There have always been hierarchies of academic journals. As the barriers to entry to becoming an academic publisher have dropped, there seems to be an explosion of new journals. Most of us get a few invitations every day to submit to some random publication. Just getting something published may no longer really be an achievement. Given that one of the key criteria for evaluating whether ‘PhD by paper’ should be passed is whether the papers are publishable, it becomes an increasingly tricky exercise when almost any paper could be published somewhere.
To test just how unfussy some of these new open-access journals were, Dr Katarzyna Pisanski, from Sussex University, and three former colleagues from the University of Wroclaw in Poland, created a fake social media profile for Dr Anna O Szust. They sent her CV and a letter requesting a place on the editorial board, to 360 journals. The applications went to three types of journal: 120 went to those on a widely used register meeting strict quality standards; 120 to recognised open-access journals; and 120 to start-ups previously identified as “predatory”. Dr Szust’s credentials, the researchers said, were “dismally inadequate”. Reassuringly, none of the journals in the first group was taken in. Eight in the second group, and an incredible 40 “predatory” journals, offered her a post on their editorial boards. Some requested payment for the privilege; others asked her to organise conferences or solicit submissions, with Dr Szust promised a cut of the proceeds. None unmasked her as a sham