Does your institution accept pseudojournals? Mine does.
Today, I got an invitation to publish in the new journal, “Expert Opinion in Environmental Biology.” Then it provided a list of the “High Profile Editorial Board” members. I usually don’t discuss spam at breakfast (nor eat it), but this morning my family had fun inventing names of prestigious journals. I could go through my spambox and find a couple dozen more.
These journals exist because there are people out there whose jobs require some sort of external validation of their scholarship. Long ago, the Who’s Who series profited from people who needed to show their names in a bound volume. They’re still making a mint, I think. Now they are joined by a small army of “peer-reviewed” journals. Any website claiming to have a peer review process can magically add fresh meat to your publications list on your CV.
Who would be involved with such an outfit? After all, if my 9-year-old kid can see through the name of a silly pseudojournal, shouldn’t professors in the field? Wouldn’t they actually make you look worse? The answer is, apparently, no.
Universities require that faculty coming up for tenure and promotion are demonstrably scholars within their field. At teaching schools, in which most people do little research, how is scholarship evaluated? Within a department where new faculty coming up for tenure, the evaluators may have by been tenured long ago, unfamiliar with the current norms in the field.
Standards might be locked in time from when faculty were active scholars in grad school. For example, a former colleague of mine was convinced that a having paper in Ecological Entomology would be a much bigger accomplishment one in Ecology Letters. That’s because he hadn’t heard of Ecology Letters, even if it had recently become the ISI top-ranked journal in the field.
Some scholars realize that things change, which maybe is why pseudojournals may be so easily accepted. Some might see through the sham of the pseudojournal, but decide to not care about the deceit because scholarly prominence may not be a priority.
At my university, I attended a session about tenure file evaluations. There was a discussion about the perrenial problem: how can faculty evaluate people in different subfields, especially in diverse disciplines?
It was a disappointing conversation. The outcomes affirmed the following policies: Committees are not allowed to request external evaluation of an academic record or CV. They are allowed to subjectively evaluate journal quality, but are specifically forbidden from referencing specific metrics such as impact factor, h-scores or ISI indexing. They are not encouraged to search for information regarding the validity of a journal, and any specific facts or evidence that a journal is of poor quality, or has sham peer review, should not be included in an evaluation.It is okay to report that you have not heard of a journal, but you can’t report whether your investigation has shows it to be a good journal. So, the only other ecologist at my old job would say, “I’ve never heard of Ecology Letters before” but he wouldn’t be allowed to say that ISI ranks it is the top journal in my field. Ecology Letters would be on par with Expert Opinion in Environmental Biology.
These policies allow the continued persistence of pseudojournals. This lets the institution check off the scholarship box on the tenure file without caring about the reality or quality of the scholarship. That said, people have been denied tenure for inadequate scholarship. However, it appears that this can only happen to the scholars who have too much pride to publish in pseudojournals. Heck, they could join the editorial boards of several of them, if they so chose.
I suspect, or at least hope, that many teaching schools actually do ferret out pseudojournals. However, the proliferation of these venues – and the willingness of faculty to lend their names to editorial boards – suggests that they indeed have an audience. Otherwise, who would go to the trouble and how could you make a profit without a customer base? Who really does see these things and think they’re real? I am honestly confused.
As academic publishing is moving towards more transparency, open access and data sharing, it will be interesting to see how the perception or measurement of scholarly activity shifts. The acceptance rate at PLoS ONE, for example, is over 2/3. Anybody can publish in this journal, and even more importantly, anybody can read this journal. I imagine that this trend will continue, and I’m excited for the notion that citation, and all that comes with it, will be more of a meritocracy, not managed by for-profit publishers keeping findings away from the public.