Comment | Predatory journals: No definition, no defence.

Predatory journals and publishers are entities that prioritize self-interest at the expense of scholarship and are characterized by false or misleading information, deviation from best editorial and publication practices, a lack of transparency, and/or the use of aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation practices.

Grudniewicz, A. (2019). Predatory journals: no definition, no defence. Nature, 576, 210-212, doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-03759-y.

Predatory publishers make it difficult for new and emerging researchers to make good choices about where to consider publishing their findings and without a widely recognised definition of what a predatory publisher is, it’s hard to know if a journal is simply new with a relatively inexperienced editorial board, or if they’re actively seeking to undermine scholarship. As a result, their presence “sows confusion, promotes shoddy scholarship and wastes resources.” This article provides a consensus definition of predatory journals that provides a “reference point for research into their prevalence and influence”, a first step in crafting coherent responses.

Further details of the main concepts in the definition are included in the article.


Comment | The journal as a problem space

Most of us think of an academic journal as a platform that provides access to scholarly work. We understand that the journal includes people (editors, reviewers, etc.) who mediate the process of research dissemination but how often do we look critically at the idea of the journal itself?

When the journal – and its associated structures, processes and underlying values – is regarded as a de facto standard for scholarly dissemination, it recedes into the background, becomes invisible to the reader, and bears no responsibility for how it shapes academic discourse. But the act of reading an article is mediated by the journal itself and so it becomes an active component in how we understand research. In other words, the journal is not a neutral, objective space for research dissemination because of the way it requires both researcher and reader to follow rules that influence how they engage with the outcomes of the research. When we understand the journal as a mediating technology we are forced to confront not only the process of academic publishing, but the nature of research itself.

Revolutions are not linear, inevitable progressions that build incrementally but rather occur when the observations within an established paradigm can no longer be explained by the discourse within it. Scientific progress is usually made through small, iterative changes within the dominant paradigm, where those changes are explained by the language, norms and values of the paradigm. But when we start noticing things that cannot be explained by the paradigm (for example, when publishers are making billions of dollars in a system where publication is supposedly very expensive) the observers start wondering if there are new ways of thinking. Ways that would allow us to explain the new observations but which push against the boundaries of the established paradigm.

What if we used the journal itself as a problem space to think more carefully about how research is conducted, evaluated, discussed, and shared? OpenPhysio is not only an attempt to ask critical questions as part of the theorising of physiotherapy education but also as a practical space to engage directly with a critical practice around how the academic project is conceptualised. When we created OpenPhysio it was not only to share critical research conducted in the context of physiotherapy education, but as an example of praxis where value-free assumptions about scholarly publishing are confronted and challenged.

The dominant design of academic publication isn’t necessarily the best design; it’s simply the one we grew up with. Perhaps it used to be the best option in a print-only world but in an internet-enabled, digital and connected world, we are increasingly seeing that traditional publication is inefficient, slow, expensive and not well suited for sharing knowledge in the 21st century. We all know what the default configuration of a journal is and we accept it because we’re working within a paradigm that makes the alternatives difficult to see. This is why paradigms are so powerful; they constrain the limits of what we think is possible. The only way to escape from the thinking that keeps us captive is to change our point of view. To change the paradigm.

Thank you to Dave Nicholls of the Critical Physiotherapy Network for reviewing and commenting on an earlier version of this piece.


What is OpenPhysio and why are we doing it?

After a few months of planning and building we finally decided to start telling people about OpenPhysio. Not because it’s ready in any defined sense but because we’re excited to actually starting doing things with it, and for that we need a community and we need engagement. And while the website has been live for most of that time we haven’t promoted it at all because we were still trying to figure out what it was. We’re still not completely sure what it is but we do know that we want to use it to engage more critically with pedagogy, research, and traditional ideas around academic publication. So that’s where we are; open for business but still in early testing. In future posts I’ll go into why we think this is a good thing.

Moving forward I’ll be using this platform to explore some of the decisions we’ve made with respect to publication, peer review, licensing, payment, format, technology, systems, communication, collaboration, editions and all the other things that need to be considered when building a journal from the ground up. We’re going to try some things that (probably) won’t work. We’ve taken certain positions that may be at odds with what you believe. We may make statements you find unnecessarily provocative. And just like we’re asking our authors and reviewers to be open and transparent in their interactions, we’ll hold ourselves to the same principle by sharing those ideas here. We want you to trust that we’re making decisions we believe will lead to the development of critical, positive, productive conversations between researchers, academics and clinicians.

It’d be wonderful to get some kind of feedback on these ideas as they’re being developed and shared here. While we’re calling OpenPhysio a journal – and it is one – we’re also trying to figure out what a journal even is in a networked, digital, complex world. In the 21st century a journal is essentially a website, albeit one with a specific purpose. But could it have a different purpose? Could have several purposes? Could it be more than a channel for sharing curated PDFs? We’ll be trying to figure that out over the next couple of years and would love for you to be a part of that project. Whether you’re a clinician, an academic, a researcher or a student, we think that there’s a place for your voice in the conversation.

So, if you like your journals stable, consistent and predictable, this project may not be right for you. But if you think that a journal should try to model the uncertain, complex, ambiguous nature of knowledge production itself, then OpenPhysio may be something you should be a part of.