President of the University of Bremen on the Practices of Predatory Publishers

In recent weeks we have received several inquiries from the media regarding predatory publishing. ARD, Süddeutsche Zeitung and SPIEGEL have also addressed the problem. Journalists’ research shows that almost the entire German science system is affected by the machinations of predatory publishers.

Numerous scientists have fallen for predatory publishers and have published papers through them or attended their conferences. Together with several other scientists, I also coauthored articles for some of these publishers from 2009 to 2014, but I did not participate in a conference of these publishers. At that time I was not aware that these were predatory publishers. My coauthors also never expressed doubts to me about the seriousness of the publishers or the organizers. The University of Bremen and I continue to support the idea of Open Access. This publication method offers scientists a further opportunity to publish their results in addition to the classic subscription journals and thus make them available to a larger readership. Unfortunately, however, the market of open access publishers has become very confusing.

When the good idea of open access gained a lot of support around ten years ago, a number of new publishers emerged on the market and made a serious impression. At the time, there was no reason for me and my colleagues to doubt the seriousness of these publishers, despite our lack of history and experience with these new publishers. Political upheavals such as the eastward expansion of the EU and the opening of scientific systems in Asia and Arab countries brought further providers and authors onto the markets – it was only natural that we didn’t know about these new publishers.

Scientists who were convinced by the open access model therefore switched to using these publishers, even though this would present a disadvantage in terms of bibliometrics. This is because authors publishing in new journals with new publishers in the first few years cannot necessarily achieve such good bibliometric figures as they could if publishing with established publishers. Open access was therefore more important to these scientists than good figures.

For me personally, it was important to find a middle ground – publishing in classic journals with established publishers as well as with open access, which would then inevitably lead to publication in new journals with new publishers. Either way, the scientific seriousness and quality of the published articles always has been and still is the priority for me.

All publications that I have coauthored and that have been published with publishers identified as predatory publishers in current media coverage have been open access since 2009 or 2014. They have been readable and downloadable on the Internet free of charge for several years. Classic publishers do not offer this possibility. Users usually have to pay around 30 euros to be able to read an article.

There have been no doubts about any of the articles with my coauthorship during these years. The scientific quality and integrity of the published texts are therefore beyond question. The publications are also based on third-party-financed research projects and are listed and enclosed in the final reports of the respective research projects. These reports have been examined by anonymous reviewers. Neither the publications nor the selected publication organs have been criticized in the statements communicated to me by the third-party funders such as the German Research Foundation.

If I or my coauthors had had doubts about the seriousness of the publishers at that time, we certainly would not have published there. Today I would no longer publish with the publishers concerned and would also warn other scientists against them. At the time of publishing the articles, many years ago, I was not aware of the phenomenon and practices of predatory publishers.

The University of Bremen takes warning against predatory publishers very seriously. The State and University Library provides regular advice on publishing with open access as well as information about predatory publishers. In the Policy on institutional affiliation in research publications, published in 2017, the university also refers to the importance of quality control when selecting open access portals. In addition, the State and University Library advises scientists who apply to it for funding for open access publications specifically on the selection of possible publishers.

The discussion triggered by current media coverage is important and good since it can make a further contribution to making all members of the scientific system aware of the problems concerning the machination of predatory publishers. To this end, however, it is very important that a careful distinction is made in the debate between predatory publishers on the one hand and honest authors on the other. It must not give the wrong impression that there is more false information than truth in science. Not everything published by predatory publishers, however, is scientifically dubious. Not only I, but also numerous other scientists have fallen for such publishers. This should not be used to attack the seriousness and integrity of people who have worked in a scientifically sound manner. Only if the discussion is conducted in an open-minded and nuanced way is it ultimately helpful for all of us.

The University of Bremen is using the research network publications as an opportunity to continue intensifying its activities educating and warning about predatory publishers so that they don’t stand a chance at the University of Bremen.

Professor Bernd Scholz-Reiter

On this subject: University of Bremen Warns Of Predatory Publishers

Professor Bernd Scholz-Reiter is standing in the campus park. You can see the MZH building in the background.