In sheep’s clothing


By Philip Fine

A researcher agrees to organize a symposium only to realize that it is a sham, attracting no well-respected academics beyond those whom she personally invites.

It is becoming an all too familiar tale, according to Dr. Eduardo Franco, who writes extensively on the subject of predatory publishing and vanity conferences.

Most recently, it happened to a colleague of Franco’s. “The scientist fell for this,” says Franco, sympathetically, explaining that organizers offer incentives such as keynote speeches to legitimate academics to gain access to their professional networks. “His registration fee was waived but the people he invited paid full fee.”

As a con, it is common, says Franco, Chair, Gerald Bronfman Department of Oncology, James McGill Professor in the departments of Oncology and Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, and Director, Division of Cancer Epidemiology.

A revolution has taken place in academic publishing, with online open-access journals offering authors the opportunity to share their published papers online in exchange for a fee. But it has spawned predatory publishing, a growing phenomenon that is estimated to have increased exponentially from 18 publishers in 2011 to 1,155 at the beginning of last year. The vanity conference is an offshoot of that, luring academics to pay fees for low-attendance events.

While many of the companies are based in India and China, Franco has discovered multiple journal names using random U.S. residential addresses. Franco recently convinced McGill to include in its letters of offer, promotion and reappointment to professors a directive that their scholarly contributions “be published only in well-established and credible scientific journals that employ rigorous peer review.” Franco still sees an uphill battle ahead. “Right now, the predatory publishers are ahead, but by raising awareness and being more diligent, we can turn the trend around.”

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