I Unwittingly Manipulate A Citation Index

The list of misdemeanours that identifies an Open Access science journal as predatory and not bona fide is long. One of them is attempts on the part of the publisher and editors to manipulate the journal’s citation index, for instance by demanding that authors cite earlier work published in the same journal. If many scholars cite papers in a given journal, then that journal’s index improves — even if the citing only goes on inside the covers of the journal itself.

When I first read about this criterion I was a little embarrassed, because I do that all the time when editing Fornvännen. I don’t demand that authors cite earlier papers in our journal, but I often suggest that they should, because it’s part of my job as editor to make sure that authors acknowledge the latest relevant work in their fields. Still, ours is not a predatory operation.

To start with, few scholars in the Scandinavian humanities pay any attention to citation indices. Ours aren’t global fields of inquiry such as those covered by Nature and Science. I have no idea what Fornvännen’s citation index is and I don’t know how to find out. Our authors wouldn’t even notice if our citation index improved due to shenanigans.

Secondly, the number of journals in our fields is tiny. We’re not one of a hundred journals competing for the same papers. Thirdly, we practice green Open Access, so we don’t make any money off of authors, or at all actually. And fourthly and most importantly, Fornvännen is on its 109th year of uninterrupted publication and has no need to reinforce its brand. Within the parameters of a regionally delimited field in the humanites, for us to try to manipulate our citation index would be like Science or Nature doing it.

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Fornvännen’s Spring Issue On-line

Fornvännen 2013:1, last spring’s issue, is now on-line in its entirety on Open Access.

Hindawi Responds

Paul Peters, Hindawi Publishing

The Scholarly Open Access web site says that Open Access journal house Hindawi Publishing may show some predatory characteristics. I’ve simply called Hindawi “dodgy”. Their Chief Strategy Officer Paul Peters commented here on the blog and then swiftly replied to some questions of mine, showing that the firm realises that its on-line reputation is important to success. Here’s what Mr. Peters says.

MR: Why did Hindawi’s Journal of Archaeology go on-line months before it had any papers?

This is generally the case for all new journals that we launch, and I believe it is quite common among other publishers as well. Having the website publicly available at the time that we open the journal for submission enables potential authors to see the list of Editorial Board Members and read over the journal’s author guidelines prior to submitting their manuscript.

[MR comments: The typical way to launch an academic journal is actually for the Editor-in-Chief to use their network to solicit papers for the first issue and go public when it’s been completed. If the initiative comes from a publisher, they will ask the Editor-in-Chief to do precisely this.]

MR: Why doesn’t the JoA have an Editor-in-Chief?

The Journal of Archaeology does not have an Editor-in-Chief since it uses a distributed editorial model in which each submitted manuscript is assigned to an appropriate Editorial Board Member based on their area of expertise, and then the Editorial Board Member takes full control of the review process for that manuscript. Our staff perform an initial check at the point of submission to check for potential cases of plagiarism or other academic misconduct, and then they assign the manuscript to the most appropriate editor, after checking to make sure that there is no obvious conflict of interest between the authors of the submitted manuscript and the Editor who it is assigned to. A full description of the journal’s editorial workflow can be found on the journal website.

[MR comments: So it’s not quite true that the JoA has no Editor-in-Chief. It has 71 independent Editors-in-Chief that don’t necessarily know each other, each of whom is putting their reputation at the mercy of all the other 70. And the person at the publishing house who selects which editor is competent to judge a given manuscript and select referees does not themself know anything about the subject.]

MR: Why did Hindawi’s Journal of Environmental and Public Health publish this infamously bad alternative medicine paper by Chevalier et al.? It suggests that this journal sees little or no peer review.

This manuscript underwent a full review process, as is the case with every article that we publish. We publish the name of the Editor who was responsible for handling each published article, and in this case the manuscript was recommended for publication by Dr Gerry Schwalfenberg from the University of Alberta (see a list of Dr Schwalfenberg’s recent publications), who was one of the Guest Editors of the Special Issue in which this article was published.

I do agree that the concept of “Earthing” is not a very widely accepted medical practice, however unless we have reason to believe that there was any academic misconduct during the peer review process, we are not in any position to overrule the editorial decisions of our Academic Editors and peer reviewers.

[MR comments: Gerry Schwalfenberg seems to be an open-minded sort of fellow with an interest in dietary supplements. On one hand he has published a paper in Hindawi’s abovementioned JEPH suggesting that vitamin D deficiency might cause autoimmune diseases. This is a fringe idea. On the other hand, he’s co-author of a PLoS paper documenting the presence of toxic elements in alternative medication. I’ll ask him to comment on the Chevalier et al. “earthing” paper.]

Scam OA Journals: Who’s Fooling Whom?

Two years ago I was dismayed to find that a pair of crank authors had managed to slip a pseudo-archaeological paper into a respected geography journal. Last spring they seemed to have pulled off the same trick again, this time with an astronomy journal. Pseudoscience is after all a smelly next-door neighbour of interdisciplinary science.* When I realised that the second paper was in a bogus Open Access journal, I drew the conclusion that the authors had fallen for a scam, paying the OA fee to get published in a journal whose academic standing they had severely misjudged. That’s still my belief. The authors were fooled.

But check out this paper in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health put out by the dodgy OA publishers Hindawi that I wrote about the other day: “Earthing: Health Implications of Reconnecting the Human Body to the Earth’s Surface Electrons“. Here a quintet of purveyors of pseudoscientific health-care gear have paid the OA fee to get an appallingly bad in-house study into the journal. I’m pretty sure they know exactly how little academic credibility the JEPH has. Instead, they are likely banking on the inability of their customers to judge that credibility. The authors are buying a veneer of scientific solidity for their products. And their alt-med customers are fooled.

In the long run, of course, this will return to bite scam OA publishers in the butt. They can make some money selling column space in their journals to cranks and scammers as detailed above, but sooner or later this will impact their reputation. Science and Antiquity have a very good reputation thanks to their long record of publishing good research. When a new OA journal is started, it has a nul reputation or a somewhat positive one if its title is similar to that of a respected journal. But with time, such a journal will acquire a negative reputation because of the crap it publishes, and people will get wise to it. And then, Dear Reader, once the revenue stream has shrunk far enough, you can be pretty sure that the OA back issues of that journal will mysteriously drop off-line.

Harriet Hall the SkepDoc drew my attention to the JEPH paper in her column in Skeptic Magazine 17:4.

* Pseudoscience tends to get into academic publication venues in situations where it’s hard for the editors and peer reviewers to evaluate it. This is particularly common with interdisciplinary science, where as an archaeological editor I may find it hard to tell if e.g. linguistic content is solid or not. Also, it is extremely common outside of academic venues for amateur scholars to range freely and fearlessly across disciplinary boundaries, as seen e.g. in Thor Heyerdahl’s onomastic speculations. (“The Vanir came from Lake Van in Turkey.”) Good interdisciplinary science is when people from different disciplines collaborate, not when specialists in one discipline naïvely try their hands at another.

Hindawi: Another Dodgy OA Publisher

Hot on the heels of the hapless Science Publishing Group, I have received solicitation spam from another dodgy OA publisher, Hindawi Publishing in Cairo, with another odd on-line archaeology journal.

The Journal of Archaeology has 71 academics on its editorial board. And a strangely generic name. What it doesn’t have is any published papers yet, after months on-line, or an editor-in-chief. So I wrote to some board members at European universities, and they replied that they thought the journal was probably legit, though they weren’t exactly sure. “The lack of published papers and low manuscript turnover has concerned me, yet they appear very professional in approach”, says one scholar, and “I personally know a good handful of the other Editors including a senior member of staff in my department. They are very well respected and knowledgeable so I would be surprised if we have all fallen for a scam, but I will look into it further”, says another.

Anyway, Dear Reader, if out of the blue you get an offer to do something with an on-line scientific journal you aren’t absolutely sure about, here’s some advice.

1. If they immediately offer you to not only contribute papers, but to also become a member of the editorial board and a peer reviewer, then it’s a scam.

2. Search the Wikipedia article about the publishers for the word “predatory”.

3. Look the publishers up on the Scholarly Open Access web site.

4. Does the journal have a named editor-in-chief? If not, then it’s a scam. If there is a named editor, google that person. If the person seems legit, email them at their departmental address and ask them to confirm that they stand by the journal.

Note that when I say “scam” here, I mean that the journals in question have no academic standing, no impact factor and no readership. They will almost certainly publish any piece you give them once you’ve paid their fee. But equally certainly, nobody will ever read or cite that piece.

Nice Try, Science Publishing Group

Science Publishing Group is another scam Open Access journal publisher or academic vanity press. Yesterday they sent me a form-letter invitation to submit papers or become member of an unspecified editorial board or become a peer reviewer. “Join us!” But they don’t even publish an archaeology journal. The closest they get to one is a godforsaken excuse for a journal named Social Sciences. It allegedly caters to everything from law to anthropology.

The best part is that they sent the letter to my Academy address. The one I use when editing Fornvännen, a rock-solid paper and OA archaeology journal with 106 years of back issues. Sorry guys, you picked the wrong dude.

Update same evening: The editorial board of Social Sciences has twelve members and apparently no Editor-in-Chief. Only one of the twelve has filled out his CV page on the site, making him the best candidate if you would like to contact the journal. He is a professor of nanotechnology in Cheboksary. The journal’s web site however gives his specialities as “Knowledge Discovery in Database, Data Mining and its using for scientific and applied research, Social Science and Social Management, Family relations and Educational Management”. Awesome.

Danish Journal of Archaeology

Mads Dengsø Jessen of the National Museum of Denmark wrote me to say that he and his colleagues are re-launching the old Journal of Danish Archaeology (1982-2006) as Danish Journal of Archaeology at Taylor and Francis On-Line. Three papers will hopefully come on-line before Christmas, and further ones will see rolling electronic publication from then on, with an annual physical print volume appearing in ~May.

Subscribers get access to the full back-catalogue of the old JDA, as well as new papers. You can also buy PDFs of single papers without subscribing, but this is jævle expensive. Whether Open Access alternatives will be available appears uncertain at the moment: T&F say yes, Mads says no. Either way, Mads invites interested scholars to submit manuscripts.

Turning to the people behind the re-launch, we find Eva Andersson Strand (Mediterranean ancient textiles), Mads Dengsø Jessen (Viking Period Denmark) and Felix Riede (Late Palaeolithic northern Europe) editing the journal. And on the editorial board we find a long list of very good people in Scandy archaeology, explicitly separated into the university, museum and heritage sectors.

DJA will hopefully become a serious contender with Fornvännen for good papers once its citation index has had time to rise. But good old Fornvännen is hard to beat — 107 volumes and counting, plus Open Access without an author’s fee, thanks to a comfortably funded 18th century royal academy.

Scam Publisher Fools Swedish Cranks

Perennial Aard favourites N-A. Mörner and B.G. Lind have published another note in a thematically unrelated journal. It’s much like the one they snuck past peer review into Geografiska Annaler in 2009 and which Alun Salt and I challenged in 2011. The new paper is as usual completely out of touch with real archaeology, misdating Ales stenar by over 1000 years and comparing it to Stonehenge using the megalithic yard. No mention is made of the fact that this unit of measurement was dreamed up by professor of engineering cum crank archaeoastronomer Alexander Thom and has never had any standing in academic archaeology. The megalithic yard does not exist.

At first I thought, damn, they’ve managed to game the system again. But then I looked into the thing some more and came to the conclusion that this time, Mörner & Lind have been scammed, poor bastards.

The journal they’ve published in is named the International Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics. It’s an on-line Open Access quarterly, and though it has an ISSN number for a paper version as well, this is not held by any Swedish library. This may not be cause for suspicion, because the journal is new: its first four issues appeared last year. The Head Editor is professor of astronomy at a young English university that is quite highly ranked within the UK.

So far, it may look like Mörner & Lind have simply published in a low-impact but legit academic venue. But let’s have a look at the publishers of IJAA, Scientific Research Publishing (SCIRP). This outfit publishes from Irvine, CA, but its web site is registered in Wuhan, China, where its president Huaibei “Barry” Zhou is based. He is apparently a physicist. According to a 2010 statement by Zhou to Nature News, he co-founded SCIRP in 2006 or 2007. In the five or six years since, the firm has launched over 150 on-line Open Access journals. Uh-oh.

Suspicions about SCIRP began to gather in December 2009, when Improbable Research, the body behind the IgNobel Prize, said the publisher might offer “the world’s strangest collection of academic journals”. Improbable Research pointed out that at the time, SCIRP’s journals were repurposing and republishing decade-old papers from bona-fide journals, sometimes repeating the same old paper in several of its journals, and offering scholars in unrelated fields places on editorial boards.

This was taken up by Nature News in January 2010, when they contacted Zhou and received the explanation that the old papers had appeared on the web site by mistake after having been used to mock up journals for design purposes. “They just set up the website to make it look nice”, said Zhou. While he had otherwise represented himself as president of SCIRP, Zhou now told Nature News that he helped to run the journals in a volunteer capacity. The piece reports that SCIRP had listed several scholars on editorial boards without asking them first, in some cases recruiting the names of people in completely irrelevant fields. In other cases, scholars had agreed to join because a SCIRP journal’s name was similar to that of a respected publication in their field. Recruitment efforts by e-mail had apparently been intensive and scattershot.

Now, what is this really about? Why is SCIRP cranking out all of these fly-by-night fringe journals that anybody can read for free? The feeling across the web is that it’s most likely a scam utilising a new source of income: the “author pays” model built into bona fide Open Access publishing. A kinder way to put it would be that SCIRP is a pseudo-academic vanity press.

Instead of charging a subscription fee, many Open Access journals charge authors a publication fee once their manuscripts have gone through peer review and been accepted. This gets research out of the stranglehold of the big publishing houses (Elsevier et al.), making it available to tax payers and scholars in poor countries. Instead of putting huge money into their libraries to buy expensive journal subscriptions, universities can distribute smaller amounts among their faculty to pay Open Access publication fees.

But Mörner & Lind’s new paper has clearly not been vetted by any competent scholar. This suggests that anybody can publish anything in SCIRP’s International Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics as long as they pay the fee. Its Head Editor tells me by e-mail that he is “concerned about the refereeing process and should investigate”.

And as for the other 150 SCIRP journals? Well, what can you tell me, Dear Reader?

(SCIRP has a few other lines of business too. One is apparently scam conferences. Beware of the International Conference on Internet Technology and Applications.)

Update 16 April: Michael D. Smith, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Kent, stands by his journal. He wrote me today:

I have checked – the article was indeed refereed properly.

I also note that your blog contains many many errors and also draws on selected information taken out of context.

I believe few academics would agree with him regarding the quality of the peer review in this case — be they astronomers, archaeologists or archaeoastronomers.

My Recent Mead-halls Book Available On Open Access

The Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities is over 250 years old and consists almost entirely of professors of the humanities and social sciences. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that it’s a sleepy organisation. For one thing, the Academy is a signatory of the 2003 Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities. And so the venerable paper journal I edit, Fornvännen, is one of the first and most successful Open Access journals in the Swedish humanities. Increasingly, the Academy is also putting out the paper books it publishes as Open Access versions half a year after the original printing. And so I am now proud to present my recent book Mead-halls of the Eastern Geats for your downloading pleasure. All you’ll ever be likely to want to know about Östergötland province’s Dark Ages nobility collected in one book! And scholars will appreciate the convenience of being able to search the text. Download a PDF, order a hardback book, or both! (Here’s a local Sb copy of the file for good measure.)

Centenarian Open Access Archaeology Journal

I’m proud to announce that Fornvännen, Journal of Swedish Antiquarian Research, is now up to speed on the Open Access side. Our excellent librarian and information jockey Gun Larsson has just put the third and fourth issues for last year on-line. Fornvännen appears on-line for free with a six-month delay (due to concerns that the on-line version might otherwise undermine the print version). In the two most recent issues on-line, you can read new research on:

  • An Early Mesolithic settlement site in wooded Värmland.
  • A carved stone in a Bohuslän crofter’s cellar that may be a Neolithic stele.
  • Long-term traditions in prehistoric Scandinavian ship-building.
  • Stable isotope analyses of skeletons from one of Northern Sweden’s first Christian cemeteries.
  • A previously unknown runic inscription about a Viking Period traveller to Eastern Europe.
  • Excavations at Swedish and English assembly sites.
  • 17th century stone memorials recalling the rune stones of the 11th century.
  • Kuhnian Huns.
  • The baptism of the first King of Sweden.
  • 4th century gold from Östergötland.