There is an interesting article in today’s Times about the growing industry of “pseudo-academic” journals and conferences, operated by companies that aim to look legitimate and prestigious but charge high fees to authors and ultimately seem to be willing to publish anything for a price. This represents a problematic twist to the Open Access movement, which strives to make all scientific data and publications freely available to professionals and the public alike. (Though the Times article focuses on the natural sciences, Open Access is catching on in psychology, as well.)
Personally, I had been aware of at least one company with a pseudo-legitimate name that charges handsome fees to turn doctoral dissertations into vanity press books, but I had not realized that this kind of underhanded business model had become a pervasive issue across the sciences. It poses an interesting dilemma, one indicative of the digital age: Open Access is an important movement in science publication intended to quell the biased influence of propriety and exponentially increase the way that researchers share and collaborate. But to mix metaphors, opening the proverbial gates inevitably makes it harder to separate the wheat from the chaff. It is difficult if not impossible to distinguish the valuable from the questionable, especially for lay readers, when both options are presented as downloadable articles on similar-looking websites. A more egalitarian method of presenting information, represented by Open Access publications, also paves the way for clever (if predatory) entrepreneurs to capitalize on scientists’ desire to publish. In the end, everybody loses except the person cashing the check.