Predators without Prey?

This is an amusing story about how a fake journal article called “Get Me Off Your Fucking Mailing List,” consisting of nothing but that sentence over and over, might be published in an open access “scholarly journal.” It was originally written by someone else many years ago to protest spam conference invitations, and was forwarded to the journal to protest what a professor believed was a spam invitation to publish in a journal. Upon submission, the professor was told it would be published for $150.

What might be funniest about the story is Jeffrey Beall’s email response to Inside Higher Education. (He apparently “broke” the story on his blog, but after my last encounter with some of Beall’s prose, I didn’t have the will necessary to read anything else by him.) Here’s what he wrote to IHE:

“It’s clear that no peer review was done at all and that this particular journal (along with many like it) exists only to get money from scholarly authors. The open-access publishing model has some serious weaknesses, and predatory journals are poisoning all of scholarly communication.”

The first sentence is undeniable. This is obviously a scam journal that just wants to make money from gullible researchers, if it can find any. Any idiot should be able spot that, and the professor obviously did or he wouldn’t have sent the fake article. It’s the second sentence that’s so funny. “Predatory journals are poisoning all of scholarly communication.”

In this case, we have a professor who expected the journal to be a scam, which basically it is. He sent them an article written many years before to protest spam conference invitations. These two taken together imply that spamming researchers predates the rise of the so-called predatory journals, and that researchers can tell when something is a scam. “Poisoning all of scholarly communication” is a ridiculous overstatement on the face of it, but describing an interaction in which everyone, including the professor, knows what’s really going on isn’t poisoning anything. It’s evidence that scholarly communication is working pretty well and that scholars know these journals are questionable from the beginning.

What’s missing from the analysis of “predatory” journals is any evidence of widespread trickery, where researchers who don’t know any better are paying to publish in what they believe to be legitimate peer-reviewed scholarly journals. It’s hard to prove something is predatory if there’s not any prey. The professor in question is the exact opposite of prey, and if anything he’s preyed upon the journal by making it the butt of his joke, but I guess it’s easier to misinterpret evidence that challenges your beliefs instead of following the evidence to form your beliefs. Human, all to human.

1 thought on “Predators without Prey?

  1. Good post–and yes, I see what you did there.

    As to the real issue: I don’t know how you would show actual predation. I strongly believe that many/most of the “predatory” journals that publish anything at all (most of them don’t exist as actual journals) are dealing with “prey” who know exactly what they’re getting into. But I can’t prove that.

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