Flawed Science Story “Stings” Open Access

Open Access LogoIn a story published today in the journal Science, author John Bohannon conflates open access and predatory publishing.  In response, many in the open access community have pointed out the fundamental flaws in both his methodology and conclusions, including Martin Eve, Peter Suber, and Jeroen Bosman.  The critique of Bohannon’s approach boils down to this:  there’s no control group because his fake article intended to “sting” predatory publishers was submitted only to open access journals and not to any traditional subscription scholarly journals.  Interestingly, UC Berkeley’s Michael Eisen did perform such a controlled experiment in 2011, and found that some accepted-as-reputable journals were more than willing to publish his fake article.  And Science was one of those journals.

More importantly, the Bohannon story and the subsequent uncritical coverage in news outlets like NPR fail to highlight real issue:  there are problems with the peer review process itself, which has traditionally been seen as the cornerstone of publishing high-quality scholarship.  For thoughtful explorations of that real crisis, please see this Guardian article by Curt Rice and this blog post by John Hawks.

It should be noted that open access is not a qualitative distinction.  Those interested in publishing their work in reputable scholarly journals (whether traditional subscription-based journals or open access journals) should always be sure to ask questions like:

  • Is the journal publisher for-profit or not-for-profit?
  • Is the journal affiliated with a reputable scholarly society or institution?
  • Is the journal listed in Ulrich’s Global Serials Directory?
  • Is the journal indexed by major databases?
  • What is the journal’s subject coverage?
  • Does the journal have an impact factor?
  • What are the journal’s peer review guidelines?
  • Who’s on the editorial board?
  • How many issues does the journal publish each year? In the last year?

For more information, Georgia State University professors should contact their departmental subject librarians or Digital Initiatives Librarian Sean Lind.

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