Predatory Journals and Academic Promotion

June 22, 2020

Written by guest blogger Fiona McQuarrie.

Like many Canadian academics, my co-authors and I regularly receive annoying spam emails from predatory journals inviting us to submit our research. That annoyance sparked our initial interest in looking more closely at these journals. We were curious about how they managed to survive, especially when there is widespread agreement that these journals are a “global threat” that “promote shoddy scholarship and waste resources”.

Some of our previous research uses frameworks from organizational theory to analyze post-secondary institutions’ actions and strategies. We’ve examined how universities and colleges attempt to maintain their perceived legitimacy  in response to legislative, societal and competitive forces. Because of our interest in institutional legitimacy, we were intrigued by an earlier article in the Journal of Scholarly Publishing suggesting that researchers who published in predatory journals were rarely punished by their institutions.

Putting all of those pieces together led to our research question: how do post-secondary tenure and promotion processes address publications in predatory journals? Some research has explored researchers’ reasons for choosing to publish in predatory journals, but we found that there was almost no research looking at institutional policies around predatory publications. This was especially surprising because publications in predatory journals could reflect poorly not only on the integrity of the researcher, but also on the perceived legitimacy of the post-secondary institution where they work.

We found that Canadian universities’ tenure and promotion policies are largely inadequate when it comes to addressing publications in predatory journals. Some policies stated that applicants for tenure and promotion should be prepared, if questioned, to justify their choices of publication outlets. But these policies were the exception, rather than the norm. In most of the policies that we analyzed, the criteria for assessing the quality of researchers’ publications were vague and primarily qualitative. We also could not find much formal information from universities to help their researchers make appropriate publication choices.

This may seem like an issue that is only important to academic researchers or to post-secondary institutions themselves. But its importance goes far beyond that. In addition to predatory journals creating unwarranted legitimacy for questionable research outcomes, paying these journals’ publication fees can be a misuse of publicly-supported research funds.

The work of researchers at many Canadian post-secondary institutions is funded by government agencies – such as the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada – or through universities’ own internal grants. When funding from these sources is used to pay publication fees to predatory journals, that money may go to enrich fly-by-night scam artists, rather than supporting the creation and dissemination of useful knowledge.

When universities administer or distribute research funds, they have a responsibility to ensure these funds are spent appropriately. One way for universities to fulfill that responsibility is to revise the wording of their tenure and promotion policies to explicitly discourage publications in predatory journals, and to implement penalties for researchers who knowingly publish in these journals. We hope our research can be the catalyst for those actions.

Photo of Fiona McQuarrie.

Fiona McQuarrie is a Professor in the School of Business at the University of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford, BC. Her research interests include organizational theory, post-secondary education, and labour relations. In addition to having her research published in major academic journals, she is also the author of the textbook Industrial Relations in Canada, now in its fourth edition.

Her latest article in Journal of Scholarly Publishing entitled “Do Tenure and Promotion Policies Discourage Publications in Predatory Journals?” is free to read for a limited time here.

The UTP Journals blog features guest posts from our authors. The opinions expressed in these posts may not necessarily represent those of UTP Journals and their clients.

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