What you don't know about open access... will hurt you

I often get emails from journals asking me to submit articles, or to become an editor. These are usually open access journals, and the temptation is always to say yes why not. An editorial stint will look good on the CV. But I have always cited limited time as the reason not to take up these positions.

Now, there is another reason, an even more important one. Ryan Radecki's post Ocorrafoo Cobange & Grace Groovy in his blog highlighted a recent publication in Science. This is one of those articles that will give an OMG moment once you read it, and I urge everyone to take a look.

Who's Afraid of Peer Review? by John Bohannon

The authors and his collaborators conducted a 'sting' operation, in which they sent bogus scientific research papers to a number of suspect open access journals. The papers looks 'credible' but are littered with grave errors that any competent reviewer should pick out to render the papers unpublishable.

Bottomline:
  • "Of the 255 papers that underwent the entire editing process to acceptance or rejection, about 60% of the final decisions occurred with no sign of peer review. For rejections, that's good news: It means that the journal's quality control was high enough that the editor examined the paper and declined it rather than send it out for review. But for acceptances, it likely means that the paper was rubber-stamped without being read by anyone."
  • "Of the 106 journals that discernibly performed any review, 70% ultimately accepted the paper. Most reviews focused exclusively on the paper's layout, formatting, and language. This sting did not waste the time of many legitimate peer reviewers. Only 36 of the 304 submissions generated review comments recognizing any of the paper's scientific problems. And 16 of those papers were accepted by the editors despite the damning reviews."  
  • About a third of the targeted journals were based in India, though the US was the next largest base. Though the front company reaping the benefits may be in the US or Europe, many of the editors, bank accounts or publishing houses are in the developing world. 
  • Some of these journals are even published by powerhouses like Elsevier, Wolters Kluwer, and Sage. 
  • It is a big problem, with year on year growth of deceptive open access journals out to capitalize on the research community, by using the open access publication model and charging authors a publication fee. 
I think I will stick to traditional journals for now, and save my dollars for those high quality open access journals I know.