You reckon journalists pick this up before publishing 'health' or 'science' articles and such?
Scientists outwit predatory publishers by tricking them into appointing a fake editor
Has there ever been a more impressive academic than Dr Anna O. Szust? The prolific polymath has been appointed editor at almost 50 academic journals covering a mind-boggling array of scientific fields.
The problem is, Dr Szust does not exist.
Using their limited wiles (vague flattery, phishing tools, spam software and terrible grammar) predatory publishers court academics with polite invitations to join advisory boards, editorial teams, conference line-ups.
They appear to aggressively and indiscriminately recruit academics to their editorial boards to give the boards an air of legitimacy, often sending offers to researchers working in fields with no link to the journal's purported subject matter. A public health researcher may be invited to join the board of journals covering neuroscience, metallurgy, or civil engineering.
A group of researchers, so fed up with the daily bombardment of emails from "parasitic publishers", created a fake scientist, Anna O. Szust, (oszust translates to "a fraud" in Polish).
The colleagues from the University of Wroclaw, Poland, gave Dr Szust fake degrees, book chapters from fake publishing houses, research interests, a faculty webpage and accounts with Academia.edu, Google+ and Twitter and set her loose.
They emailed Dr Szust's CV and cover letter to 360 journals, 120 of which they suspected were predatory "blacklisted" journals.
While all the reputable titles ignored or rejected her application, one in three of the blacklist publishers (48 in total) appointed Dr Szust as an editor, often within days, even hours, of the application being sent.
At least 12 appointed Dr Szust on condition of, or strongly encouraging, some form of payment or profit.
Several publications "revealed themselves to be even more mercenary than we had expected", the researchers wrote in a paper published in Nature on Thursday.
They impressed upon the non-existent Dr Szust the importance of collecting articles from researchers who would pay to be published, and offered her a cut of the profits.
It could have been a tidy earner for Dr Szust, as one journal responded with "It's our pleasure to add your name as our editor in chief for this journal with no responsibilities", her creators said.
They are not the first to plant fictional characters on editorial boards, but their operation was the first systematic comparison of suspected predatory journals, open access titles and quality publications.
There has been increasing concern about the rise of predatory publishing as an organised industry as purveyors routinely collect fees – often exorbitant amounts – from researchers in exchange for accepting their papers.
Beall's blacklist – compiled by University of Colorado librarian Jeffrey Beall – detailed almost 10,000 potential predatory publishers before his online archive was removed in January for unknown reasons. An estimated half a million papers had been published in the suspect journals by 2015.
In 2013, journalist John Bohannon reported his fictitious, and overtly flawed, research paper was accepted for publication by 157 of 304 open access journals on the proviso that he paid for the honour.
"The open access movement, although noble in its intent, has been an unwitting host to these parasitic publishers," the researchers wrote.
They said their goal was not to deceive, but to warn academics who might become prey, especially early-career researchers, in a climate where pressure to publish is often tied to funding and career advancement.
As for Dr Szust, it was difficult to predict to trajectory of her publishing career. She is still listed as a member of the editorial board of 11 journal websites (and one she never applied to), even after her Pygmalions wrote to the publications revealing her non-existence.
She is also listed as a member of the advisory board of the Journals Open Access Indexing Agency, the mission of which is to "increase the visibility and ease of use of open access scientific and scholarly journals", the researchers said.