Digitalization reduces technological and financial barriers to scientific publishing. Science can thus become faster, more inclusive and more plural. At the same time, the growing acceptance of specific forms of Open Access has also led to the rise of author-pays business models based on Article Processing Charges (APCs). The increasing publication pressure in the scientific system in combination with APCs provides incentives for creating “predatory” journals that only supposedly or very superficially conduct peer review in order to maximize their profits from such APCs. These manuscripts are at best inadequate and at worst deliberately tendentious and misleading.
Recently, an investigative report by the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung and public broadcasters WDR and NDR has revealed that even researchers from reputable academic institutions publish in or represent publishers of dubious quality. In their attempt to reveal “Fake Science” (using the English term in their German reportings), journalists easily accomplished the publication of a non-sensical article in an allegedly peer reviewed journal charging APCs. What they also show is how these unscientific practices not just harm the reputation of legitimate open access journals but are also a potential source – and allegedly scientific proof – for fake news more generally.
This blogpost discusses how reputable (Open Access) journals can defend their credibility against somewhat or even completely dubious Open Access journals. In our opinion, the most sustainable response, which however would only be possible in the mid to long-term, would be to abandon author-pays business models altogether and switch to publication infrastructures financed by universities and institutions (for an example of such an approach, check out the Open Library of Humanities). In the short-term, however, certain open-peer review practices might also be helpful to address the problem of predatory open access journals.