In a recent article on Derivace, Luděk Brož, Tereza Stöckelová and Filip Vostal reflect on the case of Wadim Strielkowski, whose over-enthusiastic game playing was the subject of extensive debate within the Czech academy. There are many factors which have, as a whole, led his prolific rate of publication to be regarded with deep suspicion, such as the self-publication of his monographs, typos in his journal articles, extensive recycling between papers and a continuously rotating cast of co-authors:

Strielkowski, then a junior lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University in Prague, first attracted the attention of colleagues in early 2015, when it was discovered that he had published 17 monographs and more than 60 journal articles in just three years. It is probably not surprising that a number of these texts were published in a rather unconventional way: Strielkowski’s monographs, with one exception, were in fact self-published and self-illustrated, even though each appeared to have been published by the Faculty of Social Sciences. A substantial amount of his articles were published in journals that could be described, following Beall’s terminology, as “potentially, possibly or probably predatory”. Since many of his articles were skilfully placed in dubious journals that were featured in SCOPUS or even in the Web of Science’s databases, they were recognised by the Czech evaluation system as research outputs. As a result, Strielkowski’s employer was awarded the appropriate amount of funding, and Strielkowski himself, according to the Czech media, received bonuses to his salary as a result.

https://derivace.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/predators-and-bloodsuckers-in-academic-publishing/

What makes his case interesting is how skilfully these articles were placed. As the authors note, a substantial number of his articles were placed in journals that could be described as “potentially, possibly or probably predatory” while nonetheless being included in relevant indexes which meant they counted as research outputs for formal evaluation, with all the advantages that entails. Not only was he skilfully navigating the publishing environment to facilitate his own rapid ascent, he made a business out of helping others do the same thing:

In addition to being a prolific author, Strielkowski also happens to be a globetrotting entrepreneur. Through his companies, he has offered courses on how to publish in academic journals, with special emphasis on SCOPUS and the Web of Science. Participants primarily hailed from the countries of the former USSR; if they paid conference fees, they were guaranteed publication of their text(s) in one of the journals that Strielkowski himself (used to) publish and which Beall monitored until January 2017 (such as Czech Journal of Social Sciences, Business and Economics, and International Economics Letters). For those ready to pay €3,000, Strielkowski, referring to himself as “professor” and “Vice-Chancellor”, even offered academic degrees. His Prague University of Social Sciences and Humanities Ltd. offered not only MBAs (apparently without an accreditation in the Czech Republic) and postdoctoral positions one had to pay for, but also a “MAW” degree, which stood for “Master of Academic Writing”.

https://derivace.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/predators-and-bloodsuckers-in-academic-publishing/

The case is a fascinating one because it illustrates how metricised evaluation and predatory publishing cannot simply be regarded as imposed from outside, leaving academic victims with no choice but to adapt or be left behind. Strielkowski is an extreme example but his case illustrates how the opportunities these systems create for advancement are drawn upon and engaged with knowingly by scholars, in a way that is always implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) orientated to the others embedded within them.

We do not simply ‘internalise’ these imperatives or find ourselves moulded to become ‘neoliberal subjects’. The exercise of agency to be found here is varied, complex and confusing. Denunciations of individual cases, which I don’t think Luděk et al are doing in this case, doesn’t help matters. I’d argue that what often understands itself to be theorisations of such cases, invoking the idea of the neoliberal subject etc, in reality more often represents a thematisation of them.

How do we counter this though? At one point, the authors write of Strielkowski’s papers that “they have hardly any readership to speak of to notice such a statement in the first place”. Similarly, when I read this article, the second thing I looked at after Strielkowski’s personal website was his Google Scholar profile, immediately noting that he has relatively few citations for someone who has published so prolifically, with a majority seeming to be self-citations. I wonder if there is an element of bad faith in finding reassurance in such things, an invocation of readership and citation as a quality threshold, when we know that the systemic problems preclude the reliability of such standards? I wonder if this represents a unacknowledged attempt to evade the vertigo of the accelerated academy:

I feel like I am drowning in knowledge, and the idea of further production is daunting. Libraries and bookstores produce a sense of anxiety: the number of books and journals to read is overwhelming, with tens of thousands more issuing from the presses each day. Moreover, there is no real criterion other than whim for selecting one book or article over another. To dive into one area rather than another becomes a willful act of blindness, when other areas are just as worthwhile and when every topic connects to others in any number of ways. The continual press of new knowledge becomes an invitation to forgetfulness, to lose the forest for the trees.

From Sustainable Knowledge by Robert Frodeman, loc 1257:

We have more room for manoeuvre then we acknowledge. Strielkowski’s game playing represents what Ruth Müller calls anticipatory acceleration taken to an unprecedented extreme: mindlessly speeding up the rate of publication in pursuit of competitive advantage within an overcrowded field. But if Trump academics are in the ascendancy, we’re liable to see more of this. The system is fucked and all the evidence suggests it is becoming more so with each passing year.

We need a honest account of our investments within the system of scholarly communication, building from the basic constraints which the requirements of pursuing an academic career impose. Looking at extreme cases like Strielkowski can help us doing this, by providing prompts to elucidate our assumptions and concerns about scholarly publishing that we might not otherwise feel the need to put into words.


On a related note:
(click through for the whole thread)

An interesting concept from John Thompson’s Merchants of Culture which I think has important implications for scholarly publishing. From pg 276-277:

Oprah and Richard and Judy are prime examples of what I shall call ‘recognition triggers’. I use the term ‘recognition trigger’ to refer to those drivers of sales that have three characteristics. First, they are triggers based on a form of recognition that endows the work with an accredited visibility . Thanks to this recognition, the work is now both visible , picked out from an ocean of competing titles and brought into the consciousness of consumers, and deemed to be worthy of being read , that is, worth not only the money that the consumer would have to pay to buy it but, just as importantly, the time they would have to spend to read it. Visible and worthy: a form of recognition that kills two birds with one stone.

The second characteristic is that the recognition is bestowed by individuals or organizations other than the agents and organizations that are directly involved in creating, producing and selling the work. Literary agents, publishers and booksellers cannot produce the kind of recognition upon which recognition triggers depend. They can produce other things, like the buzz and excitement that surround an author or a book, and these forms of laudatory talk can have real consequences, as we have seen. But recognition triggers presuppose that those individuals or organizations who bestow the recognition are, and are seen to be, independent in some way and to some extent from the parties that have a direct economic interest in the book’s success. It is this independence and perception of independence that enables recognition triggers to grant worthiness and explains in part why they can have such dramatic effects.

The third characteristic is that, precisely because recognition is bestowed by individuals and organizations that are independent and seen to be so, it follows that publishers themselves have only a limited ability to influence the decisions that result in the bestowal of recognition, and hence a limited ability to control their effects. They certainly try to influence these decisions where they can, or to second-guess the decision-makers where they can’t directly or indirectly influence them, but at the end of the day the decisions are not theirs. So recognition triggers introduce yet another element of unpredictability into a field that is already heavily laden with serendipity.

Do these recognition triggers exist in scholarly publishing? The obvious example is the journal system itself. The anonymity of peer review is understood to ensure independence and negotiating the peer review process is understand as a marker of quality signifying the paper is worthy of being read.

But the over abundance that characterises scholarly publishing has complicated this, as has the growing functional imperative to self-promote one’s own papers. People will be searching for more ‘recognition triggers’, despite not using the concept, leading to all sorts of competitive dynamics which I think we’ll begin to see over the coming years. I suspect many of them will involve social media.

At a time when there are more than 28,100 active scholarly peer-reviewed journals publishing around 1.8-1.9 million articles per year, finding ways to navigate scholarly literatures are more important than ever. This is one of the most exciting ways in which social media can be used to directly enhance scholarly practice.

There are many forms this can take, from the indirect (e.g. writing accessible blog posts which someone else uses as a guide to a literature) to the direct (e.g. tweeting about what you think are the most important papers on a given topic). But perhaps the most useful is sharing comprehensive reading lists.

Here’s a wonderful example of what this could look like, produced by members of the Social Media Collective at Microsoft:

Is anyone else getting these e-mails with ever greater frequency? And if so could you point me towards an explanation of what’s driving this?

Dear Mark Carrigan,

I am Vernon Thompson, the editor of World Journal of Social Science Research (ISSN 2332-5534). I have had an opportunity to read your paper “There’s more to life than sex? Difference and commonality within the asexual community” which is published in Sexualities: Studies in Culture and Society, and can tell from your work that you are an expert in this field.

World Journal of Social Science Research is a new peer-reviewed open access journal which focuses on scholarly research and practical experience in the field of social science, which includes, but is not limited to the following field: anthropology, economics, political science, psychology and sociology.

We are calling for submission of papers. Please find the journal’s profile at: http://www.scholink.org/ojs/index.php/wjssr and submit your manuscripts online. If you have any questions, please contact with the editor at: wjssr@scholink.org

We are also recruiting reviewers for the journal. If you are interested in becoming a reviewer, we welcome you to join us.

Please find the details at http://www.scholink.org/ForReviewer.html

Download the application form http://www.scholink.org/doc/APPLICATIONG%20FORM%20FOR%20REVIEWER%20.doc

After that, e-mail the completed the application form to wjssr@scholink.org

It is appreciated if you could share this information with your colleagues and associates. Thank you.

These luxury journals are supposed to be the epitome of quality, publishing only the best research. Because funding and appointment panels often use place of publication as a proxy for quality of science, appearing in these titles often leads to grants and professorships. But the big journals’ reputations are only partly warranted. While they publish many outstanding papers, they do not publish only outstanding papers. Neither are they the only publishers of outstanding research.

These journals aggressively curate their brands, in ways more conducive to selling subscriptions than to stimulating the most important research. Like fashion designers who create limited-edition handbags or suits, they know scarcity stokes demand, so they artificially restrict the number of papers they accept. The exclusive brands are then marketed with a gimmick called “impact factor” – a score for each journal, measuring the number of times its papers are cited by subsequent research. Better papers, the theory goes, are cited more often, so better journals boast higher scores. Yet it is a deeply flawed measure, pursuing which has become an end in itself – and is as damaging to science as the bonus culture is to banking.

It is common, and encouraged by many journals, for research to be judged by the impact factor of the journal that publishes it. But as a journal’s score is an average, it says little about the quality of any individual piece of research. What is more, citation is sometimes, but not always, linked to quality. A paper can become highly cited because it is good science – or because it is eye-catching, provocative or wrong. Luxury-journal editors know this, so they accept papers that will make waves because they explore sexy subjects or make challenging claims. This influences the science that scientists do. It builds bubbles in fashionable fields where researchers can make the bold claims these journals want, while discouraging other important work, such as replication studies.

In extreme cases, the lure of the luxury journal can encourage the cutting of corners, and contribute to the escalating number of papers that are retracted as flawed or fraudulent. Science alone has recently retracted high-profile papers reporting cloned human embryos, links between littering and violence, and the genetic profiles of centenarians. Perhaps worse, it has not retracted claims that a microbe is able to use arsenic in its DNA instead of phosphorus, despite overwhelming scientific criticism.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/09/how-journals-nature-science-cell-damage-science

The LSE Impact Blog co-hosted a conference about Open Access last week which I’m now wishing I’d gone to. I really liked the talk given by Jonathan Gray, director of policy at the Open Knowledge Foundation, which offered an adept diagnosis of the present crisis in scholarly publishing and its implications for the future of scholarship:

If sheer quantity is a measure of success then things aren’t going too badly. The amount of research being published is growing at an astonishing rate. Recent studies estimate that around 50 million journal articles have been published since their first appearance in the mid 17th century (Jinha). This colossus is estimated to be expanding at around 1.5 to 2 million articles per year, which is roughly 3 to 4% annually. (Scopus lists about 1.6 million in 2012. The UK Publishers Association suggested global output is around 2 million per year, quoting 120,000 articles as around 6% in evidence to UK parliament. This is up from an estimated 1.3 million in 2006.)

But more people publishing more words does not necessarily mean that our system of scholarly communication is serving us well. Scholarship is not just about publication, but about interaction, interpretation, exchange, deliberation, discourse, debate, and controversy. Plato writes of understanding as being a kind of flash that occurs between two people trying to come to terms with something from different viewpoints, a flash that arises from the friction of discussion and momentarily floods everything with light.

Scholarship is, of course, not just about the production of text – text which has been processed, reviewed, and packaged up in the right way, in accordance with the dictates of style manuals and in keeping with the appropriate theoretical or methodological genre. Scholarship is about the way in which constellations of people and objects produce meaning, understanding and insight, through interaction, acts of interpretation. The value of a journal article is not the stated impact factor of the journal, any more than the value of a scholar is the aggregate of his or her publishing record. The value of a piece of scholarly text is in the interaction it has with its readers, in the sparks it generates, the friction and light that it produces – whether tomorrow, or in a hundred years time.

Unfortunately our current system of scholarly communication has often developed with other priorities in mind. For a start it echoes our broader cultural and social attitudes towards sharing the fruits of our creative and intellectual labour more generally: our disproportionate focus on protection and compensation, commodification and control. The default is still that our creations cannot be shared without payment or explicit permission. Even though they are unlikely to receive a penny for it, scholars are often inclined to be more guarded than generous about sharing their published work. This social and cultural hostility to sharing in turn reflects the state of the law, which is profoundly imbalanced towards protecting and rewarding rights-holders rather than recognising that copyright is an instrument which should strike a balance between protecting private interests and providing the public with access to the fruits of our collective intellectual labour.

Furthermore, the academic career structures in many disciplines are heavily focused around and driven by publication. Not even on scholarly output, but very specific forms and genres of publication, with a strong focus on certain journals and publishers. Journal articles and monographs have become the de facto currency of scholarship, and certain venues are worth more than others. Other forms of engagement – from collaborative projects to conferences – are often not recognised, or only recognised insofar as they result in publication.

If publishing operations such as journal titles and monograph series are the stars which structure the orbits of scholarly communication, then we may forget that what gives them their gravitational force is ultimately the scholars and scholarly communities associated with them. Hence we may conflate the trust, reputation and authority that derives from the scrutiny, energy and attention of a particular group of scholars, with the avenue through which this is manifested: namely the title of a particular publication or series. So entangled are the reputations of scholars and publishing operations that sometimes we may find it hard to wrench them apart and to recall that ultimately it is publications which are dependent on scholars, and not the other way around.

The result of all of these things is the lamentable situation we find ourselves in today, whereby a huge amount of the intellectual energy and attention of researchers is funnelled into the creation of products for the publishing industry which are then locked up and sold back to the institutions which employ them: the very same institutions which effectively subsidise the creation, editorial and peer review of said products. In 1999 a scholar and a librarian wrote a report unpacking the implications of this situation, which they called the ‘crisis in scholarly publishing’, which they described as: “a vicious cycle of increasing prices and decreasing distribution, straining (or breaking) library budgets, and leading to cancellations of journals and cuts in other acquisitions, as well as dangerous erosion in confidence in the integrity of peer review”. “Ultimately”, they concluded, “the flow of scholarly communication is at stake, eroding the academic mission.”

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2013/10/25/gray-recomposing-scholarship/#author

Dave Beer makes some interesting points in this short article which frames current debates about open access in terms of trends within music culture, which have been driven by broadly similar structural processes and have been playing themselves out for much longer. Some people argue that rendering academic publishing more ‘open’ could prove hugely problematic, as unrestricted access to the means of ‘making public’ could lead to an even more confusing mass of literature than exists at present:

 Kirby points out that the ‘footprint’ of academic publishing has grown ‘exponentially’ since the 1960s. His point appears to be that even in the current system we are already faced with an unwieldy mass of journals and journal articles. This, as the statistics indicate, already represents an unfathomable amount of published resource. Anecdotally we can probably reflect here on how hard it is to keep up with the articles published in our own specialist areas let alone across entire disciplines and cognate disciplines. The point, it would seem, is that this situation could very well get even worse if we adopt an unlimited open model of publishing. The implicit observation is that academic publishers limit and classify the output of academics and thus filter and order the content. Kirby’s suggestion is that with open access we will be opening the floodgates whilst also losing some of these ordering mechanisms. As such we might well end up, Kirby (2012, p. 259) claims, with even more material and with ‘no obvious means to make any sense of it’.

There’s a certain plausibility to this argument though I think it, as well as Dave’s response, ignores the significance of network filtering (as happens through social media) and correspondingly overestimates the significance of bureaucratic filtering (as happens through publishing corporations). Journals are becoming less important to discovery and perhaps less important as cyphers of quality, at least in terms of the reading decisions individuals make (clearly this is untrue in terms of institutional use of prestige as a cypher for quality and associated decisions about the distribution of scarce resources). Nonetheless, it’s unrealistic to imagine that a socially networked academia could, as an unintended emergent effect of sustained online communication, “limit and classify the output of academics and thus filter and order the content”. Which is why the mechanisms being deployed within the music industry to filter content and aid discoverability are potentially so relevant:

Against this backdrop of cultural cacophony, music cultures have found ways to organise content so that it might find an audience. The broadcast model, despite the recent changes, remains relatively powerful in music. And so we still have large organisations shaping consumption at the top end of the market through TV shows like The X Factor. Amongst the chaos in music we also have systems that enable people to locate new music that they might like to listen to. Here predictive analytics are increasingly beginning to rule. Music fans are often told what music they are likely to want to listen to by machines. Software applications built in to iTunes, Last.fm and the like are predictive of tastes. These predictive systems provide a means for managing the chaos as the music automatically ‘finds’ its audience. This is an era in which, as Scott Lash (2006) has put it, the data ‘find us’. The practices of tagging music with metadata and the accumulation of personal profiles combine to enable this form of ‘knowing capitalism’ (Thrift, 2005) to operate. If this were to happen in academic research then one of the solutions to the intellectual din of open access might be apps that enable research articles to ‘find’ their desired audiences. This app might well predict what type of thing you might want to read and recommend it to you. An early version of this type of recommendation system, although based just on links with individual articles rather than one’s comprehensive browsing history, is provided by Elsevier’s ScienceDirect platform. It sounds nice and convenient, but as with music we are forced to question the underlying algorithmic infrastructures that will then be so powerful in shaping the formation of knowledge (Beer, 2009Hayles, 2006). These algorithms will shape the knowledge we encounter and will in turn then impact upon our ideas.

I just read an interesting (though slightly depressing!) post from Nick Hopwood giving useful advice to PhDs and ECRs. I’m not quibbling with his advice per se and I genuinely enjoy his blog but I took issue with this paragraph:

I had vague ideas that academics, with a few obvious exceptions, get on in their careers by doing good, solid research, teaching effectively, and making quiet contributions to institutional and disciplinary life. The quality of their ideas, discoveries, pedagogy and colleagueship would ensure that their recognition. If that was ever true (which it may not have been) it certainly isn’t now. You get, and get on in, an academic career by actively (perhaps aggressively at times) peddling your ideas, your effectiveness as a teacher, and your value to the uni or your field. You have to push. This comes from having the vision and courage to apply for grants when you’ll probably get rejected, to aim for top journals, to try out new teaching approaches, and to step up in working groups, push new ideas through committees, take on roles in your disciplinary organisation. But it also comes from capitalising on those achievements when you make them. An academic life is pretty much a constant sales pitch (see below). Here, I mean you’re selling your work to others.

I completely see what he’s getting at. But I’d like to make a (potentially naive) argument against it. His case rests on the suggestion that, in the contemporary academy, people won’t receive recognition through the intrinsic virtue of their scholarship. There’s a certain plausibility about this claim. But does it hold for open scholarship? I suspect not but I don’t wish to suggest that ‘openness’ somehow ameliorates all that is wrong with higher education. However I do think that when the development of ideas becomes, via social media, an open process then Nick’s argument largely ceases to be true. This could be construed cynically: perhaps social media is intrinsically self-promotive? Or more positively: genuine openness in academic life would make it much more likely that people receive recognition in virtue of “the quality of their ideas, discoveries, pedagogy and colleagueship”. Thoughts on this  would be much appreciated, as I’m not entirely sure whether I’m convinced by my own argument. I guess the intuition underlying it is that ‘doing work in the open’ cannot be equated to self-promotion even if, in practice, the former leads to the latter.

A research student of mine was thinking about submitting his first paper to an academic journal. He casually asked how much he would be paid for his contribution, acknowledging it probably wouldn’t be much. I explained that not only would he not be paid but that for some journals the authors were themselves expected to pay for the article to be published. He was shocked by this revelation, ‘but, they sell the journals don’t they?’

– Martin Weller in the Digital Scholar

This session will explore the profound changes currently taking place within academic publishing and address their implications for researchers. Debates around ‘open access’ have recently entered mainstream debate, with the Guardian talking of an ‘academic spring’ building around the world. However the issues at stake go beyond open access and a focus on the technical details of particular proposals can often obscure the broader questions which the academic community, scholarly publishers and funding bodies are currently attempting to address. By putting currents debates in context, as well as exploring their practical consequences for those either undertaking or seeking an academic career, this talk aims to help move beyond headlines and bring some more clarity to the debate.

Sometimes I worry that Twitter is an echo chamber, reflecting my own prejudices back at me and shielding me from contrasting views. On other occasions though, I find this same characteristic immensely comforting. Such as when reading that the government has officially embraced the recommendations of the Finch report and finding that other PhD students and early career researchers were just as dismayed by this news as I was. Leaving aside the broader issues pertaining to gold open access, which in practice simply redistributes costs within a broken system without challenging the underlying commercial premise, there’s one particular question posed by this chain of events which is the cause of my current dread about the future of academic publishing: what about the authors who can’t pay?

I fear that academic publishing could come to resemble the perilous landscape that PhDs and ECRs are only too familiar with at present. The competition for post doctoral funding is ever increasing, leading to continual inflation of the things you need on your CV to stand a chance, yet without funding it’s very difficult to actually achieve these prerequisites. Or in other words: the best way to get post doctoral funding is to already have it. Could we see something similar happening with publications? If authors are dependent on their institutions and/or funding bodies to pay the substantial fees required under gold open access then those who already have a job and funding will find it easier to publish and thereby increase their chances of getting another job and more funding. Much as the post doctoral funding climate creates virtuous cycles, so too will the publishing climate, as a whole swathe of early career academics will find themselves untroubled by article processing charges. From their perspective, open access of this form will be great: it doesn’t pose problems and it means their research is freely available. On the other hand, what of those who find themselves excluded? If your funding is patchy or non-existent how can you compete? Is it even going to be possible to be an independent researcher in any meaningful sense?

In a climate where freelance, part-time and fixed term contracts are increasingly the norm within academia, the extent to which the government’s announcement is retrograde cannot be overstated. Such a radical increase in the dependence of researchers upon their institution has profound consequences for those who do ‘make it’, leaving aside the many who seem likely to be wholly or partially swept aside for the reasons discussed above. With funding bodies increasingly focused around narrow priority areas, often tied to short term political whims to a truly abominable degree, themselves falling into homology with priority areas within universities, naturally aiming to increase their success in winning funding from these bodies, what becomes of research that falls into a non-priority area? What becomes of independent research full stop? Will their be funding available to cover author fees? Will their be conditions attached to it? How will the inevitable rationing work? Even assuming the best will and highest managerial accumen in the world, these yet unanswered questions paint a picture of the future university which I find far from appealing. What of the willingness to dissent and speak up at a time when economic instability looks set to continue indefinitely? With academics even more reliant on universities, as one of the two potential sources of author fees, will they be willing to resist? Or will the disciplining of academic labour, already entrenched in multifaceted ways with many personal consequences, simply continue?