Category Archives: Peer Review

Indies, Vanity, and Predators: Helping Faculty and Students Find Publishers

How many times have you or your faculty received this message?

Dear Dr. Colleague,

We at Intellectual and Smart Publishers would love to talk to you about publishing “INSERT PAPER TITLE HERE” in our issue of Smart Things in Science. We offer expedited review!

So and So, 

Intellectual and Smart Publishers

When the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education approached “Authority is constructed” little did we know the importance that our work would play in ongoing discussions on the national level about “fake news.” But the contextual and constructed nature of information was given a deeper hold within our field with news of the shut down of notorious Beall’s List.  The list, which black-listed publishers deemed by Beall as predatory, was a tool which I used (with a necessary grain of salt) to counsel faculty and student interested in publishing their work. Beall’s enemies, and there were many, celebrated while his supporters, again many, wondered about how libraries and librarians will spread the news about the predators in our wake without his list.

How do we define predatory publishers? Predatory publishers (or vanity publishers as they were once known) are publishers with very little, if any, editing or peer review process. Maura Smale wrote a piece several years ago responding to an uptick of press about predatory open access publishers. Any presenter at any national conference will know these predators as their form letters seek to publish your presentations often without knowledge of what you even spoke about. They tout “expedited publishing process” and high impact values, while giving very little in return for your investment of dollars for publishing. Slate writer Joseph Stromberg has an excellent piece on publishing his thesis with a notorious publisher.

Writing in 1958, Howard A Sullivan explained that “the very use of the term vanity publishing implies contempt for the book produced and a judgement on the author and publisher—on the former because he has chosen an unorthodox way of attempting to achieve a recognition his talent does not merit, and on the latter because he has pandered to another’s weakness for his own profit.” (Sullivan, Howard A. “Vanity press publishing.” Library Trends 7, no. 1 (1958): 105-115. )

Weakness is an incredibly loaded term, but we are naturally suspicious of the merit of books published under such circumstances and of the scholar themselves for their unwillingness to be judged by a jury of their peers. Would books published this way merit publishing through traditional processes? Perhaps but also perhaps not.

Overwhelmingly, these predatory publishers target our most vulnerable university community members, who are driven to “publish or perish” to continue the cliché. (Lud?k Brož, Tereza Stöckelová, Filip Vostal do a nice overview of “bloodsuckers” in publishing) Students and new faculty are often pressured to publish at any cost and these emails fill that need to publish anywhere and everywhere. Yet, we know that Howard Sullivan’s view is the norm rather than an exception; the scholar caught publishing without peer-review is scorned in the university community.

A quick search online for “vanity press” or “predatory publisher” and “tenure” see many a frustrated new academic weighing the decisions between not publishing and publishing with a less desirable press. Karen Kelsky, the “professor is in” advice columnist, has approached this topic several times. Summing up that “Putting a book out with an obscure press is not much different than having no book out at all, in terms of gaining a tenure track job or tenure.” (http://theprofessorisin.com/2012/09/21/does-the-status-of-the-press-matter/) While not specifically talking about vanity presses, but merely unknown presses, it is clear that the quality of the press is a significant focus of tenure committees and the angst of new professors.

So, what can Libraries do?

If anything, this is an information literacy issue. Determining which presses are worthy of your work is something that should be taught in new faculty seminars by librarians whose expertise in the fields of publishing should help guide those led astray. Just as how we feel condescending when we teach searching to our students, it will feel just the same, if not worse, when teaching faculty where to publish. Teaching how we determine the value of information (another hallmark of the 2016 framework) will help our faculty in choosing where to publish, and in the end make them more successful in their career. Even if we assume that our colleagues in faculty positions are experts in their fields and highly educated, the intersection of need to publish and the predatory nature of these publishers “tricks” even the most brilliant into giving their work to them. But the researcher is not the only one tricked by these publishers.

The other thing we should consider is who buys these materials. I’m sorry to say that the primary purchasers of these books are libraries, given their price and often microscopic academic viewpoints. We might be the only institutions or persons capable of purchasing such expensive books. We must make an effort from a collection development standpoint to not purchase these books for our collections. In the past month or so I’ve worked with our collection development experts to create policies to prevent Utah State University from purchasing books from suspected predators.

There is a huge problem in proclamations like this because the disgust over predatory publishers and vanity presses bleeds into ongoing discussions over the merits of indie publishers and self-publishing. Self-publishing and indie publishing are not straight line indications of lower quality or predatory materials, but it is often difficult to see the differences. In an account of self-publishing in OCLC records, Juris Dilevko and Keren Dali write, “as large mainstream publishers become focused on profit-and-loss statistics (Schiffrin, 2000) and as the demands of bookstores stoke the corporate emphasis on bestsellers (Epstein, 2001), librarians should remember that self-publishers often release titles that would not typically find a home with a profit-oriented publisher. Self-publishers may be one of the last frontiers of true independent publishing.” (Dilevko, Juris, and Keren Dali. “The self-publishing phenomenon and libraries.” Library & information science research 28, no. 2 (2006): 208-234.)  This complicates an already muddled picture of what a library should collect; where questions of authority and how to deem a book worthy of our dwindling dollars, are becoming more and more difficult.

If faculty ask students to use peer-reviewed sources, should we not ask the same for the books we purchase? The end result would be a world devoid of the divergent voices that appear in indie and self publishing, yet save us from the troubles caused by predatory and vanity presses. A policy, perhaps, where fiction from self-publishing is acceptable but non-fiction is unacceptable? A change in how we value information and published works is in order, yet who will lead that charge?

There are no concrete solutions to these issues, but I know if I need to publish on it I’ve already got several offers.

 

Caught Between the Old and the New

Over the past academic year I’ve worked on a research project with a colleague to study the ways that students do their scholarly work, similar to the project at the University of Rochester a few years ago. We finished with data collection for this year and are spending the summer analyzing our results. We’ve gotten an additional grant and plan to collect data at a few more sites next year; ultimately we’ll produce a comprehensive analysis of all of our data. But in the short term, we’d like to share our preliminary results and analysis from this year’s research.

Here’s my dilemma: the fastest and most efficient way to disseminate our results is to share them on the website we’ve set up for the project. When I was an archaeologist we wrote up an interim report after each field season and a final report when the project was complete, and I’m thinking along these lines. However, I’m also a junior faculty member on the road to tenure, and the currency of the realm is, of course, the peer-reviewed journal article.

A peer-reviewed article will take considerably more time to be published, up to a year or even longer, especially if our submission isn’t accepted on the first try (as seems true for most article manuscripts). I’m a strong advocate of open access publishing, and it just seems wrong to keep our data to ourselves for all that time. But I do value the peer review process, and while I hope that posting a report on our website would generate comments, there’s no guarantee.

Ideally I’d like to write both a preliminary report, to be posted online by the end of the summer, and a scholarly article, submitted around the same time and (hopefully) published sometime next year. I’m not sure that we have time for both, though. While the summer months are slower in the library, we’re still open, and there are classes and reference desk shifts to staff and programs to plan for next year. So we are probably going to have to focus our energies on just one publication.

As I’ve been thinking on this recently there’s been lots of other news in the world of academic publishing. The University of California proposed a possible faculty boycott of the Nature Publishing Group. And an unusual scholarly publishing project came out of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University: Hacking the Academy, a book that gathered all of its submissions in just one week. I can’t help but think that we’re in an odd scholarly communication moment right now, stuck between old and new worlds of knowledge dissemination, and I’m not always sure how to chart my course.

The Future of Peer Review?

It’s still a few weeks until Open Access Week, but starting now you can help reimagine what scholarly publishing might look like in the future. Media Studies scholar Kathleen Fitzpatrick has made her new book manuscript available online for open peer review. While Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy will go through the traditional blind review process (it’s slated to be published in print next year by NYU Press), Fitzpatrick also plans to incorporate reader comments from the online manuscript into her revisions, asserting that “peer review will be a more productive, more helpful, more transparent, and more effective process if conducted in the open.”

The beginning of open peer review for Planned Obsolescence also marks the launch of MediaCommons Press, the latest project from MediaCommons (which Barbara first alerted us to a couple of years ago). MediaCommons uses the CommentPress theme for the popular, open source WordPress blogging platform. Manuscript text is displayed side-by-side with reader comments, facilitating paragraph-level discussion of the book.

Of course this isn’t the first experiment with open peer review of scholarly works. Fitzpatrick published an article about CommentPress in the Journal of Scholarly Publishing in 2007, and also made it available online for comments. Noah Wardrip-Fruin opened up the manuscript for his book Expressive Processing to “blog-based peer review” on the group blog Grand Text Auto; it also went through the traditional peer review process before being published by MIT Press this year.

What’s most interesting to me about the Planned Obsolescence project is that the book itself discusses the process of peer review and scholarly publishing. Browsing the chapter titles and subtitles there looks to be lots of interest to academic librarians: discussions of authority, intellectual property, preservation, and the sustainability of university presses. I haven’t had a chance to read more than the first few pages yet, but I’m looking forward to continuing (and commenting, too).

Balancing Act

I’m kind of in the pickle that Maura describes – subscribed to too many sources of information that I would read if I weren’t so busy keeping up with the stream of new information. But Current Cites is always a good ‘un for finding a cross-section of interesting new stuff and this week it pointed me to a twig I must have missed in the current. Sometimes it’s only when you see it the second time, maybe just as you’re pouring a second cup of coffee int he morning, that it catches your eye.

First Mondays (an excellent and long-established open access journal) has an article by Brian Whitworth and Rob Friedman on “Reinventing Academic Publishing Online.” In a nutshell, it examines the fact that the “top” academic journals remain vested in a traditional system in which maintaining barriers and exclusivity because their exclusivity is perceived as rigor and therefore value. The higher your rejection rate, the prouder you are. But there are two mistakes academic publishing can make: publishing stuff that isn’t any good and not publishing stuff that turns out to be good. It’s the cost of the latter – failing to publish something innovative and challenging for fear it might be wrong – that these authors feel is left out of the equation.

These error types trade off, so reducing one increases the other, e.g., a journal can reduce Type I errors to 0 percent by rejecting all submissions, but this also raises Type II errors to 100 percent as nothing useful is published. The commonsense principle is that to win a lottery (get value) you must buy a ticket (take risk). In academic publishing the rigor problem occurs when reducing Type I error increases Type II error more . . . Pursuing rigor alone produces rigor mortis in the theory leg of scientific progress.

The authors point to the fact that the publishing industry essentially determines who is hired and fired in universities, which flies in the face of the mission we are supposedly on and the intellectual freedom that should enable our work.

When a system becomes the mechanism for power, profit and control, idealized goals like the search for truth can easily take a back seat. Authors may not personally want their work locked away in expensive journals that only endowed western universities can afford, but business exclusivity requires it. Authors may personally see others as colleagues in a cooperative research journey, but the system frames them as competition for jobs and grants. As academia becomes a business, new ideas become threats to power rather than opportunities for knowledge growth. Journals become the gatekeepers of academic power rather than cultivators of knowledge, and theories battle weapons in promotion arenas, rather than plows in knowledge fields.

The authors suggest that under the color of “rigor” this model sustains a system in which cross-disciplinary and innovative research is unwelcome. “As more rigorous and exclusive ‘specialties’ emerge, the expected trend is an academic publishing system that produces more and more about less and less.” (And hey, it’ll make the Big Bundle even bigger and more expensive, therefore more profitable.) They think instead technology could offer ways to facilitate information exchange rather than creation of further citadels of isolated specialization. Paying more attention to the mistake of failing to publish something that turns out to be worthwhile will require the creation of a democratic open knowledge exchange which can better balance the equation.

The funny thing is that this tension has existed for a long time. Well before the Internet enabled the opportunity for fundamental change in the way we share research, both Michael Polanyi and Thomas Kuhn described the delicate tension between maintaining an agreed-upon understanding by fending off crackpot theories and the need to allow something new to challenge the dominant paradigm. Both self interest and a more idealized notion of rigor conspire against innovation. What I find interesting about this First Monday article is the idea that our current dominant publishing model has let self-interest reign supreme, and that a new open model could let the more idealized urge to preserve that which is solid and true duke it out with ideas that challenge it. It could balance the risk/reward tradeoff involved in choosing what to publish and which questions to pursue.

By the way, what is your library planning to do for Open Access Week?

(Photo courtesy of rptnorris.)

Faculty Blog Round-Up: Writing Books

At the peak of summer, many faculty are in deep research mode, especially with longer projects, like books, that require the kind of travel or in-depth work they can’t schedule during the semester.  Here’s an overview of the book-writing process from the inside

Dr. Crazy, an anonymous literature professor, is beginning to ponder her topic.

Anthropologist Auto Ethnographer is in the throes of research – research that goes to show why sometimes we just need the original print texts.

Flavia, an anonymous professor of renaissance literature, is substantially revising her dissertation – and has come to some interesting realizations about her book-in-progress.  Check out the comments here, too.

Notorious Ph.D., a historian, is revising and ambivalent about her readers’ feedback.

Finally, John Holbo, a philosopher at National University in Singapore, has just published a book on Plato (with translation by Belle Waring).  This post is interesting for two reasons: it’s an experiment in simultaneous free e-publishing with a print book for sale, as well as reminding us how the scholarly conversation doesn’t end with the book’s publication.