The Dot-Gold Rush

From: Stevan Harnad <amsciforum_at_GMAIL.COM>
Date: Mon, 14 Jul 2008 08:39:48 -0400

On Mon, 14 Jul 2008, Richard Poynder wrote:

> Thanks to everyone who helped me when I was writing about Bentham Science
> Publishers:
> I am now researching another OA publisher [SJI], and would be grateful for
> any further help list members might be able to provide...

There seems to be a growing epidemic of quick Gold-OA journal fleet
start-ups, based on next to no scholarly/scientific or
publishing experience or expertise, and relying heavily on
online spamming. The numbers are high enough to have inspired
a fraud-alert/spam-warning series on Guenther Eysenbach's blog:
and now Richard Poynder's investigative studies.

The warning sign is always fleet start-ups (in both sense of "fleet"),
from Elsevier/Springer wannabes: By quickly starting a bunch of
journals, you can treat them all as a database, and treat peer review
as automatized software. Journals can now be irregular, "published" as
papers are accepted, rather than bundled by issue (which is just fine,
for an established journal, but for a start-up fleet, it means journals
can come and go, the author and archival perenity be damned: it's survival
of the fittest -- fittest to generate either self-sustaining revenue or a
quick pull-out for the publisher...) An honest new journal start-up is
always just one journal.

Here are some observations on this unwelcome phenomenon that risks
giving OA a bad name:

  (1) Gold OA fever (a general yearning for OA that has sometimes taken
  the specific form of an urgent desire for Gold OA journals) has
  created a climate in which some people think there is money to be
  made by starting up new OA journals. They think that because most
  established journals are unwilling to convert to Gold, they can
  attract their authors away from them (and charge the authors for it).

  (2) Some of the Gold OA startups are completely inexperienced in
  peer-reviewed journal publishing and peer review. They imagine it is
  largely a matter of cheap online solicitations, with minimal human
  involvement and maximal reliance on mass emailing, to solicit editors,
  reviewers and authors.

  (3) Some of them do minimal, low-quality peer review, and some of them
  (like SJI) perhaps next to none.

  (4) These quick-Gold start-ups will all fail, in short order (as
  many conventional journal start-ups also do, in an already-saturated
  market). Electronic start-ups (whether OA or non-OA) are so much
  cheaper -- or so it seems to the dot-com-minded entrepreneur --
  that it is now a low-risk, minimal-investment venture to try to
  "create" a fleet of journals through nothing but email spamming.

  (5) The reason the startups will fail is not just that their
  practices are shoddy and their quality standards low or nonexistent,
  but because what research needs is free access to the contents of
  the established peer-reviewed journals, with their track-records for
  quality-control and selectivity, not fly-by-night start-ups
  that try to attract their authors away from the established journals.
  (We already have more than enough journals, and the market is
  saturated. What is needed is better selection for quality, not
  greater quantity.)

  (6) The fact that well-meaning research funders and even universities
  are foolishly willing to throw money at Gold OA (instead of just
  mandating Green OA) is also helping to encourage these quick-money
  Dot-Gold fast-OA start-ups.

None of this is doing the reputation of either OA or Gold OA or even
peer-reviewed journal publishing any good. Gold OA fever and the
economies of the online medium attract quick-money-minded know-nothings
to what used to be an honorable scholarly/scientific trade: peer-reviewed
journal publishing. It must be admitted that the trade had already been
in decline since before OA and even before the online medium, with (some)
publishers becoming big, price-inflated fleets of journals, many with
low peer-review standards. But the Dot-Gold Rush has carried this to
grotesque ends, because it did not even have to worry about building
up a subscriber base by generating a credible journal: It just charged
authors, already eager for publication, and if the articles ended up in
a soon-dead "journal", no skin off the "publisher's" nose.

It has always been part of the strategy of starting up a journal to
attract a distinguished (and sometimes unused) "Editorial Board" to
attract authors and reviewers. Authors have always been lured by the
need and greed to publish, trading off the fact that a journal was new
with the fact that it was more hungry to accept one's paper. Scholars
and scientists have always accepted to join new journals' editorial
boards (usually after being assured the workload would be light) for the
added luster it gave their CVs. Referees refereed willingly for free,
partly out of superstition, partly out of duty, partly out of interest
in the subject matter.

(None of this is new: I myself have done every single one of these
things: started up new journals in this way, joined start-up editorial
boards under these conditions, published articles in start-up (and later
discontinued) journals, etc. The only difference is that these
practices, which are legitimate up to a point, as long as the motivation
is scientific/scholarly and not financial or self-promotional, are now
being taken to a grotesque extreme because of the ease of entry into
online publishing and a perceived instability in the traditional journal
publishing trade, owing to the growing clamor for OA.)

Dot-Gold startups will come and go, but alas the long wait for OA is
still on, and these unadmirable diversions and digressions are not doing
OA's image or progress any good at all. (And meanwhile Green OA
slef-archiving, from which there is no money to be made at all, still
languishes, underexploited...)

Richard Poynder is doing a great service by helping to distance OA
explicitly from these tempting and growing abuses.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Mon Jul 14 2008 - 16:08:34 BST

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