Can you believe everything you read in academic journals?

Ever been to an inane conference? Most of us have suffered a few. But there is one conference held every year that takes pride in the descripton.

In Portland, the largest city in the US state of Maine, journal editors and publishers got together at the annual conference of the International Academy of Nursing Editors (INANE) in August 2014.

Yes, the acronym is deliberately ironic, and INANE prides itself on being a ‘non-organisation’: no constitution, no officers, no dues. A refreshing, friendly collective in an increasingly corporate world.

Sandwiched between the opening session on ‘Maine Through Artists’ Eyes’ and an inspiring closing recitation from poet Richard Blanco, who featured at US president Barack Obama’s second inauguration, was an important agenda canvassing issues that confront editors of nursing journals every day.

Prominent among them is the rise of so-called predatory publishers: organisations set up to make money from authors caught in the push for open-access publishing.

These predators have scant regard for publishing ethics – or even straight-out honesty.

Their peer-review is either non-existent or highly dubious – as long as you can pay, they want your paper.

Academic librarian from the University of Colorado Jeffrey Beall has been active in exposing these publishers for some time, and publishes an annual list of suspects.

He told INANE delegates of the traps: some predators set up websites that mimic reputable publishers or specific journals; or they make up grandiose titles to lure authors; or they email nurses with flattering invitations to write and then send them a bill when the paper is submitted; and, when an author tries to withdraw a paper, the publisher says it’s too late, or tries to haggle over the fee.

The latest development involves companies that invent their own metrics to fool authors into thinking the journal is more important than it is.

Open access has its place, especially in the UK following the Finch report. And most reputable publishers – including RCNi – offer some option for authors who have to publish in an open-access journal because they are required to by a research funding body or their institution. But strict ethics govern the process, especially around peer review.

Mr Beall says the big problem with predatory publishers is that the lack of rigour in their editorial processes allows bad science to enter the scholarly record. The general public and the press, he says, can lack the ability to distinguish between science and pseudoscience.

And, insidiously, authors who do not have English as a first language can find it more difficult to tell the spam emails apart from approaches by genuine publishers.

It can be a jungle out there.

About the author

Gary Bell is senior editor, specialist journals at RCNi

Follow these links for more information about INANE, the Finch Report and Richard Blanco