Issue 14 / 28 April 2014

PREDATORY publishers may catch the unwary but due diligence by researchers and the actions of market forces will ensure quality open access publishing is here to stay, according to experts in research and publishing ethics.

A recent letter to the MJA suggested that a “host of open access journals with more pecuniary than academic interest” had sprung up, “luring unsuspecting authors” into submitting their research. (1)

The authors cited a recent expose in Science detailing a 70% acceptance rate for a spoof paper rife with methodological and ethical flaws and “outlandish results”, submitted to multiple open access journals. (2)

“We seek only to remind the open access consumer of the age-old adage, ‘caveat emptor’”, the authors wrote.

However, Professor Warwick Anderson, chief executive officer of the NHMRC, was more optimistic.

“Open access is here to stay”, he told MJA InSight.

“We’re not going to roll it back by regulation. The key now is training researchers to be wary of the pitfalls of predatory publishing and that quality is much more important than quantity.

“It’s down to mentoring and supervision.”

Professor Anderson said the NHMRC was trying to move the research sector away from an emphasis on large numbers of publications.

“It’s hard because it’s an ingrained attitude”, he said.

In its open access policy, the NHMRC commits to ensuring the “widest possible dissemination of the research supported by NHMRC funding, in the most effective manner and at the earliest opportunity”. (3)

“NHMRC therefore requires that any publication arising from NHMRC supported research must be deposited into an open access institutional repository within a twelve month period from the date of publication”, the policy states.

While acknowledging that there were problems in open access publishing, Professor Anderson said “the overriding principle is that the people who paid for the research — the taxpayers — should be able to access it”.

Dr Virginia Barbour, chair of the Committee for Publication Ethics, an international forum for editors and publishers of peer-reviewed journals, said there was no question the rise of the internet had led to an increase in the number of journals offering publication to researchers.

“This can be confusing, especially for more junior academics”, Dr Barbour told MJA InSight.

“Like other industry organisations, such as Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) and the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), we have seen a parallel rise in applications for membership of our organisation.”

However, she warned that many of these journals were using open access as a way of claiming credibility.

“We would urge all academics to take care when accepting invitations to submit to or review for any journal”, Dr Barbour said.

“To that end, in collaboration with DOAJ, OASPA and [the World Association of Medical Editors] we have developed a set of guidelines for transparency in scholarly communication that we hope will help authors to decide where to publish. (4)

“We welcome comments on these guidelines.”

The guidelines state that all of a journal’s content, apart from any editorial material clearly marked as such, should be subjected to peer review, defined as “obtaining advice on individual manuscripts from reviewers expert in the field who are not part of the journal’s editorial staff”.

Professor Richard Heller, coordinator of the People’s Open Access Education Initiative (Peoples-Uni), said market forces would take care of predatory publishers over time.

“It’s definitely a matter of concern but the major benefits of open access far outweigh the problems”, he told MJA InSight.

“If you’re thinking of publishing your research you want to know the journal is recognised by PubMed [published by the US National Center for Biotechnology Information], is a member of the OASPA, and isn’t on any blacklist”, Professor Heller said

“A bit of due diligence by the researcher about the journal will go a long way [to solving the problems].”

1.  MJA 2014; 200: 386-388
2. Science 2013; 342: 60-65
3. NHMRC 2012; Open access policy
4. COPE 2014; Principles of transparency and best practice in scholarly publishing


Are you concerned the quality of research will be compromised because of the rapid growth in open access publishing?
  • Maybe - extra diligence needed (48%, 21 Votes)
  • No - it's good for research (27%, 12 Votes)
  • Yes - better safeguards needed (25%, 11 Votes)

Total Voters: 44

Loading ... Loading ...

One thought on “Open access here to stay

  1. Enrico Coiera says:

    The bigger problem with open access appears not to be the errors of commission committed by predatory publishers, who publish weak science. It is the errors of omission committed by authors everywhere who do not legitimately archive their work into an open access repository, and leave it by their inaction behind a paywall.

    Of every 10 research articles published, 2-3 are available free online, but up to 8 could have been uploaded legally by the authors to an open repository.

    Our recent paper on the consequences of this inaction shows that in all likelihood, as time goes on, open access will account for an every diminishing proportion of the research literature.

    It does not have to be this way, but the remedy may involve either behaviour change amongst the researcher community, or major publishers who move all potentially open access material to open access automatically.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *