Another face of a predator


TEN years after the term was first coined in 2010, experts across the academic world have yet to reach a consensus on what constitutes a “predatory journal”.

This is not surprising given that nearly 100 different check lists exist to differentiate bona fide journals from the fake ones, and that many of the lists tend to have contradictory criteria.

There are even stark differences in opinions on the use of “predatory” as a term to refer to unscrupulous journals that compromise publication quality and integrity for profit and personal gains. I would therefore prefer to use the term “fake journals” to refer to what is unanimously regarded in academia as a threat to responsible and healthy proliferation of academic and research scholarship.

Burgess-Jackson K. (BJK), in his 2020 scholarly article Why I Publish In Predatory Journals - And Why You Should, Too argued that the “true predators (exploiters, oppressors and plunderers)” better fit the wealthy multinational publishing corporations “who treat researchers and authors as slave labourers”.

BJK’s criticism is especially scathing to me personally as an academic who has spent decades of my career surrendering ownership of my intellectual properties (IP) by transferring copyright for free to the so-called “reputable journals” owned by wealthy corporations, which became filthy rich by selling the IPs to libraries.

BJK’s assertion about wealthy publishing corporations being ruthless exploiters of authors and researchers is nonetheless an open secret. Top universities like Harvard, University of California, Nanyang Technological University and many others in the United States and beyond have long encouraged their communities to go open access (and not go fake, obviously) in order to make their research freely available while retaining their IPs and avoiding exploitation by the so-called “reputable” publishers that “keep authors’ articles behind paywalls”.

In light of reasonable doubts about what truly constitutes predatory journals and publishers, one could well imagine how amused the world might be at the hyper reactions of some quarters to an article about the alleged infiltration of “predatory journals” in Scopus, supposedly the largest indexer of global research content.

The said article is authored by two Czech researchers who based their findings on a Jeffrey Beall’s list. For the record, Beall, a librarian, compiled his list of predatory journals based on criteria that were widely said to be lacking transparency and best known only to Beall himself.

Under threat of being sued, Beall’s list was discontinued in 2017 presumably over some credibility issues.

The aforementioned facts have not stopped the hysteria among the oblivious (those who might have found their cheese being so shockingly removed, causing them to so desperately crave attention in the blistering pace of the 21st century) to the point of their categorically and blindly cutting and pasting the term “predatory” and paragraphs of the Czechs’ article to taint the academic communities, world university ranking and academic promotion exercise with their same broad and filthy brush.

Allow me to end with an uncharacteristically less diplomatic note: The next time you are hungry, do yourself a favour. At least check the labels before gobbling your “prey”. You are either the true predator yourself or blissfully ignorant of ethical writing to be so gung ho and shameless in blindly spreading the cherry-picked findings of a third-party article whereby its limitations have been so clearly spelt out in a disclaimer by the authors themselves, and its source of data criticised as lacking transparency and credibility.

PROF IR TS DR ZAINUDDIN ABD MANAN

Acting deputy vice-chancellor Academic and International

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia

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