Should you act as a reviewer for “junk” journals?

Increasing I am asked to review articles for “junk” journals. The common features of such journals are: 1) that I have never heard of them 2) they are open-access 3) They are not indexed in any major journal databases and 4) a cursory glance at the contents of the journal suggest a very low, if not non-existent, quality threshold for publication. In short these journals seem to be the academic equivalent of vanity publishing (“you give us $350 and we give you a peer-reviewed article to add to your CV”, rather than “you give us $350 and we publish your 700 page turgid, bodice-ripping, historical romantic novel set in 17th century France”).

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(I suspect that neither of these two publications contains a lots of top quality research)

Now I guess that the increasing requests have more to do with the rapid proliferation of these vanity journals, rather than my increasingly stellar research profile* and I have no desire to add to this proliferation. Usually it is easy for me to reject such requests as the request for reviewers seems to be a more or less random process and I can simply say I don’t have the expertise to undertake the review. I usually reply something along the lines of “Sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t know anything about bacterial communities in the guts of East African cattle, but it is awfully sweet that you thought that I did”. But today I received a request in a field where I actually do have some expertise. So the question is what should I do? A quick look at the manuscript made it abundantly clear that it should not be published so should I review and reject it in the hope that this will result in one less poor quality “scientific article” cluttering the already relatively cluttered interweb? In doing so I fear that I am lending my legitimacy (such that it is) to these journals as well as wasting my own time. On the other hand it somehow feels morally wrong for me to interfere in a business transaction that both the publisher and the manuscript author(s) have willingly entered into, and that in the grand scheme of things is unlikely to make much difference to the world.

Any answers to this moral conundrum will be warmly received.

Dave

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3 thoughts on “Should you act as a reviewer for “junk” journals?

  1. Best source of information on ‘junk journals’ of all shades of grey, from the crassly predatory to the enthusiastic start-ups that may turn out alright, can be found at Jeffrey Beall’s website: http://scholarlyoa.com
    (I’ve served as editor for a few manuscripts for a journal run by Hindawi press, which Beall does not list as ‘predatory’, and people have generally consented to review. The whole process seems legit to me. But the manuscripts I’ve seen so far generally corresponded with your experience – not good enough)

  2. Thanks for the resource, very useful. One thing I would say is that I am not keen on the term “predatory” as this implies that the scientists are the naive victim of the evil journals. whereas as it seems to me more like a mutually agreed upon decision between publisher and writer. I guess you could argue that the broader scientific community is the victim, but frankly other than annoying spam emails I am not really sure what the harm is.

  3. Hi Dave – not sure if you’ve been following all the hoopla surrounding Science’s “sting” of open access journals?
    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6154/60.full
    (and here’s one of the many, many responses:
    http://www.mhpbooks.com/john-bohannons-open-access-sting-paper-annoys-many-scares-the-easily-scared-accomplishes-relatively-little/)

    Anyway, I think a key point from Bohannon’s article is that a minority of these dodgy journals actually send papers out for review (only, 106/255 in this case), and even when scathing reviews are received editors often ignore them and publish the paper anyway. So it’s probably not worth wasting your time on it!

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