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Oct 7 / scholarscooperative

Feeling the Sting: Peer-Review, Predatory Publishing and Open Access

“Everyone agrees that open-access is a good thing… The question is how to achieve it.” [1]


A news article recently published by journalist John Bohannon in Science, “Who’s Afraid of Peer Review?”, is making the rounds in the Open Access (OA) and scholarly communications communities.  And for very good reason.  A response article from the Scholarly Kitchen succinctly sums up the gist of Bohannon’s article: “publishers tested in his study accepted a bogus scientific paper, most with little (if any) peer review.” [5]

To summarize: for his sting, Bohannon automatically generated scientific papers that were, “credible but mundane … with such grave errors that a competent peer reviewer should easily identify it as flawed and unpublishable,” [1] then submitted these articles to a list of Open Access journals.  To generate this list, Bohannon, “filtered the DOAJ [Directory of Open Access Journals], eliminating those not published in English and those without standard open-access fees….The final list of targets came to 304 open-access publishers: 167 from the DOAJ, 121 from Beall’s list, and 16 that were listed by both.” [1]  Of the 300+ bogus articles that Bohannon submitted, over 150 have already been accepted.

Why the Fuss?

For many, this appears to paint a grim picture of OA publishing, revealing a landscape where the scholarly peer review process has been sacrificed in the name of publishers soliciting fees from authors.  Unfortunately, as this study demonstrates, there are journals and publishers out there that do just that.  Wherever information has exchanged hands or there is money to be made, predatory practices have existed, and Open Access publishing is no exception.  The rapid expansion of Open Access publishing for scholars has created, in Bohannon’s words, “an emerging Wild West in academic publishing.”

It should be noted that predatory behavior is not limited to fly-by-night operations: Bohannon’s study implicates a number of big-name publishers, like Kluwers and Sage, who have huge stakes in traditional scholarly publishing. And Bohannon exonerates some journals “that have been criticized for poor quality control” [1], admitting that PLOS One “provided the most rigorous peer review of all,” identifying his errors right away and rejecting his submission.

Peter Suber, director of Harvard’s Office for Scholarly Communication and the Harvard Open Access Project, points out that Bohannon’s sting will likely lead people to draw conclusions that the study doesn’t support. [4] For instance, Bohannon didn’t study all Open Access journals, didn’t study non-fee-based Open Access journals, nor any traditional subscription journals, and so can’t argue that all or even most OA journals are weak, or that any OA journals are weaker than non-OA journals. Bohannon cherry-picked his targets to prove a point that’s long been proven: that there are low-quality and/or unethical scholarly journals out there (which was true long before the advent of Open Access and will continue to be true in the future). Surely we could conceive a study that submits the same shoddy research to 300 hand-picked Open Access journals and returns exactly the opposite results.

But the Open Access publishing world is vast, and the publishing route that Bohannon chose for his study – OA journals with fees associated with publishing – is only one route among many for open access publishing.

Green vs. Gold: Open Access Publishing

One important distinction to make concerning OA publishing, is the difference between “Gold” and “Green” publishing models.  Suber has created an excellent Overview of Open Access publishing, where he touches on a key difference between the two:

“The green/gold distinction is about venues or delivery vehicles, not user rights or degrees of openness.” [7]

This distinction cannot be overstated.  The publishing route that Bohannon chose for his study was entirely of the Gold variety – work made open access by the publisher at the point of publication, usually with some sort of fee to the author.

By contrast, Green OA involves depositing already-published articles in a repository, usually at an academic or research institution, and making them open-access after the fact.  Green OA not only provides the same “openness” to scholarship as Gold, but  sidesteps the problems with OA publishing that Bohannon targets in his article.  Depositing articles in institutional repositories (e.g. DigitalCommons@WayneState), or subject specific repositories (e.g. PubMed, BioMed Central, arXiv, etc.) is considered Green OA in that it allows for freely accessible, full-text versions of materials already published in traditional, vetted journals.  Often this deposited version of the article is what is called a “post-print”, a version of the manuscript that has undergone the peer review process and its resulting revisions, but prior to publisher formatting.

Bohannon’s findings are striking and sure to inspire healthy debate about Gold OA journals. But because authors can submit to publications of their choice and still provide open access to their articles in a repository, Green OA avoids this current unfortunate (and unsupported) correlation between open access and poor peer review processes.

What does this mean at Wayne?

Deposit articles you publish with us in DigitalCommons@WayneState, Wayne’s institutional repository, and provide open access to your scholarship while still publishing with journals you and your colleagues trust!

Bohannon’s article in Science has revealed some troubling statistics about the peer review process in Gold OA journals.  But for us as part of the Scholar’s Cooperative, Wayne State University, and all those interested in promoting open access of scholarly work, it’s the perfect opportunity to highlight the benefits and proven effectiveness of making scholarship available via the Green Open Access model, using our very own DigitalCommons@WayneState institutional repository.


For related links and more information:

1) Original Science article, “Who’s Afraid of Peer Review?”:

2) Data from Study:

3) NPR coverage:

4) Peter Suber’s assessment of the conclusions:

5) Scholarly Kitchen response:

6) OASPA (Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association) response:

7) Open Access Overview, Peter Suber: