- Rapid but roughly linear growth in the number of "reliable" journals launched each year. About three times as many were launched in 2018 as in 1978.
- Explosive growth since 2010 in the number of "predatory" journals launched each year. In 2018 almost half of all journals launched were predatory.
If the growth of "predatory" journals is maintained, it will soon be difficult to find the "reliable" journals in the swamp. In 2015's Stretching the "peer reviewed" brand until it snaps, I noted:
a trend publishers themselves started many years ago of stretching the "peer reviewed" brand by proliferating journals. If your role is to act as a gatekeeper for the literature database, you better be good at being a gatekeeper. Opening the gate so wide that anything can get published somewhere is not being a good gatekeeper.The predatory publishers are just following the lead of the oligopoly publishers, stretching the "peer-reviewed" brand even further by never actually doing any peer review. I pointed out that it isn't only publishers who have incentives to pollute science by publishing "fake science" in 2016's More Is Not Better :
Even if there is no actual misconduct, the bad incentives will still cause bad science to proliferate via natural selection, or the scientific equivalent of Gresham's Law that "bad money drives out good". The Economist's Incentive Malus, subtitled Poor scientific methods may be hereditary, is based on The natural selection of bad science by Paul E. Smaldino and Richard McElreath, which starts:The rise of predatory publishing is yet another societal cost arising from the oligopoly publishers' rent extraction. Predatory publishing is profitable only because it can operate on much lower margins than the oligopoly publishers' grossly inflated margins. If "reliable" journals "article processing charges" were close to the cost of actually processing an article, which does not include peer review carried out by volunteers, the incentives for predatory publishing would be insufficient.
Poor research design and data analysis encourage false-positive findings. Such poor methods persist despite perennial calls for improvement, suggesting that they result from something more than just misunderstanding. The persistence of poor methods results partly from incentives that favour them, leading to the natural selection of bad science. This dynamic requires no conscious strategizing—no deliberate cheating nor loafing—by scientists, only that publication is a principal factor for career advancement.