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Our friend Ravi Murugesan, a Mumbai-based teacher of scientific writing, shared a story about a Sudanese researcher who contacted him asking for help.

Another journal to avoid.

Ravi writes,

A researcher from Sudan wrote to me asking if I can help him find funds to pay the APC for his paper that’s just been accepted. I noticed that the journal in question, Sci-Afric Journal of Scientific Issues, Research and Essays, is on your list. The researcher has helpfully forwarded the email from the journal, which I’ve attached below. He submitted the paper on the 10th of this month [September, 2014], and the acceptance notice was sent on the 16th. Almost instant gratification!

And how efficient: the editor has done all the work in assimilating the results of the “thorough review” done by a “team of reviewers” and has been kind enough to not trouble the author by sending on the reviewer reports. After all, authors simply want to get published, not deal with reviewers or their comments!

Some revealing things in the editor’s email:

  1. The author is addressed as “dear respected” and his paper is commended as having “universal acceptability”. For people in some developing countries, the concept of respect is important. Flattery of authors’ work and quick decisions must be part of the strategies employed by editors of predatory journals to build their clientele.
  1. There is no organizational affiliation or address mentioned in the editor’s signature. He has titled himself as “professor”, and I think it’s only right to say where he’s a professor. But no, all we get to know is that he’s based in the “Sci-Afric Research House”. I suspect this is the editor’s own residence.
  1. There’s a mention of “gallery proof” in the editor’s email. One would think that the editor of a journal, even if he’s a non-native speaker of English, would be aware of the right terminology (it is “galley proof”).
  2. The acceptance letter includes the grand signature of the editor. In my experience working in developing countries, a signed document (whether electronic or paper) puts people at ease. Many people think unsigned documents are not authentic.

Predatory publishers probably use veneers of authority — indicating they’re based in some kind of a “research house”, giving signed acceptance letters — to assure their naive (or wily) authors that they are running real journals.

The tag line is not true.

After I received this from Ravi, I wrote back and expressed surprise that a researcher from a poor country like Sudan would even have to pay article processing charges, as the open-access movement has made it clear that APCs should not be a barrier to economically disadvantaged researchers.

He responded,

If predatory publishers waive APCs, they would likely go out of business! Maybe open access advocates think of PLOS, BioMed Central, or even well-run regional journals when they promote open access, but the reality is that these are out of reach for many developing country researchers who have not been sufficiently trained in research methodology and research writing. And they have restricted opportunities for research funding. Those are the real issues to address.

The editors of predatory journals — and peer reviewers, if any — have no interest in giving feedback to the authors to help them improve their papers or future research methods. It could well be that they are not in any position to give feedback.

This is a fascinating story, and we are grateful to Ravi for sharing both perspectives — his and the Sudanese researcher’s — with us.

Hat tip: Ravi Murugesan