An over-reliance on publishing has left scientists prey to unscrupulous practices
In Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll writes: ‘Humans are animals that like to write letters’. To paraphrase, ‘Scientists are animals who like to publish papers’. Or maybe it’s not that they like to, but because they have to. Early career researchers in particular are under constant pressure from the publish or perish culture of academia, where the metrics used to assess researchers primarily focus on number of publications rather than quality. It’s therefore not surprising that some academics fall prey to predatory publication practices.
This piece looks at the forces driving predatory publishers, why they should be avoided and reflects on what needs to change. Even though the story does not some researchers intentionally use such sham titles to have quick guaranteed publication, we prefer the term questionable publishers, to reflect that the relationship is often more mutual (more collaborating scammers trying to trick the research incentives system, rather than predator and prey). Our approach to recognising and rewarding research practice needs to change. The sausage factor approach that rewards the volume of published papers needs to shift to incentivising positive behaviour that constructively to the quality of research culture, mentoring end responsible and leadership.
As long as researchers continue to show an insatiable appetite to publish as quickly as they can in journals with high impact factors, it is almost impossible to eradicate predatory publishing. And this appetite will continue as long as publications are the main tangible outcome of scientific endeavours – as long as they are what make researchers visible to their peers and help them move up the academic ladder.
To create a thriving research community, we need to stop using peer reviewed publications as the main marker of success. Instead we need to find stable funding scenarios for supporting scientists, provide sustainable career growth trajectories, and develop a system that protects the interests of science. The academic community needs to value intangible work such as inculcating scientific rigour and ethics, and fostering leadership qualities in mentees.