A dubious article for a dubious journal

This morning I received a request to review a manuscript for the “Journal of Internet and Information Systems“. That’s standard for academics — you regularly get requests to do some work for the community for free!

However this was a little out of the ordinary in that the title of the manuscript was “THE ASSESSING CYBER CRIME AND IT IMPACT ON INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY IN NIGERIA” which is not, I feel, particularly grammatical English. I’d expect an editor to have done something about that before I was sent the manuscript…

I stared hard at the email headers (after all I’d just been sent some .docx files out of the blue) and it seems that the Journals Review Department of academicjournals.org uses Microsoft’s platform for their email (so no smoking gun from a spear-fishing point of view). So I took some appropriate precautions and opened the manuscript file.

It was dreadful … and read like it had been copied from somewhere else and patched together — indeed one page appeared twice! However, closer examination suggested it had been scanned rather than copy-typed.

For example:

The primary maturation of malicious agents attacking information system has changed over time from pride and prestige to financial again.

Which, some searches will show you comes from page 22 of Policing Cyber Crime written by Petter Gottschalk in 2010 — a book I haven’t read so I’ve no idea how good it is. Clearly “maturation” should be “motivation”, “system” should “systems” and “again” should be “gain”.

Much of the rest of the material (I didn’t spend a long time on it) was from the same source. Since the book is widely available for download in PDF format (though I do wonder how many versions were authorised), it’s pretty odd to have scanned it.

I then looked harder at the Journal itself — which is one of a group of 107 open-access journals. According to this report they were at one time misleadingly indicating an association with Elsevier, although they didn’t do that on the email they sent me.

The journals appear on “Beall’s list“: a compendium of questionable, scholarly open-access publishers and journals. That is, publishing your article in one of these venues is likely to make your CV look worse rather than better.

In traditional academic publishing the author gets their paper published for free and libraries pay (quite substantial amounts) to receive the journal, which the library users can then read for free, but the article may not be available to non-library users. The business model of “open-access” is that the author pays for having their paper published, and then it is freely available to everyone. There is now much pressure to ensure that academic work is widely available and so open-access is very much in vogue.

There are lots of entirely legitimate open-access journals with exceedingly high standards — but also some very dubious journals which are perceived of as accepting most anything and just collecting the money to keep the publisher in the style to which they have become accustomed (as an indication of the money involved, the fee charged by the Journal of Internet and Information Systems is $550).

I sent back an email to the Journal saying “Even a journal with your reputation should not accept this item“.

What does puzzle me is why anyone would submit a plagiarised article to an open-access journal with a poor reputation. Paying money to get your ripped-off material published in a dubious journal doesn’t seem to be good tactics for anyone. Perhaps it’s just that the journal wants to list me (enrolling my reputation) as one of their reviewers? Or perhaps I was spear-phished after all? Time will tell!

8 thoughts on “A dubious article for a dubious journal

  1. I suspect that P&T committees in some places don’t scrutinize a CV’s list of publications very closely: reviewers might instead rely on an informal notion of “being published enough” that looks like X publications in something with “journal” in its name, Y in something with “conference”, etc. We might be motivated to defend and enhance the reputations of our respective institutions, but there are probably lots of institutions whose P&T committees produce lightly-justifiable decisions rather than a good ones. At such an institution, why wouldn’t you pay $550 to nudge the decision in your direction?

    The real question is: why would this journal ask you for a review? The business case of these journals must be to publish anyone who’s willing to pay, so it’s in their interest to have, erm, “friendly” reviewers.

  2. One thought that does now occur to me is that someone is running an experiment to attempt to determine what standards this journal has ?

    Scanning would be an interesting variant on using something SCIgen made, as discussed in this Guardian overview.

    If it is such an experiment then, for whatever reason, the journal has sent the paper to an appropriate reviewer and received an appropriate review. If this is an unexpected result then the experimenters will need to review their methodology to ensure that they haven’t biased the result in some manner.

  3. I too received a request to review this very paper, so I suspect that the journal got our emails from scraping one of the many papers Richard and I have co-authored on cybercrime topics.

  4. I was part of the experiment, too. Shall we compare and see if one of us is in the control group?

  5. It is, it is a good tactics. It actually is “Academics economics” illustrated 🙂

    Since your article was about Nigeria, let’s use Nigeria (see below for others)

    — Cost of publication x 1 Journals = 500$
    — Cost of low rank academic in Nigeria = 26,000$

    Most likely net salary is less than half (<1,000/month) and the guy has no grant to pay the OA fee. So buying few "journals" means shelling a couple of months upfront, plus 1month for doing the work in change of 1 year salary…

    If one's university is so bad/poor they are giving credits for OA dubious journals, there are little chances of being prosecuted (did you contacted the dean of the offending authors?), and — as Janne said — if one just wants some job… .the ROI is just great..

    There is going to be a phase transition at some point/country as the dubious OA journals won't give you enough points to make you tenured, or the chances of getting caugth increase…

    You can use any country you want from here
    They use PPP so you can convert the data into real cash from here

  6. Has any technical analysis been done on the word document itself?

    If it is Microsoft’s new PKZIP/XML-based document format, it can’t hide anything from you.

    If it is one of the older OLE Compound File formats… I recommend a tool called olevba. There is a python package available.

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