From East-west-research Jiscmail list
March 4, 2012
'Predatory' Online Journals Lure Scholars Who Are Eager to Publish
By Michael Stratford
Amy L. Reynolds, an associate dean at Louisiana State University's Manship
School of Mass Communication, had never heard of the Journal of Mass
Communication and Journalism when she first received an e-mail soliciting
submissions for it. But she took a quick look at the journal's Web site,
recognized some friends and colleagues on its editorial board, and sent a
note about the publishing opportunity to all of her school's graduate
That's a decision Ms. Reynolds says she now regrets. Several weeks later,
she was shocked to learn that one of her doctoral students had submitted
research to the journal and received an $1,800 invoice in return. Even
though the student refused to pay the fee and withdrew the paper, the
journal published it. To make matters worse, the version that was posted
online contained several mistakes, including a formatting error that made it
appear the student had plagiarized someone else's work.
As Ms. Reynolds and the student found out, OMICS Publishing Group, the
company that runs the journal, is an open-access publisher operating under
an author-pays model. Unlike traditional journal subscriptions in which
readers or institutions pay to read content, OMICS relies on its
contributors for financial support.
Although the author-pays model is not a new phenomenon in the realm of open
access, its recent popularity has attracted some companies that try to
exploit it. Some legitimate, peer-reviewed journals support themselves on
the author-pays model, but other journals using the model are essentially
vanity publishers that accept virtually any article to collect fees from the
authors. The distinction between those two extremes, though, is not always
OMICS insists that it falls squarely into the legitimate camp. With more
than 12,000 Facebook fans, 200 journals, about 20,000 editorial board
members, and dozens of conferences each year, the company says it is
positioning itself to become a leader in open-access scholarship. But
numerous authors, faculty members, and open-access advocates have raised
concerns about the practices of OMICS and the quality of its journals. In
some cases, faculty members say they were named to editorial boards without
their consent and cannot get OMICS to remove their names. Some authors
allege that despite the company's claims, their articles were not peer
reviewed and have even contained mistakes that should have been corrected in
previous drafts. Others say the company's fees, which can be as high as
several thousand dollars, are excessive and are not transparent.
In the case of the LSU student whose work was published without her
permission, a firmly worded e-mail from Ms. Reynolds eventually prompted
OMICS to remove the student's paper from the Journal of Mass Communication
Ms. Reynolds said she was appalled at how the company handled the situation
and feels duped. Before she forwarded the journal's call for papers to her
students, she said she took a cursory look at OMICS.
"It had a professional look," she said. "It never occurred to me to do any
meaningful due diligence."
The OMICS Web site has a professional appearance, but a closer look reveals
a significant number of typographical errors and grammatical mistakes. The
site boasts "special features," like the ability to use social media to
discuss journal articles, that would be obvious to a typical Internet user.
For instance, OMICS touts the availability of articles translated into 50
different languages, but the translation feature merely directs users to the
free Google Translate service.
Journals like those run by OMICS often appeal to prospective contributors in
part because of their quick turnaround time; it usually takes just several
weeks to have an article reviewed, accepted, and published. For graduate
students and junior faculty members under pressure to publish, a company's
promise of such a short review process can be an attractive prospect. By
contrast, the review process at established print journals can last for
The speedy process for publishing an article, which OMICS widely promotes as
within 21 days, was one attribute that attracted Ms. Reynolds. But in
retrospect, she said, it should have been a red flag. She was also lulled
into a sense of security, she added, when she recognized the names of
several friends and colleagues listed as being on the journal's editorial
The editorial boards of the OMICS journals, which typically list several
dozen members, serve to attract submissions as well as the support of those
who serve on those boards. For some faculty, joining OMICS editorial boards
appears to offer an easy means of professional advancement. Several
professors and researchers said they agreed to serve on OMICS editorial
boards to add a line to their résumés; others said they joined because were
intrigued by a new journal in their field of study. Nearly all of the
half-dozen editorial board members contacted for this story had limited
knowledge of how OMICS operates and how the peer-review process works.
Several members of the editorial board of the Journal of Mass Communication
said they agreed to sign on because they, like Ms. Reynolds, had recognized
people already on the editorial board.
Yahya R. Kamalipour, a professor of mass and international communication at
Purdue University, said that even though he was on the editorial board, he
had minimal contact with the company and did not know it charged authors
publication fees. After learning about the fees, Mr. Kamalipour resigned
from the board. He said he felt the company was insufficiently transparent
and he objected to the practice of charging what he considers to be high
"Operations like this have taken advantage of the technology and the
eagerness of junior faculty and graduate students to publish and establish a
record, by charging them an unreasonable amount of money," Mr. Kamalipour
said. "I do not think that taking advantage of graduate students or junior
faculty members is a good policy."
Another former member of the mass-communication journal's editorial board,
Thomas J. Johnson, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at
Austin, also said he resigned from the editorial board because he thought
the company was not upfront about its fees.
Agreeing to be on the editorial board in the first place "isn't something I
gave a lot of thought to," he said. "In hindsight, I should have
Mr. Johnson said he was particularly annoyed that he had to send the company
three messages of resignation before it agreed to remove him from the board.
OMICS responded to his first two e-mails by pleading with him to remain on
the board, he said.
OMICS's fee structure is not mentioned anywhere on its home page, but it is
included at the bottom of submission instructions on the individual journal
pages. Different journals appear to charge different fees, which range from
$900 for a paper from an author in a low-income country, like India, to
$3,600 for a paper from those in a high-income country like the United
States. OMICS uses the World Bank's classification for determining a
country's income category.
Ripe for Abuse
The practice of charging authors to have their work published is not
inherently problematic, said Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of
Colorado at Denver, who tracks open-access publishers that operate on an
"There is nothing wrong with the model itself," Mr. Beall said, citing
author-pays publishers he considers to be legitimate, like the Public
Library of Science (PLoS). But, he said, because the author-pays system
features an inherent conflict of interest—publishers make more money if they
accept more articles—it is ripe for abuse.
Such abuse is becoming more prevalent, Mr. Beall said. On his blog Scholarly
Open Access, he keeps a running list of what he calls "predatory"
open-access publishers. Mr. Beall said he uncovers one new predatory journal
or publishing company about every week, and his list now totals more than 50
publishers and individual journals.
Mr. Beall defines a "predatory" publisher as one whose main goal is to
generate profits rather than promote academic scholarship. Such publishers,
he said, "add little value to scholarship, pay little attention to digital
preservation, and operate using fly-by-night, unsustainable business
OMICS has earned Beall's "predatory" distinction, along with other
open-access publishers like Insight Knowledge, Knowledgia Scientific, and
InTech. Also on the list is Bentham Open, which attracted attention in 2009
when it accepted for publication a nonsensical article that had been written
by a computer program and submitted by a graduate student who questioned the
journal's claims of peer review.
The owner of OMICS, Srinu Babu Gedela, said that his company is not a
"predatory publisher" but an organization poised to become a "leading player
in making science open access." Mr. Gedela said he was prompted to start
open-access journals because he had difficulty getting access to academic
literature when he was a Ph.D. student at Andhra University in India.
Mr. Gedela, 29, started his first open-access journal in 2008 and began
several more journals in 2009 as he started OMICS. Over the past two years,
the company has significantly increased the number of journals it publishes,
adding its 200th two weeks ago, the Journal of Integrative Oncology. The
journals tend to focus on hard sciences but cover a broad range of topics,
including thermodynamics, dentistry, and hotel management.
But only about 60 percent of those journals have actually published
anything, according to what can be seen on the company's Web site. Of those
journals that do have content, many have started within the past several
months and feature only one or two issues.
Mr. Gedela, who agreed to answer questions only by e-mail, declined to
comment on his company's financial situation. But he said some of the
initial support for OMICS came from alumni of Stanford University while he
was a postdoctoral student there. (Mr. Gedela was at Stanford for just three
months, according to the university, even though the minimum postdoctoral
appointment is nine months.) He said he provided the rest of the financing
"I invested most of my scholarship money in starting and managing the
journals during my Ph.D. and postdoc period," he wrote.
The company has about 500 employees and operates mostly out of Hyderabad,
India, according to Mr. Gedela. Even though much of the company's e-mail
correspondence lists a Los Angeles address, the company does not have a
physical office there. The Los Angeles address, and a Nevada address that is
also used on the company's Web site, serve merely as mailing addresses for
OMICS has also come under fire for how it recruits people to serve on its
editorial board. The company regularly sends mass e-mails to professional
listservs to find potential editorial board members and solicit submissions.
One science blogger dubbed the company "spammer of the month."
Others say they have received invitations to the editorial boards of
journals that are unrelated to their area of expertise. Steven H. Caplan, an
associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University
of Nebraska Medical Center, posted on his blog an e-mail OMICS sent him
inviting him to serve on the editorial board of a chemical-engineering
Robert K. Vincent, a professor of geology at Bowling Green State University,
is listed as a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Earth Science
& Climatic Change. Mr. Vincent said he was "pretty confident" that he never
agreed to be on the editorial board, but he did remember receiving several
e-mails from OMICS soliciting his membership. After learning from a reporter
that his name was on the journal's Web site, Mr. Vincent e-mailed OMICS his
resignation from the board but said he had not heard back from the company
in nearly a month. As of last week his name was still listed on the
journal's site as a member of the editorial board. Other scholars writing on
blogs and Internet forums have described their surprise at finding
themselves listed on editorial boards of OMICS.
Mr. Gedela said OMICS finds editorial board members through the conferences
it organizes and suggestions from other editorial board members, in addition
to recruiting through mass e-mail.
OMICS seeks "written agreement" by e-mail from people before placing them on
the editorial boards of its journals, Mr. Gedela said. But resigning from an
editorial board, as Mr. Gedela describes it, appears to be more difficult.
"There has to be a valid reason (time factor etc) for resigning from the
editorial board, as it [is] an honorable position," he wrote in an e-mail.
"We verify a lot of things before removing [someone] from the editorial
board. ... It is [a] somewhat lengthy process."
The quality of work in the OMICS journals appears to vary widely. The
company says that it rejects 30 percent of submissions due to poor quality
and that each article is reviewed by a minimum of two reviewers, except for
"rare cases" in which only one person reviews an article.
But in some cases, that peer-review process does not appear to have
happened. Last year, for example, the company's Journal of Earth Science &
Climatic Change published a paper that suggested a causal link between
Stonehenge and global climate change. The paper was written by Otis D.
Williams, a Detroit man with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice who
says he taught himself physics and biology in the past 10 years. In the
published paper, Mr. Williams posits that Earth is literally a living
organism and that Stonehenge is evidence of an infection on the European
continent. Global climate change, he argues, is Earth's immune system
responding to the infection with "fever and chills."
OMICS has since removed the paper from its site, but Mr. Williams said in an
interview that it should never have been published in the first place. He
says he explicitly told OMICS not to publish the article, which he planned
to revise, after it sought to charge him a $1,600 publication fee. Mr.
Williams said he rejected a second offer of an $800 fee and was displeased
to learn that the company published the article anyway. Compounding his
frustration, he said, was the fact that the journal included his home
address and telephone number in the published article.
Beyond the logistical disputes over publication of the article, Mr. Williams
said that he never received any reviewer's reports or comments from an
editor. In an e-mail, Mr. Gedela said that the journal assigned Mr.
Williams' article to five reviewers. He directed further comments on the
matter to one of his employees, an associate managing editor, who did not
respond to e-mails asking for comment.
OMICS removes from its site about one out of every 300 articles published
because of an author's request or for quality reasons, according to Mr.
Gedela. Each month, the company publishes 800 to 900 articles, he said.
While the Stonehenge paper appears to represent a lapse of quality control
at one OMICS journal, some of the company's other titles have produced
well-received scholarship. For instance, the Journal of Bioterrorism and
Biodefense last year published a paper—written by a renowned anthrax expert,
Martin E. Hugh-Jones, and two co-authors—that challenged aspects of the
FBI's investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks. The chairwoman of the
Government Accountability Office said at the time that the paper raised
questions that deserved further consideration.
Mr. Hugh-Jones, who is a professor emeritus at Louisiana State University,
said he was impressed with the rigor of the journal's editorial process,
including the peer review. But he noted that the quality of the editing from
the OMICS headquarters in India was lacking and made for a stressful
"We had about 10 days of tearing our hair out," he said, adding that the
paper was not carefully proofread and there were problems with the numbering
Mr. Hugh-Jones said he and his co-authors submitted the paper to the OMICS
journal after being rejected by their first choice, an established journal
that he declined to name. While he was previously unfamiliar with the
Journal of Bioterrorism and Biodefense—and has not had time to go back and
look at the journal since—Mr. Hugh-Jones said it was attractive because it
was willing to publish his time-sensitive research quickly.
"We needed to get the paper out quickly," he said. "In retrospect, it may
have been a dubious journal to publish in, but it fulfilled what we needed
at the time."
Nicholas E. Burgis, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at
Eastern Washington University who was responsible for editing Mr.
Hugh-Jones's paper, also defended the quality of the bioterrorism journal's
But Mr. Burgis, who has since been named the journal's editor in chief,
conceded that the quality of the editing process at other OMICS journals may
need improvement. He said it appeared the company was leaving it up to
professionals in the field to police the quality of research in its various
The authors of the paper paid OMICS $916 to publish it, which was a
50-percent discount off the normal rate, according to Mr. Hugh-Jones.
The anthrax paper has also served as a publicity tool for OMICS. The company
touts the media coverage of the article prominently on its home page. In
fact, all 10 of the featured "recent news" items link back to news stories
from October that refer to the anthrax paper.
A Publisher Under Scrutiny
OMICS Publishing Group operates online journals under an author-pays,
open-access model. Some scholars and faculty members have raised concerns
about the group's practices and the quality of its journals. Here's a quick
look at the company:
Location: The group has headquarters in Hyderabad, India, and mailing
addresses in Los Angeles and Henderson, Nev.
Managing director: Srinu Babu Gedela, who earned a Ph.D. in chemical
engineering from Andhra University, in India, and has research interests
that include the identification of biomarkers for cancer and diabetes. He
held a postdoctoral fellowship for three months at Stanford University.
Total journal titles: 200
Journals for which no content has been posted: 83
Journals that have content: 117. Of those, 12 started this year; 52 started
in 2011; 46 started in 2010; and seven started in 2008-9