Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind. — Nathanial Hawthorne (1804–1864)
Unbelievable but true: this year marks my 20th anniversary as Clinical Editor of Ostomy Wound Management.
While much has changed in those 20 years, the reason why editors and editorial board members do what they do has not. At the heart of it all is our duty to try and protect the integrity of the literature that helps guide patient care and explains the long list of editorial and reviewer roles and responsibilities adopted by most peer-reviewed, indexed medical journals.1 Executing those roles and responsibilities also explains why the manuscript submission and review system may not always be as quick as potential authors would like. Thankfully, the days of authors driving to the post office to send 3 or 4 original manuscripts with original art work or photographs to the editor are gone. Gratefully, reviewers no longer have to submit their review forms (often handwritten) via mail. However, in my experience, streamlining these tasks did not expedite the reviews or publication process. The time saved was seamlessly replaced by the extra review time required to meet the demands of ever-advancing scientific knowledge and the need for rigorous evidence to inform practice, not to mention the challenges of reviewing and editing the burgeoning list of manuscripts from around the world and dealing with the vagaries of technologically sophisticated online review systems.
Why does all this matter to readers and potential authors? It matters because time may be one reason for accessing, reading, or submitting manuscripts to one of the rapidly proliferating so-called predatory journals published by predatory publishers.2 Predatory publishing is a relatively new phenomenon. Predatory, open-access publishers often engage in questionable practices. They frequently launch a large number of journals using a similar template, may pretend to be scholarly societies, promise fast publishing, charge author or expedited review fees, and may have fictitious review boards or reviewers who never actually review submitted manuscripts.2-4 It is not uncommon for these journals to publish a few volumes and then cease to exist and to falsely claim to be indexed in a variety of reputable bibliographic databases.4
If you have published anything in your field, chances are you have received at least 1 spam email inviting you to publish in such a journal or join its review board.3 In my experience, the correspondence typically states something to the effect that one of my publications is of great interest to them and then asks me to submit something on a topic that has absolutely nothing to do with it. Another clue that something is not “quite right” is the breadth of topics the journal (supposedly) covers and the less-than-optimal grammar. A recent survey4 of nurse authors and board members found some authors were not aware the journal in which their work was published followed questionable practices or did not seem to mind and that some authors had to pay to get published (1 author even had to pay to get her paper withdrawn). Two (2) of the 4 peer reviewers or editorial board members who responded to the survey had no idea their names were on the journal website.
Predatory publishing, and increasingly the concept of organizing medical meetings in exotic locales, is a multimillion dollar business. Case-in-point: according to Beall’s list5 (a continuously updated list of questionable, scholarly, open-access publishers and journals), there were 18 predatory publishers in 2011; in 2016, they numbered 923. In 2013, there were 126 stand-alone predatory journals; in 2016, 882. Beall’s list now also contains so-called hijacked journals (101 in 2016) — journals for which someone has created a counterfeit website to trick authors into submitting their manuscript using the author-pays model.
In 2014, the International Academy of Nursing Editors2,6 started an initiative to inform the nursing community about online, open-access journals published by companies who scam academic writers. Sadly, it is not just the authors that are scammed — readers, the integrity of our respective disciplines, and ultimately patients are scammed as well. Potentially solid contributions to the literature are not being indexed and are irretrievable when the publisher disappears, and the integrity of the information that is published is impossible to determine. In 2016, we all witnessed an explosion of fake news, disinformation, half-truths, and blatantly false information, mostly on the internet.7,8 Although fake news is not new, it has been opined that the propensity for large segments of the population to believe things that are untrue is a new phenomenon.8
What can we do to ensure our professional population does not fall prey to fake or blatantly false scientific facts? First, when searching the literature, use a search engine for indexed journals (eg, PubMed, CINAHL, Medline). Second, when asked to submit an article to a journal whose name doesn’t sound familiar, check Beall’s list to make sure you are not dealing with a predatory journal or publisher (available at https://scholarlyoa.com/publishers/).
The past 20 years certainly have flown by for me, but the basic tenant of scientific publishing has not changed. We owe it to our patients to make sure that scientific progress continues, one solid, valid, and reliable fact at a *time. Let’s hear it for integrity and a reversal of the false information trend in 2017.