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Predatory Journals: A Cautionary Tale and a Lesson in Copyright Transfer

      The publication of peer-reviewed biomedical research remains the best available mechanism to advance knowledge and save lives. Through mentorship and specific training programs, a trainee may be formally or informally educated on basic research concepts, statistical methods, navigation of the institutional review board, and experience with the peer-review process through research conference presentations. Often, the goal for the trainee is publication. An important aspect related to publication is the choice of the target journal to which the manuscript will be submitted. A mentor often guides this process by selecting the first and second (even subsequent, if necessary) target journals for submission. At this stage, a trainee may be solely responsible for assessing a journal’s submission requirements, gathering coauthor conflict of interest forms, creating a cover letter, and submitting the manuscript. However, trainees may unknowingly submit a manuscript to a predatory journal. Doing so may result in considerable time lost, missing a chance to publish novel research, and substantial pecuniary implications. Given the recent increase in predatory journals, research mentors must ensure proper manuscript submission and trainees must have education about predatory journals and their strategies. We present a case of mistaken journal identity, followed by acceptance of a manuscript to a journal having predatory qualities,
      • Beall J.
      Predatory publishers are corrupting open access.
      and steps taken to rectify the problem.
      A research project was conceived during hospital teaching rounds, and the faculty member (B.A.P.) offered to mentor the resident (C.R.T.) through the project, which involved a large chart review attempting to determine whether bupropion affected the seizure threshold and the outcome of electroconvulsive therapy. The study was commenced and subsequently statistical evaluation started by approximately 5 months thereafter. The project was accepted as a poster to a national conference, in which it received an award as a top trainee poster. Approximately 1 year after initiation, a manuscript was submitted to a prominent journal and subsequently rejected. On the basis of reviewer feedback, substantial statistical modification was undertaken along with reworking of the major components of the manuscript. Several months later, the trainee submitted the revised manuscript to the Journal of XXX, with nearly immediate acceptance pending minor revisions. The review was conducted by 4 reviewers, each providing just 2 comments, at most, that were largely related to grammar and expansion of limitations. In total, all comments collectively did not exceed 400 words. A revision was submitted, and proofs were sent to the author with an invoice for $1819 as a publication fee. At that point, the mentor realized that the manuscript was mistakenly submitted to “Journal of XXX” rather than “XXX,” the latter being a well-known, reputable, indexed journal. The Journal of XXX is 1 of more than 700 open access journals published by the company OMICS International.
      OMICS International – Open Access Publisher
      Online Free Access to Scientific Journals.
      In the spring of 2019, a federal court ruled in favor of the Federal Trade Commission in the agency’s lawsuit against OMICS, finding that OMICS had engaged in widespread unfair and deceptive practices toward authors.
      United States District CourtDistrict of Nevada
      Federal Trade Commission, Plaintiff, vs. OMICS Group Inc., et al., Defendants. Case No. 2:16-cv-02022-GMN-VCF.
      Multiple attempts to withdraw the manuscript from the journal were met with nonresponsiveness. During eventual telephone discussions with journal representatives, the authors were informed that their request for withdrawal of the submission was granted. However, time passed and no official documents verifying this were provided despite requests on the part of the authors. Delayed contact ultimately was met with refusal to allow the manuscript to be withdrawn unless a fee was paid to the editorial office.
      Consultation was sought from the Mayo Clinic Section of Scientific Publications, an editorial service that shepherds a manuscript through all stages of production, from editing through publication, and has staff who serve as copyright agents for Mayo Clinic. After consultation, a series of e-mails to various members of the journal staff, with increasingly strong wording, ensued. The initial request for withdrawal was met with a note that the article was now in galley proofs and could not be withdrawn, offering a 25% reduction in the publication fee if an additional processing fee was also paid. A second series of e-mails resulted in the journal stating, “We promise you to provide the good number of citations for the article.” The authors persisted in requesting withdrawal, but they were told there would be a $319 withdrawal fee. A final series of communications outlined the fact that the authors were employed by Mayo Clinic at the time of the manuscript preparation and that copyright was owned by Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (as per the work-for-hire provision of the US copyright law) and had not been released. This communication offered the journal staff a chance to discuss further with a copyright agent or the legal department. The journal eventually released the manuscript without receipt of a fee. The manuscript was resubmitted and accepted by a reputable journal, published more than 3 years after the initial institutional review board approval.
      Jeffrey Beall, a scholarly librarian at the University of Colorado, first coined the term predatory publishers in an editorial in Nature in 2012.
      • Beall J.
      Predatory publishers are corrupting open access.
      The recognition and awareness of predatory journals have been rapidly increasing since then, and publications indexed by MEDLINE resulting from the search term predatory journals more than tripled from calendar year 2016 to 2017. Over the years, predatory journals have been described as those that take advantage of the open access publishing model.
      • Shamseer L.
      • Moher D.
      • Maduekwe O.
      • et al.
      Potential predatory and legitimate biomedical journals: can you tell the difference? A cross-sectional comparison.
      The key characteristics that are likely signs of a predatory journal are summarized in the Table.
      TableFeatures Used to Identify Predatory Journals
      Journal names similar to reputable journals
      Low-budget website with grammatical errors
      Editor names not recognizable in the field of interest
      Promise of prompt submission to publication times
      No formal online submission processes
      Require submission fee regardless of acceptance
      Advertise open access with difficult to find or missing fees
      Mandate copyright transfer or do not discuss copyright
      No retraction policy after submission
      Peer-review process is not mentioned
      Minimal contact information is provided
      Ethics policies are not mentioned
      No mention of guidelines for authorship
      Journal is not indexed by reputable databases
      This list is not comprehensive.
      The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education requires that all medical residents participate in scholarly activities.
      • Atreya A.R.
      • Stefan M.
      • Friderici J.L.
      • Kleppel R.
      • Fitzgerald J.
      • Rothberg M.B.
      Characteristics of successful internal medicine resident research projects: predictors of journal publication versus abstract presentation.
      Trainees in other disciplines, such as pharmacy, are required to complete a longitudinal project per American Society of Health-System Pharmacists accreditation standards. However, because of numerous barriers to successful publication of trainee projects, the publication rates for these projects remain low.
      • Atreya A.R.
      • Stefan M.
      • Friderici J.L.
      • Kleppel R.
      • Fitzgerald J.
      • Rothberg M.B.
      Characteristics of successful internal medicine resident research projects: predictors of journal publication versus abstract presentation.
      • Vouri S.M.
      • Stranges P.M.
      • Burke J.M.
      • Micek S.
      • Pitlick M.K.
      • Wenger P.
      The importance of research during pharmacy residency training.
      • Evans R.
      • Quidley A.M.
      • Blake E.W.
      • et al.
      Pharmacy resident research publication rates: a national and regional comparison.
      In addition, trainees may not pursue publication for fear of manuscript rejection.
      • Badowski M.
      • Mazur J.E.
      • Lam S.W.
      • Miyares M.
      • Schulz L.
      • Michienzi S.
      Engaging in collaborative research: focus on the pharmacy practitioner.
      • Bookstaver P.B.
      • Felder T.M.
      • Quidley A.M.
      • Ragucci K.
      • Nappi J.
      • Draper H.M.
      Pharmacy residents’ barriers to scholarly pursuits.
      Predatory journals possibly capitalize on this fact and may provide a tempting medium for trainees because the peer-review process is not as robust as that of reputable journals, if it exists at all. E-mail communication is unrelenting and highly aggressive from predatory journals, often promising rapid review and time to publication. To unsuspecting trainees (or mentors), this offer might be an attractive option in the time constraint of residency or fellowship.
      The manuscript we tried to have released was trapped because the authors of the manuscript were not fully aware of copyright policies that exist protecting the authors’ work. Unfortunately, the use of copyright release plays against the spirit of the traditional open access model, in which most legitimate open access publishers rather use exclusive licenses to publish and the author retains full copyright ownership of the material.
      • Newman J.C.
      • Feldman R.
      Copyright and open access at the bedside.
      • Hrynaszkiewicz I.
      • Cockerill M.J.
      Open by default: a proposed copyright license and waiver agreement for open access research and data in peer-reviewed journals.
      This allows for timely dissemination of freely accessible material, the greatest benefit of the open access publishing model. Unfortunately, predatory journals have used hidden or completely absent clauses of copyright release as a strategy of leverage to hold an article captive.
      • Shamseer L.
      • Moher D.
      • Maduekwe O.
      • et al.
      Potential predatory and legitimate biomedical journals: can you tell the difference? A cross-sectional comparison.
      This, along with a lack of a manuscript retracting policy, leaves the author in a difficult situation at the mercy of the predatory publisher, in which the only release mechanism may be a monetary payment. Fortunately, in our case, no such copyright transfer was inadvertently signed because it did not, in fact, appear anywhere in the submission process, disproving the publisher’s accusation of legal binding. However, this process considerably delayed the dissemination of the scholarly work to the medical literature because the manuscript could not be submitted elsewhere. Downstream effects include researchers unable to use the newly discovered information in future works, bedside clinicians unable to apply the knowledge to direct patient care practices, and inability to be recognized for the scientific contributions in the case of academic appointment and other scholarly endeavors.
      Finally, predatory journals pose a considerable threat to residency training and subsequent professional development. In addition to the skills gained from conducting research and writing a manuscript, the peer-review process in and of itself provides value to the trainee.
      • Personett H.A.
      • Hammond D.A.
      • Frazee E.N.
      • Skrupky L.P.
      • Johnson T.J.
      • Schramm G.E.
      Road map for research training in the residency learning experience.
      • Deal E.N.
      • Stranges P.M.
      • Maxwell W.D.
      • American College of Clinical Pharmacy
      • et al.
      The importance of research and scholarly activity in pharmacy training.
      The peer-review process offers rigorous evaluation of scientific methods and writing from individuals within medicine, pharmacy, or other disciplines, depending on the journal category. In our case, on initial rejection, suggestions for extensive changes to the study methods and statistical considerations were provided. These comments allow the trainee to reflect on and further enhance the science and manuscript for a higher quality publication. This value is diminished or absent when a manuscript is submitted to a predatory journal that may have a peer-review process of questionable integrity or no peer review at all.
      • Bowman J.D.
      Predatory publishing, questionable peer review, and fraudulent conferences.
      Indeed, in our case, 4 purported referees at the predatory journal immediately provided brief comments on the manuscript, all of which were editorial with no consideration of scientific merit. Trainees and mentors should all be aware of the predatory qualities and be diligent in ensuring that a manuscript is submitted to an appropriate, reputable, and desired journal.

      Acknowledgments

      We thank Marge J. Sherman, Administrative Office Manager at the Mayo Clinic Section of Scientific Publications, for sharing her publishing knowledge and advice. We also thank Erin A. Collins, JD, and the Legal Department, Mayo Clinic, for their expertise and advice during the preparation and review of this manuscript.

      Supplemental Online Material

      References

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        Online Free Access to Scientific Journals.
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        Potential predatory and legitimate biomedical journals: can you tell the difference? A cross-sectional comparison.
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        Characteristics of successful internal medicine resident research projects: predictors of journal publication versus abstract presentation.
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        • Stranges P.M.
        • Burke J.M.
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        The importance of research during pharmacy residency training.
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        Pharmacy resident research publication rates: a national and regional comparison.
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        Pharmacy residents’ barriers to scholarly pursuits.
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        Copyright and open access at the bedside.
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        • Hammond D.A.
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