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Preying on the Predatory Journals: A Case Study

December 19, 2018

The primary means of communication in many fields of study—whether you’re talking science, the humanities, or other broad fields—is through publishing articles in academic journals.

While I won’t go into the entire history of them, suffice it to say that academic journals have existed for over 300 years, with peer-reviewed journals existing for over two and a half centuries.

Although initially published primarily by scholarly organizations and scientific societies, larger publishing companies began to gain a foothold in the field after World War II and have since come to dominate the academic journal publishing landscape. Since that time, academic publishing has become an enormous industry, with major publishers having revenues in the multiple billions of dollars annually.

The industry has also seen some major changes due to the ubiquity of online access, with some journals no longer having print versions or making articles freely available online via different models.

Like in many realms of life, this chance to make money has brought with it individuals with less than altruistic goals in mind, what’s become known as predatory open-access publishing. These are publishers that (typically) have a large number of online-only journals that charge authors for publishing through them.

Although they claim to follow the standard peer-review processes and editorial processes that well-regarded open-access publishers (such as the Public Library of Science and their flagship journal PLoS One) and standard academic publishers follow, the truth is often far from that. Indeed, the fees are often very high, the peer review is nonexistent, and the editorial assistance is absent.

Although basically everyone in academia is aware of what a “predatory journal” is at this point, this has not stopped a large number of them from popping up, spamming the inbox of professionals, and thriving in the Wild West environment of the web.

Particularly at risk appear to be professionals from developing nations, who might be confused by the purposeful similarities of the names of the journals or misled into thinking they are legitimate enterprises due to big name academics being included on the editorial board page (usually without that person’s permission or knowledge).

As an academic who regularly publishes in various journals, I receive several “calls for papers” per day, most of them inviting me to submit an article to a journal that is completely outside of my field. On the day I wrote this, for example, I was asked to speak at the “3rd International Conference on Alzheimers Disease and Dementia” and the “10th Annual International Conference on Computer Science Education” via email.

For those who don’t know, I’m a clinical psychologist who specializes in anxiety, fear, and obsessive-compulsive problems…not dementia or computer science.

As I was cleaning out my spam one day last January 5, however, I found myself intrigued by an email with the subject line of “One Article.” Opening it, I found this:

 

Dear Dr. Caleb W Lack,

Good Morning!

Hope you are doing well.

We are planning for an inaugural issue by the mid of January, so we required your intervention by submitting your research work or any type of the article towards our issue.

If this is a short notice, we request you to submit 2 page Opinion/Mini review to success this issue.

Hope you won’t disappoint us.

Await your submission.

Kindly acknowledge to this email for further queries.

Best Regards,

Angelina Jovovich

Advances in Complementary & Alternative Medicine (ACAM)

*Note: We do accepting e-books & Videos.

 

For whatever reason, I just thought to myself “Well, I could certainly have some fun with this.” I not infrequently find myself engaging with phone scammers trying to tell me my computer has a virus or that I owe the IRS money, so this just seemed like the next logical step. What follows below are the series of emails between myself and “Angelina” across the next few months, exactly as they were written, with some commentary.

 

Jan. 5, 3:33 pm

Hello Angelina,

I certainly could put together a submission. However, it is likely to be very highly critical of CAM. Is that still acceptable?

C

——

Jan. 8, 7:14 am

Dear Dr. Caleb W Lack,

Thank you for your reply.

Well, it’s our pleasure to answer your query. We acknowledge any type of article which is related to ACAM, so we request you to submit your valued manuscript at the earliest prospect.

Please go through the below link for more information about our journal classification

http://crimsonpublishers.com/acam/classification.php

Await your quick submission.

Regards,

Angelina Jovovich

——-

Jan. 8, 11:17 am

Hello Angelina,

I attempted to submit this paper via the online portal, but it would not allow me to upload any files. Thanks!

C

 

The paper I attached was an expansion of a blog post I had written in 2013 on something called “Induced After Death Communication” or IADC. I added a bit to the front about trauma and evidence-based practice, did some light APA style formatting, and viola we have a submission! I got the following email less than 24 hours after submitting it.

 

Jan. 9, 7:26 am

Dear Dr. Caleb W Lack,

Thank you for submitting your manuscript.

After having glance at your manuscript we let you know that, your article has been effectively accepted for peer-review process and will get back to you with the article updates timely.

Track the below manuscript ID for further communication

Title: Induced After-Death Communication, or the Case of the Purple Hat Wearing Medium.

Manuscript ID: ACAM-18-RW-518.

Before proceeding further, we would like to bring your notice that there would be a nominal publication fee towards publishing your article in our Journal.

Hope you understand.

Await your response.

Good day!

Best Regards,

Angelina Jovovich

——

Jan. 9, 10:04 am

Angelina,

I will be eagerly awaiting the results of the peer review process.

C

——

Jan. 11, 7:08 am

Dear Dr. Caleb W Lack,

Thank you for your reply.

Well, we do understand from your end. We are here to inform you that your manuscript is under peer review process, we will reach you with review comments at the earliest prospect.

Hope you understand us.

Regards,

Angelina Jovovich

 

I then heard absolutely nothing for over two months, which seemed odd given that they wanted my article for their inaugural issue in mid-January. I had honestly forgotten about it, until I opened up my email in late March.

 

Mar. 21, 7:00 am

Dear Dr. Caleb W Lack,

Hope you are doing well!

We would like to inform you that we have received positive review comments towards your manuscript from our eminent editors, so we are proceeding for further process of galley proof. Soon we will get back to you with PDF.

Furthermore, the nominal charges for review article is $822.

Please track the below link for online payment of $822

http://crimsonpublishers.com/pay-online.php

Hope you understand us.

Await your rapid comeback.

Regards,

Angelina Jovovich

Crimson Publishers Peer Review

 

The attachment was a PDF, which you can see above. Just in case you are confused, yes, that was the entire “peer review” that this article went through in two months. I was confused, which is why I replied as I did below. I may have also started becoming a bit snarky at this point, for my own amusement.

 

Mar. 21, 10:55 am

Hi Angelina,

Wow, $822? I’m going to need to see what the peer reviewers said regarding my manuscript first, before making any decisions. Surely you understand that, given how the academic publishing process typically operates (submission, review, response, review, and then acceptance or rejection). Please send me the peer reviewers’ comments ASAP.

Sincerely,

Caleb

——

Mar. 22, 8:33 am

Dear Dr. Caleb W Lack,

Thank you for your reply.

Well, we do understand from your end. Please find the attachment for your reference.

Also, we are here to inform you that we will strictly follow double blinded peer review process which you have conveyed in your previous email.

Hope this finds you well.

Await your rapid comeback.

Regards,

Angelina Jovovich

 

The attachment was a PDF, which you can see above. Just in case you are confused, yes, that was the entire “peer review” that this article went through in two months. I was confused, which is why I replied as I did below. I may have also started becoming a bit snarky at this point, for my own amusement.

 

Mar. 22, 11:52 am

Hello Angelina,

I may be a bit confused. Are you saying that you will be sending the paper out for blinded peer review after you get a payment of $822? Because what you sent had literally no review in it, just an “accept unconditionally.”

Yours in Science,

Caleb

——

Mar. 23, 8:24 am

Dear Dr. Caleb W Lack,

Thank you for your reply.

Well, we do understand from your end. We would like to clarify you that we won’t compel you to pay before peer review process and your manuscript has already completed review process and we got review comments which we have sent you in earlier email.

Hope you understand us.

Await your response.

Regards,

Angelina Jovovich

 

“Compel” me to pay? What is this, the journal mafia? I needed some clarification after that word salad. I also at this point started mimicking her email style.

 

Mar. 25, 9:17 am

Dear Angelina Jovovich,

Thank you for your reply.

Well, I am afraid that I am not understanding you. Am I to understand that what you sent me was the peer review? And that the entire peer review consisted of a statement by a single reviewer saying “This work is accepted for publication” (without even so much as a punctuation mark)?

I will be honest, having published in scientific journals for 15 years and having reviewed and been on the editorial board for the same for over a decade, that is probably the least helpful review I have ever seen. Given the lack of specific feedback and comments, and the fact that you want me to pay you $822, I am afraid that Advances in Complementary & Alternative Medicine seems like a predatory journal.

Hope you understand me.

Await your rapid comeback.

Yours in Science,

Caleb Lack

——

Mar. 28, 8:36 am

Dear Dr. Caleb W Lack,

Thank you for your reply.

Well, concerning to your below email, once again we will proceed for peer review process and get back to you soon with another review comments.

Hope you understand us.

Have a Great day!

Regards,

Angelina Jovovich

——

Apr. 2, 7:29 am

Dear Dr. Caleb W Lack,

Hope you are doing well!

Well, we have proceeded again for review process and received review comments with minor corrections towards your manuscript. Please go through the attached document for your concern and we request you to submit modified manuscript at the earliest prospect so that, we can proceed for further process.

Await your submission.

Regards,

Angelina Jovovich

 

Once again, a reviewer comments PDF was attached, which recommended (this time) to “Accept with minor revision without further review” and included the following comments:

 

  • Having a specific overview of pseudoscientific is a good idea and having them spelled out is useful.
  • The title doesn’t clarify that the article is about debunking a pseudo-scientific approach, but it would be helpful if it did.
  • The overview of the evidence on EMDR would need to be done in a more nuanced way, the claims against its evidence base are fairly superficial given the wide acceptance of approach.

 

This was certainly indicative that someone had actually read the article this time (in just a couple of days, compared to the two months prior when I had just received the feedback of “Yeah, publish it.”). Given that, I decided to see what else I could accomplish with the journal while not paying any money to them.

 

Apr. 4, 10:04 am

Dear Angelina Jovovich,

I am doing well!

Thank you for sending the manuscript back out for review. I will admit, though, that this whole process seems very odd. The first review said “accept” with no feedback, and you were willing to do so. Then when I asked about feedback you sent it back out and now there are changes needed.

I have also had a chance to look at more of the articles recently published by ACAM, and I must admit some serious trepidation at having my name associated with a journal that publishes articles on “Cowpathy” and “biorhythm fields” and things that have been repeatedly found to be nonsense (acupuncture).

If you are willing to waive the publication fee of $822, then I am happy to revise my submission and resubmit it. However, paying to publish in ACAM is not something I am interested in doing, unless the payment could be renegotiated to, say, tree fiddy or so.

Hope you understand me!

Yours in science,

Caleb Lack

——

Apr. 6, 8:05 am

Dear Dr. Caleb W Lack,

Thank you for your email,

Concerning to your below email, we would like to clarify you that we usually assign our manuscripts to 2-3 editors and considered all reviewer comments, so according that, we have assigned your manuscript and sent you 1st reviewer comments and later on we have sent you 2nd reviewer comments.

Hope you understand and revert us with the revised manuscript at the earliest.

Regards,

Angelina Jovovich

——

Apr. 10, 10:20 am

Dear Angelina Jovovich,

So you are asking me to revert the manuscript with the changes back to you? What about the publication charges, per my question in the prior email?

Yours in science,

Caleb Lack

——

Apr. 12, 7:55 am

Dear Dr. Caleb W Lack,

Thank you for your reply.

We are here to  inform you that we don’t get any funding from external sources and completely depend on author’s contribution, so we have convinced our financial manager to provide best partial waiver towards your manuscript, so we request you to pay only $609 instead of $822, and submit your revised manuscript at the earliest.

Hope this finds you well!

Await your positive comeback.

Regards,

Angelina Jovovich

 

This reduction of over $200, some 25 percent from the original price, was quite generous of them. It didn’t quite meet my “tree fiddy” offer, but I could see that my keen negotiating skills were starting to work. However, I was not willing to pay anything, and so I sent off what I thought would be a farewell email.

 

Apr. 16, 11:20 am

Dear Angelina Jovovich,

Hope you are doing well also!

I apologize for the delay in correspondence. I am afraid that the over $600 is still just much too pricey for me to pay to publish in your journal. As such, I suppose I will need to just withdraw my article from consideration. I regret that we have let a little thing like money come between us and halt our relationship. Unfortunately some people operate in the way that noted author Pink Floyd wrote about: “Money, it’s a gas; Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash.” Or as poet K. West made sure the world knew, “I ain’t saying she’s a gold digger; but she ain’t messing with no broke retracted.”

Farewell, dear Angelina, and I hope that you get many more submissions from the Indian subcontinent on using cow urine to cure disease.

With utmost and deepest regrets,

Dr. Caleb W Lack

 

 

In case anyone is curious, yes, there was an article about using cow urine to cure disease published in this “journal.” Although I don’t have the empirical evidence to support it, I grew up farming and ranching and, anecdotally, can say that being urinated on by many different cows did nothing to heal me of any diseases I had. On the other hand, I didn’t get sick very often, so maybe there was an effect?

Certainly there would be no further responses, I thought, but little did I know that Angelina was not yet through with me! Less than a day later, I received a new email.

 

 

Apr. 17, 8:29 am

Dear Dr. Caleb W Lack,

Thank you for your response.

Well, we do understand from your end. We would like to inform you that our journal is open access online publishing journal we need to pay for third parties, hence we request you to pay minimum publication charges, so that we will try to convince our financial manager.

Also, we request you to submit your revised manuscript.

Hope you won’t disappoint us this time.

Await your positive comeback.

Regards,

Angelina Jovovich

 

——

Apr. 17, 2:31 pm

Dear Angelina Jovovich,

Thank you for your response to my response about your response.

I am afraid that I will be disappointing you again this time. The manuscript that you request will be, sadly, not forthcoming. It’s almost as if we are now family, given the money you are demanding from me and the disappointment you are showing, so I now name you sister!

Sister Angelina, your disappointment must be great in me. I have let you down this time, and not gently as if being lowered into a cave we are exploring in search of treasure, but instead harshly and with great speed as if you were a bucket and I needed you filled with water to cure the plague victims in our small village.

I can only hope that, in your dark grief you can find solace in the fact that other members of your extended science family will no doubt pay the exorbitant fees required by your journal. I can also hope that your Crimson Publishing bosses (an allusion, perhaps, to their Communist leanings?!?) will not take this rejection out on you and your family, which is now my family, as you are now my sister!

Please give my best to Father and Mother Jovovich, and all our kin still toiling on the communal farms!

Regards,

Dr. Caleb W Lack

 

(It should be noted here that I actually have an amazing nuclear and extended family, just so we are all clear. They are supportive and amazing.)

Surely, I thought, surely there would be no reply to me after this. Turns out I was wrong.

 

Apr. 19, 2:59 am

Dear Dr. Caleb W Lack,

Thank you for your reply.

We request you to pay webhosting charges $150 and to submit your revised manuscript soon.

Hope this finds you well.

Await your positive response.

Regards,

Angelina Jovovich

——

Apr. 23, 3:44 pm

Dear Sister Angelina Jovovich,

It appears that, unlike the rest of the family, you will not shun me, and instead you continue our correspondence!

The fees for webhosting you request seem a bit odd, given that I have actually withdrawn my paper from consideration not once, but twice. However, in the interest of being fair, here is what I propose. I have in my possession a Starbucks giftcard with $8.03 still on it, a $5 off $50 Kohl’s coupon, and about $12 in loose change. Could I get an address to send those to you to cover the costs of webhosting?

Yours in science & familial bonds,

Dr. Caleb W Lack

——

Apr. 24, 7:49 am

Dear Dr. Caleb W Lack,

Thank you for your reply.

Well, we do understand your financial constraints. We always value the scientific knowledge of eminent people like you rather than money, hence we are delighted to inform you that our Financial manager has accepted for full waiver excluding DOI charges too towards publication of your manuscript.

Hence in order to compensate with this Full waiver, I humbly request you to send us another couple of articles, so that we can plan to release upcoming issue at the appropriate time.

Hope you understand my concern.

We await your positive response.

Regards,

Angelina Jovovich

——

Apr. 24, 11:18 am

Dear Sister Angelina Jovovich,

Just to be clear, you are saying you will publish this article and a couple more at no charge at all? If so, then I will happily accept and send you more articles (and a revised version of this one) post-haste!

Yours in science,

Dr. Caleb W Lack

——

Apr. 25, 8:18 am

Dear Dr. Caleb W Lack,

Thank you for your reply.

We would like to inform you that we don’t charge for another couple of articles, look forward to receive your revised manuscript and another articles soon.

Have a Great day!

Regards,

Angelina Jovovich

 

Yes, you read that correctly. Not only did they just give up on getting any money from me for this article but actually wanted to get more articles from me to publish for free at a later date!

That, readers, is the story of how “Induced After-Death Communication or the Case of the Purple Hat Wearing Medium” was published in Advances in Complementary & Alternative Medicine on May 8, 2018.

While I wouldn’t say that it is my finest piece of writing, it nevertheless is a useful example of how to use critical thinking to evaluate a claim for a particular health treatment, as well as providing us all with some laughs this holiday season.

As for the other articles that ACAM wanted from me, I have yet to send them. If you have any ideas about what they should be, feel free to contact me!