8 Oct 2012

Nigerians scams and the decline of research

I've been following changes in the world of academic publishing ever since I wrote on the failure of academic publishing -- and how to fix it.*

Now I see a new development in that trend: "academic publishers" offering to publish articles in an open access format, for a fee. International Scholars Journals and International Research Journals have been spamming my inbox with requests to referee papers (for free) that are laughably bad in their most basic components.

Why are they sending such poor quality papers? Because their real goal is not advancing academic knowledge but collecting money from authors who need publications for professional advancement.** Why do they keep spamming me? Because there's nothing like free labor to help them collect money.

Bottom Line: Academic publication is breaking down due to an over-reliance on publish or perish incentives. There are too many papers in too many journals for anyone to read. That means that academics cannot reconcile different views, reject poor work or even understand all the dimensions of topics in which they are supposed to be experts. We're moving towards collective ignorance as we pile papers so high that we cannot see out of our offices.
* Read Tim Haab's funny sad version of the long, tedious and demeaning process.

** Note that these guys are only slightly less good for academics. Existing journals (e.g., the American Economic Review) have also been expanding their supply of publication slots (by issuing four new sub-journals) to meet rising demand. I got an email this morning that listed 240 experimental economics papers on three related protocols. How can someone hope to read all 240 of these to find where their work fits, let alone understand the "state of the art" in those areas? (Forget "economics," I can't even keep track of water economics!)
Addendum: Wow. This is a big problem. Check out (via EW) “Beall’s list of predatory open-access journals