The 8 criteria used to assess the (un)ethical standing of publishers

Concealing or misrepresenting the publisher’s location

Bogus publishers want you to think that they are based in a developed country, especially the USA. Why being based in a developing country or one of middle income would embarrass them, per se, I don’t know, since it is the quality of the work that matters, not where it originates from. But a moment’s thought will convince you of the reasons. Nigeria and India, for instance, punch above their weight when it comes to publishing scams, for one thing, and the mud sticks. For another thing, fairly or unfairly, the bulk of the papers coming from the Global North and Australia / New Zealand are not being published in Nigerian or Indian journals. Most of the traffic goes the other way round, or at least would like to. To overcome this historical and socioeconomic anomaly, many scholars from developing nations strive to rectify the imbalance and make their publishing enterprises as professional and ethical as any other or better. Unfortunately many others buy a virtual address in London or New York for ten bucks a week and pretend that’s where they live and work, or simply say nothing about their whereabouts and make their websites look as western as can be – the pictures they use to accompany the title pages of paediatrics journals a glaring case in point: plenty of endearing white babies. Misrepresenting their place of business is another form of location deception: one publisher has an alleged photograph of its headquarters in Rome that turns out to be the west face of the Winter Palace in Moscow – neither of which locations comes within thousands of kilometres of the computer that is driving the business. The bottom line is that any commercial enterprise should be up front about where it works from, even in this cyber age – so that if necessary they can be visited by the police, the tax man or the interested layperson.

Making demonstrably false or misleading claims

Obviously this applies only to serious lies such as claiming to be indexed in one of the major legitimate bases such as the DOAJ, giving false credentials, or presenting fake testimonials. Another frequent category of lies is claiming the have world class editorial boards when many of the board members concerned are in fact fake or dead.

Failing to carry out a proper peer review

How can we tell? You might be surprised how many vanity press publishers state up front that the maximum time from submission to acceptance is 3 days or 7 days or 9 days. The word ‘acceptance’ itself is something of an alarm bell. And you can substitute zero for these single-digit numbers, because that’s what they either mean or amount to. There is also a whole phalanx, mainly of standalones, that include in their spam the deadline date for submissions and the proposed date of publication, the two being separated by as much as a whole week in some cases. Worst of all are those who guarantee acceptance of your article before you submit it. I’m not making this up.

Publishing pseudoscience was once a ‘fatal’ criterion in its own right but is now considered to be by definition a case of improper peer review. It might not be immediately obvious why publishing pseudoscience or cloud nine woo-woo is deceptive or fraudulent. The fact that pseudoscience is the contaminant that can spoil whole batches of the real thing, if not in the minds of the professional managers, then in the thoughts of ordinary folk going shopping, is beside the point. Infection is not the same thing as deception. The rationale is this: a proper peer review would reject pseudoscience. Peer review, for all its frustrating faults, sits at the heart of the whole scholarly publishing enterprise and carries ‘special’ status as a result. While improper peer review can take many forms, there are certainly two major branches: improper proper and improper not at all. Improper proper is having the filter screen so coarse that a paper describing the Venusian flora goes through without touching the edges. Improper not at all is … filter screen? What filter screen? As in this message I got from one of the more egregious offenders: “As per your email we let you know that we will accept your article. So, we appeal you to submit the article. So that we can proceed further process. Look forward to receive eminent article. Have a great day!” In other words, one major form of peer review violation is doing it in an unacceptably short time – a negative number of days would seem to qualify. Another is judging pulpit sermons as worthy science – such as an article published by Marsland Press entitled “A Science Paper Like No Other: GOD’s Mathematical Signs on Earth and in the Heavens.”

Listing fictitious, stock, dead or non-human editors

I forget who carries the record for the number of years of service beyond the grave, but the fact remains that their work after death did not suffer at all, remaining at zero as it was before: no editorial duties while alive, other than being there, and the same when dead. Of course that could be simply an embarrassing oversight. Listing a dog as best editor might also be a misunderstanding, and having an Editor in Chief who does not exist could be an honest mistake. That’s why violating just one of the eight fatal criteria does not make a publisher unequivocally corrupt. At least three fatal violations are needed.

A word of explanation regarding ‘stock’ editors:  These are academics whose names appear again and again; they are the currency with which unethical publishers ply their trade. Many of them delight in their collection of disgraceful alliances. You will find some of those in the Outlaw Academics page of this website. Alfio Ferlito is an extreme case in point, having 293 editorial board memberships with dubious, fraudulent or racketeer publishers. The more back-street, illicit organisations Ferlito is associated with, the happier he is. It is extremely unlikely that all of these people are doing this for fun rather than for some form of material benefit, though some are certainly just feeding some strange ego or addiction. Then there are editors whose names, reputations and affiliations have gone viral over the dark web of duplicitous predatory publishers without any knowledge, let alone agreement, from the person in question. Identity theft of that sort is the hallmark of your typical unethical publisher. These victims are the stock-in-trade of the publishers listed here.

Listing real, living, human editors without telling them

It’s hard to find an excuse for this one while keeping a straight face. I mean, you either ask or you don’t, before listing someone on your editorial board. The reason not asking is so rampant in the racketeer open access underworld is that they know what the answer will be. Of course it’s not really that simple. The sad fact is that many prospective editors say yes. To take just one instance: why would a distinguished US professor of high academic standing say yes to 191 of the dregs of the backstreet racketeers? Food for thought? The problem is more widespread than supposed, and is very difficult and time-consuming to investigate, especially now that it is so common for academics to erect filters and firewalls to keep out unwanted emails. It seems likely that those would be precisely the sorts of names publishing racketeers like to borrow.

Partly or wholly concealing article processing charges

When was the last time you ate at a restaurant and ordered meals from a menu that did not include the prices? Did the waiter say that you will be informed of the bill in due course, perhaps after dessert; or decline to say anything about what the total cost might be or even whether or not there will be one? Then be warned: you send your article to Infobubble International Journals at your peril, if you assume that the absence of any statement about article processing charges means that there aren’t any. And if you baulk at the price once it is revealed, expect to face a hefty withdrawal fee – if you are lucky enough to get your work withdrawn.

Fabricating the history dates of articles

To my knowledge, nobody has previously unearthed this smoking firearm from the archives of unscholarly publishers’ journals. Google Volume 7, Issue 1 of Bioinfo Publications’ Advances in Computational Research. Look at the second paper, by Dar. It was received on 18 December 2014 and accepted on 15 January, 2015. Move on now to the third paper, by Siddiqui et al. Oddly enough it was received on the same day, 18 December, and completed its peer review in exactly 4 weeks, just like Dar’s paper, hence accepted 15 January. What are the chances that the same coincidence will be sustained yet again with the fourth paper, by Bele and Desai? Check: 18 December, 15 January. Astonishing! One’s astonishment begins to pale after half a dozen more papers with identical histories. And once the paper count hits 20 and nothing has changed, we feel confident, and rightly so, that all 44 papers in that issue were received on the same day and accepted on the same day. Why did I omit the first paper, by Rathi et al? Because the acceptance date was misprinted. Such a shame that an error should creep into the details of the archive – shakes our confidence that the information we are given there is true.

An isolated case? On the contrary, the phenomenon is widespread and can take unlikely forms. We find this, for instance:

Turnaround times of seven articles by Trivedi et al. (2017).
received accepted journal volume issue
30/10/17    11/11/17   Adv Bioscience & Bioengineering   5 (6)
30/10/17    11/11/17    Amer J Biosci & Bioengineering    5 (6)
30/10/17    11/11/17    Amer J Biomed & Life Sciences     5 (6)
30/10/17    11/11/17    Amer J Clin & Exp Medicine          5 (6)
30/10/17    11/11/17    Amer J Health Research                 5 (6)
30/10/17.   11/11/17    Biochem & Molecular Biology       2 (6)
30/10/17    11/11/17.   Europ J Clin & Biomed Sciences   3 (6)

Seven different Editors of seven different journals receive seven different papers on 30 October and accept them exactly 12 days later. But what, apart from the peculiar parallel correspondences in the volume and issue numbers, makes it so diagnostic for our purpose? The papers are all from the same source, that’s what, namely the laboratory of the sensational if not supernatural mystic guru Mahendra Trivedi, which presumably also manufactures the celebrated healing gel that sold in its heyday for $100 a tube. But there’s more: the journals all belong to the same publisher, the Science Publishing Group, purveyor of such illuminating article titles as ‘Darwin’s Theory is the Mixture of Malthus’s Theory and Lyell’s Theory and Darwin Use Wrong Lamarck’s Theory as Well as Believe as a Mechanism of Evolution.’ So we can safely revise our original hypothesis of editorial telepathy, and lean instead to the alternative hypothesis that it was the publisher who was calling the shots, and the dates.

There is no reason, of course, why these sorts of coincidences should not be extended to triple components, as in ‘received 25 October, revised 26 November, Accepted 29 December’ repeated 38 times in succession in the February 2015 issue of the Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences. God only knows what the authors make of it, but they probably aren’t asking, let alone complaining, because for one thing they are glad to have a paper published and are not about to look a gift horse in the mouth, even if the gift is not exactly gratis; and for another thing it would be hard to figure out who to ask, because the contact information for the AJBAS comes only in the form of generic emails, no names, no addresses. But I must curb my negativity and give the publisher the benefit of the doubt, if there is one. The whole thing could be a strange coincidence, or an artefact of the postal service constraints on small-budget publishers. Even so, I just can’t help being a bit suspicious, firstly because this cloning tendency seems to occur elsewhen in the AJBAS, not just in February 2015, and secondly because in the January 2019 issue, arguably by an even greater coincidence, the word ‘January’ is mis-spelled as ‘Janaury’ every time. Now by far the most slanderous slur that can be levelled at a publisher of work in the English language is that she has trouble spelling the months of the year, so I’ll retract that imputation and allow that she probably only did it once.

Postscript: It looks like Bioinfo is now deceased – maybe a loser in the scramble for easy cash. Perhaps the proprietors have retired to the Bahamas. But don’t despair – another little battler came to light only yesterday, and promises to be more than a worthy successor to Bioinfo, with date runs of 23 and 25 in the first two issues I looked at. It is the indefatigable New Delhi spammer, the International Journal of Engineering Research and Applications, who sent me this heart-warming message recently: ‘Dear Author’s, May you feel the love and joy I have for you …’ It’s really hard to keep the tears back. Isn’t it inspiring to know there are such wonderful people in this so often insincere world? There was also a note to the effect that article acceptance could be had in 4-6 days. Love and speed. My, aren’t we blessed.

Ghost-writing fake articles using plagiarised material

OMICS has 20 or more subsidiaries or imprints. Many and probably all of them have been producing fake articles for the past three years. Most of these fake articles are absurd collages of plagiarized material with fake authors and invalid emails. Presumably they do this to make their journals look popular (publishing lots of articles). There could be more than 100 000 of these articles. At this stage OMICS appears to be the only publisher guilty of this kind of fraud. Conversely, any journal containing articles of this sort will almost certainly prove to be published by OMICS. But the idea is likely to spread through the racketeer publishing world.


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