"Predatory publishers" and their effect
Who wouldn't want that: a new remedy for the suffering that has been plaguing you for years, and is perhaps even life-threatening. The new product eliminates pain, rejuvenates cells and prevents cancer without any side effects. Unfortunately, this sounds too good to be true - unless it is scientifically confirmed by publications or lectures. But can you still rely on that?
A scientific publication is the means by which new findings are made generally known. This can take the form of a lecture or a presentation at a specialist congress; however, the most common means of scientific publication is the specialist article. A scientific publication is on the one hand proof of the correctness of the published results and on the other hand a guarantor for the quality of the scientific work which led to the results. This is ensured by a specific process called "peer review".
During "peer review" articles are submitted to other scientists in the same field for evaluation before being published. Then there are three options: First, the submitted work corresponds to the scientific standards and the article is accepted for publication. Secondly, the article has scientific shortcomings, which can be remedied, for example, by further experiments; after the additional experiments and the corresponding changes to the article have been carried out, the article is accepted for publication; or thirdly, the scientific quality of the submitted work is insufficient and/or the plausibility of the presented results is so doubtful that a publication cannot be approved and the article is consequently rejected. The idea behind this process is a kind of self-regulation - the scientific community ensures that a high standard is maintained by having competitors in the field as reviewers. Flawed work or incorrect results are thought to be sorted out before disseminating. Finally, the sum of all publications of a certain subject area also represents the sum of the knowledge from this subject area - thus, everyone working in science has a great self-interest that this knowledge pool remains "clean".
Of course, specialist publishers don't work for free either. Therefore, most articles can be read only after paying a fee. As with any other magazine, there are subscriptions or you can purchase individual articles. Today, most scientific journals are available digitally in addition to a printed version. Unfortunately, money is often a scarce resource, especially in research circles: therefore, not all researchers may be able to read all articles, e.g. because the institute concerned cannot afford to subscribe to all journals. It was therefore necessary to reduce the costs for potential readers. Thus, over time, purely digital specialist journals emerged, which reduced the reading fee by also demanding a one-off amount from the authors for the publication of their articles. This had the advantage of making the respective articles accessible to a wider (scientific) audience; and through the unchanged peer review process, the quality of the publications continued to be guaranteed ("open access").
A few years ago - initially unnoticed by the scientific community - a negative development set in: so-called "predatory publishers" emerged, which made their journals and articles available to readers free of charge, but which in turn charged authors ever higher fees. At the same time, the process of peer review was further and further reduced until it was no longer carried out at all by some of them. Sometimes articles were published without further examination as long as the fee was paid. This circumstance, in turn, was exploited by people who wanted to give their illegal businesses a reliable appearance with the help of a "scientific publication". As a result, suddenly appeared suitable publications for every "miracle cure", which naturally had a positive effect on the sales figures. The "scientific proof" of effectiveness and harmlessness gives it a positive, reliable appearance to the product and a safe feeling to the customer.
Another phenomenon are the so-called "predatory conferences": these are seemingly scientific conferences where it is no longer checked beforehand whether the lecturers are serious scientists with credible lecture contents. Rather, admission to a lecture depends mainly on whether the relatively high participation fee for the conference has been paid.
The "predatory publishers" that have emerged in recent years pose a major problem to the scientific world since they have shaken confidence in the quality of published results. The possibility of publishing almost everything under a "scientific cover" also has a negative effect for the consumer: the existence of scientific publications on a certain product or topic is no longer a reliable quality feature. How can a layperson tell whether the scientifically proof for the efficacy or safety of a particular product is credible or fraudulent? It is necessary to be careful, because scientific publications have not only the original character of information, but also great "advertising value".
Jeffrey Beall, a retired librarian of the University of Colorado in Denver, first published a list of suspected predatory publishers in 2010. This list is regularly updated and can be accessed here.
The library homepage of the renowned California Institute of Technology (CalTech) contains a list of predatory conferences and a list of predatory publishers. Both are available here.