Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it can also be the easiest way to make a buck. That’s the primary motivation for camouflaging within an already-established brand: Sunbucks, McDowell’s, and Mountain Lightening all rely on brand recognition – of a brand that isn’t their own. While ASM Journals are by no means the only imitated journals, the well-established credibility of the journals published by ASM makes them an easy target for unscrupulous publishers.
An invitation to submit to the Journal of Bacteriology, for example, may have a subscript or footnote clarifying the full journal title to be “Academic Journal of Bacteriology and Advanced Sciences Online,” as illustrated in an article from the June Microbe Magazine by Robert Hunziker, Jr, of Dunner Law PLLC. A busy reader might skim over the footnote and take the invitation at face value – and believe themselves to be submitting to a century-old credible publisher.
The term predatory publishing comes in part from the use of tricky titles meant to deceive authors and readers alike, and in part from the high-throughput, low-quality manuscripts produced by these outlets. Such publishers hope to issue large numbers of manuscripts without strong consideration of scientific quality, and therefore use minimal peer review standards. They are also willing to publish duplicate data sets, directly plagiarized content, or add non-involved authors, which act in direct opposition to scientific publishing ethics. Those most at risk for falling prey to these tactics are young scientists at the onset of their careers, or scientists publishing in a field tangential to their own, where the author may not be familiar with well-reputed journal titles.
In a now-infamous test of several predatory publishers, John Bohannon submitted a deliberately poor study to a number of open-access publishers. The fact that 60% of the journals accepted the manuscript demonstrates the willingness of these outfits to publish manuscripts from all researchers able to pay the often-expensive publication fees (which may not be explained until after manuscript acceptance). (mBiosphere spoke with EIC Arturo Casadevall after the Bohannon manuscript was rejected by mBio.)
Hunziker explains the best defense is a good offense and advises ASM members and scientists alike to be vigilant against such practices. And though the number of predatory journal articles has increased nearly eightfold in four years, authors need not avoid open-access journals altogether. Many established publishers are creating freely available options under Creative Commons licensure, such as mBio, mSphere, and mSystems here at ASM; these journals demonstrate that open-access and high-caliber science can go hand-in-hand to benefit both science and scientists.
-- Julie Wolf