28 Feb 2013

Publish or perish -- or lose money for nothing?

[Warning. Long post.]

This recent piece described the "disintermediation" of publishers as writers found ways to directly reach readers (e.g., this blog), but some people still put a lot of weight on "published" papers and books.

Academic Deans, for example, hire and promote professors based on the number and quality of publications. Putative professors know this, and they put a lot of effort (a year on average) into each paper that's published in journals.

The publish or perish system worked pretty well in the (perhaps imaginary) past, where deans and other professors would be able to judge a candidate's portfolio by reading the papers and noting the journals where they appeared, but this system broke down when more and more professors tried to get published: topics narrowed and journals multiplied to the point where nobody knew what was going on.

Deans and the like started to rely on shortcuts for assessing past progress and judging researchers' futures; they merely counted papers and multiplied them by the "impact factors" of the journals in which they appeared.*

That laziness provided an opening for so-called "predatory publishers" who promised to publish authors' work... for a fee. I discussed these Nigerian scammers in this post, which also led me to Jeffrey Beall's excellent blog on open access publishing and the scams associated with it.

All of these thoughts sprang to the front of my mind when I got this email:
The Journal of Sustainable Watershed Science and Management, JSWSM, is an open access medium for the dissemination of original research articles as well as review articles related to sustainable watershed science and management. We are planning to publish a special issue, March 2013, on Water Allocation and Water Rights. You are invited to submit an article related to your work on Water Rights and Human Rights: The Poor Will Not Need our Charity if We Need their Water.

Journal of Sustainable Watershed Science and Management is a multi-disciplinary Scientific Journal which recognizes watershed as the management unit within which natural resources and environmental management issues are addressed in integrated approaches involving physical, biological, socio-economical, legal and policy prospective as they relate to sustainability. It also recognizes sustainability as a dynamic concept which accommodates all forms of change (e.g., climate, population, land use).

Published articles at JSWSM are ready accessed online without the need for a subscription.

Manuscripts should be submitted online here. I also would appreciate if you can recommend it to other colleagues.
At first, I was excited, since the call matched my paper, and I'm always happy to move a "finished" paper to "published." But then I clicked on the link and looked around. I was worried by the overall "look" of the site [click around, you'll see too many 404s]. Strike two was the lack of any social scientists on the the Board of Advisers. Strike three was that I could get published in march if I submitted by 31 Jan, i.e., "instant acceptance." Strike four? Atlas Publishing, LP was on Beall's list of predatory publishers.

So I emailed (asking "Please explain how Atlas is NOT a predatory publisher...") and got this reply from (Abdel)majid Kassem of Atlas:
First, thank you for your interest in publishing your work with Atlas Publishing. Second, most of the claims in the website below are not applicable to Atlas Publishing journals which are of high quality with high quality editorial boards. For each journal, the Editor-in-Chief is the one that takes decision about accepted manuscripts in the journal. All articles are peer-reviewed by experts in their fields.

We will look into the website [Beall's] and contact its owner/author. Authors including yourself are free to submit (or not to submit) their articles to Atlas journals. If you have any more specific question, please let us know.
To this I replied:
(1) Is your journal open access? Is there a fee to publish, either way?

(2) What's your acceptance rate % and impact rating?
Majid replied with:
(1) Yes, all our journals are Open Access. This is the way to go from now on. I just came from the Plant and Animal Genome Conference XXI in San Diego and there was a Plenary Session about the OA vs. the traditional way of publishing... It was outstanding. And as you know more and more Governmental Agencies are encouraging OA. The answer to the second part of your question is yes. Atlas journals charge authors or their institutions a small fee of $309.99 to cover the expenses of running the website, etc.

(2) It depends on the journal. For JSWSM, I think it is around 60-65% but I have to dig in to get the exact number.
Now I was convinced that the journal was not as scholarly as I'd like ($310 to maintain a website?), and told them that I'd pass on submitting for the special issue (literally "I'll pass"). Majid replied with:
As you know, different people have different opinions about different things and this applies to Publishers and journals as well. I respect Dr. Beall's opinion a bout Atlas Publishing; however, I disagree with his assessment.

We are one of many publishers in the OA world and we will remain committed to our mission. Again, authors can make their own choices about where to publish their work and that is fine.
I replied:
Yes, opinions vary, but I am interested in clear expectations and results.

Can you tell me how many authors have submitted a second paper to your journal(s). Any how many of them are published two or more times?

I'd like to get their opinion -- as authors -- of Atlas, so any email contacts would be welcomed.
To this email, Majid gave me the eight emails, and I send this to them:
Subject: Is the Journal of Sustainable Watershed Science and Management legitimate or a scam?

Dear colleagues,

The publisher and managing editor of JSWSM (cc'd) gave me your emails after I inquired for the names of authors who have multiple publication at this journal.

I am curious to know if you think that publication with JSWSM has been both legitimate and productive to your academic research. Or is the journal -- and Atlas Publishing -- more of a scam vehicle (Beall is also cc'd)?

I know that we face a lot of pressure to publish or perish these days, and I really don't care about the name of the journal as much as a good refereeing process and decent distribution mechanism, but there are a number of shady journals popping up that offer publication for a fee that's more about income than academic integrity.

Atlas charges $309.99 to "pay for the website," for example...

So, please do give me your opinions, experiences and thoughts on these matters.

And, yes, I know that you may have a favorable bias due to past publication, so tell me if you'd recommend this journal to a colleague (e.g., chair of your department) or submit there again.
One of them sent a long reply, which I include here with my replies in italics:
Dear Dr. Zetland and Beall,

Following your email to me; I asked for your communications with/about Atlas Publishing to be forwarded to me and I am giving you here the answers you are looking for:

1. Unlike your claim of the Nigerian scam, we live in the US where every penny is to be reported to the IRS, therefore, try to keep some credibility by learning to compare Apple vs Apple and more important to be fair:

Atlas Publishing is registered in the US, NC, ATlas Tax return (public info) is that shows income and expenses is a public record (Ref: ATLAS PUBLISHING LP; EIN # 27-4313913).

You will discover that For 2011, Atlas's income was $3001, $2187; Net income $814) I do not think that Dr. Kassem will be rich from this business, knowing the amount of hours he is putting into this, he is better off mowing his neighbour grass 10 hours a year to make more than the $814.

I am glad to see that Dr. Kassem is not in this for the money, rather for scholarly inquiry, but those figures divided by the submission fee of $310 implies that Atlas published about 9 papers in 2011. Is that possible for one journal, let alone several? Or did some authors not pay? [Turns out Atlas published 4 in 2011 and 5 in 2012.]

By the way Dr. Beall:Dr. Kassem is an American citizen, he did not forget his Moroccan origins "Knowing that Moroccans who helped the allies first getting rid of the Nazi's in world word II, did help building most of western Europe after the War and are now suffering from xenophobia and racism in Dr. Zetland's wonderful country: Holland").

Dr. Kassem is proud of his heritage and is always looking forward to support minorities and under-represented groups; and I will give you now the motivations behind his dedication to open access publishing, and I fully support it)

I agree, of course, and there's nothing in my words, emails or thoughts about ANYONE's nationality. It's a pity that there are racists in the US, NL and Morocco, but I am not one of them. This is about SCHOLARSHIP.

2. Atlas was created to help and assist and connect labs and researchers in developing countries and poor laboratories in the world (believe me, you will find labs and scientist who can not afford paying access to publications also in the US and most Western Europe) with other scientists in the world, to publish, get connected and access to the world of research and science without having to pay the heavy fess/taxes/toll imposed by the big publishing companies.

Thats why Atlas prices were low to accommodate certain clientele that do not have that luxury. In fact, exemptions were given to lot of scientists who published with Atlas, and you are welcome to check into that.

Perhaps these exceptions explain the lack of revenue? It's difficult, I understand, to get a journal going, but perhaps it's better to have an editorial board and good reviews BEFORE accepting papers? Reputation, after all, is more important than revenues. The reason that I decided NOT to submit my paper is that I want a good vetting system. I can distribute the working paper, for free, if quality does not matter....

3. Atlas Publishing web site has been hacked frequently lately, I wonder why someone care about a small web publishing house to hack their web site frequently, if its not to try to destroy web publishing and open access from its root.

No idea. Change your password?

4. I understand that the big guys (the big publishing houses and of course some librarians) are loosing little share of this market to the online open access and of course with this, some people are worried about their job security, however, I subscribe to the philosophy that scientific publications should be accessible for free to help science to be accessible to everyone.

And I agree with you, and so does Jeffrey. Librarians are suffering the most from excessive subscription fees, as you know. See this.

5. If you are bothered by ATlas publishing's statement: APLP is committed to The Open Access Movement initiated by several corporations, publishers, and nonprofit organizations such as Biomed Central (BMC), the Public Library of Science (PLoS), and many others. Dr. Kassem is not going to change it.

Nor should he. He only needs to attain PLoS levels of quality...

Now, I suggest that you take your intimidation's somewhere else, we live in a free country, where people from different origins could claim to the top, and could have dreams such as being President of the great Nation on earth. Again and its free country and so will be the future of accessing published work!

I am not sending any intimidation. I am a scholar and I ask questions. Atlas has to show its bona fides if it's going to claim legitimacy and get off Beall's list of predatory publishers (moved, perhaps, to a list of not quite professional publishers).

Yes, the US is a free country, but that doesn't include freedom to lie. I'm not saying that anyone here is; I am saying that freedom only works with trust and transparency.

Atlas Publishing is small, with few editors behind it, but, everything start small and grow with the time. Open Access is the way to go!!!.

I hope that this email clarify things Dr. Beall will remove ATlas Publishing from his famous web list, I wounder who is funding that web site?

I will let Beall decide who to keep and who to remove, but WordPress accounts cost less than $100 per year. I'm guessing that he, like me, pays his own costs...
I got nothing from them after that.

Bottom Line: It's difficult to say who's a scammer and who isn't in this fast-developing area of institutional failure (and there have been lawsuits by those disinclined to show their bona fides), but I've learned two things: (1) BOTH readers and authors need beware academic journals that are not; (2) I'm glad that blogging is faster, more transparent and free :)

* I co-authored a paper describing these problems and proposing a solution (auctions) that would improve the quality of papers, the match between papers and journals, and valuing the importance of papers and authors' careers.
Addendum: Do not take this post as an attack on innovation in publishing or better options for authors; it's also not a defense of incumbents that have their own problems [see this and this]. I am just trying to point out the importance of craft in the academic world, i.e., doing it right.


  1. Don't worry David. If it's not in ISI it's not submitting your paper to anyway, at least in WUR's crediting system.

  2. @Rolf -- Don't worry, I know how ISI is worthless for measuring REAL "impact" :)


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