Thursday, June 4, 2020

"More Is Not Better" Revisited

I have written many times on the topic of scholarly communication since the very first post to this blog thirteen years ago. The Economist's "Graphic Detail" column this week is entitled How to spot dodgy academic journals. It is about the continuing corruption of the system of academic communication, and features this scary graph. It shows:
  • 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.
Below the fold, some commentary.

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:
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.
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.

1 comment:

David. said...

As regards the oligopoly publishers, MIT Libraries reports that:

"Standing by its commitment to provide equitable and open access to scholarship, MIT has ended negotiations with Elsevier for a new journals contract. Elsevier was not able to present a proposal that aligned with the principles of the MIT Framework for Publisher Contracts."

The framework is gaining adherents:

"More than 100 institutions, ranging from multi-institution consortia to large research universities to liberal arts colleges, decided to endorse the MIT Framework in recognition of its potential to advance open scholarship and the public good."