

I think the other step being planned is even more crucial: the organizations are going to put together a list of reputable publishers and journals. This is the reverse of Beall’s list: a list of the bona fide journals rather than the predatory ones. This will give authors a place to check on a journal they are planning to submit to — someone else has done the homework for them.

These are excellent moves in the right direction. But they stop short of what should happen: these so-called “publishers” should be shut down. That’s tricky to do when the “publisher” cannot be located, does not publish the names of its owners, and is in another jurisdiction from its victims. And what is the legal mechanism to stop them? These are all interesting problems, and they define the next steps in protecting the legitimate community of scholarly publishing.