New York Times Reports on “Fake Academia”
Over the winter break, the New York Times ran an article titled A Peek Inside the Strange World of Fake Academia in which the author, Kevin Carey, discusses a number of topics likely familiar to many working in and around institutes of higher learning. The first (and most egregious) example of “fake academia” called out by Carey is the OMICS group, which you may remember from a blog post I wrote back in September. I’m not sure why exactly this article is surfacing now since the FTC filing was months ago; I assume it has something to do with the prevalence of reports on “fake news” sources. Carey’s description essentially mirrors what I wrote there, that OMICS accepts articles with little to no screening, charges exorbitant fees, and lies about who is serving as editors or speakers for their journals and conferences. A fairly amusing example of this article screening process (or lack thereof) comes from Christoph Bartneck, a professor in New Zealand, who used the autocomplete feature on Apple’s iOS to write a paper on Atomic Physics. This paper was accepted only three hours later by the International Conference on Atomic and Nuclear Physics, an OMICS-run conference.
A slightly more interesting point comes later in the article, though. Carey brings up the World Conference on Special Needs Education (WCSNE), which seems to occupy a sort of limbo between legitimate and predatory. The fees for WCSNE attendance are quite high, even for presenters, ranging from $380 to $650. It also indicates that submitted research papers must be between 4 and 6 pages (including tables and figures), with a $30-$50 per-page fee for articles with longer page counts. It also operated similarly to OMICS conferences, claiming several high-profile speakers who, when contacted, said they were in no way involved with the WCSNE. Still, Carey discovered something interesting when asking around about the WCSNE: many defended it as a legitimate academic conference.
One of the founders, Richard Cooper, is the director of disability services at Harcum College in Pennsylvania, who claimed that the conference is worthwhile to the (primarily International) attendees. Barba Patton, a professor at the University of Houston-Victoria in Texas, also defended the WCSNE. She has attended the conference year after year, and has no complaints. Indeed, even Carey admits that the papers presented at the WCSNE are “well within the bounds of what gets published in many scholarly journals that, while not prestigious, have never been called a fraud.” This is, I feel, more than anything else an example of how the publish-or-perish mentality has affected scholars, especially those working outside of the hard sciences. Scholars need outlets for their work, they need to be published and to attend conferences in order to retain their positions. Article or conference attendance fees seem like a small price to pay when compared to the prospect of losing one’s job.
There is, as a result, some grey area here. This also underlines one of the major issues with Beall’s List, the list of so-called “predatory” open access publishers maintained by Jeffrey Beall. The list is that and nothing else: no context, no real explanations, nothing but the names of publishers which fit Beall’s posted guidelines. Unfortunately, for many scholars, their need to publish does not provide them the luxury of being so black-and-white in how they view publishers.