Last Wednesday De Volkskrant published an article on a study on so-called ‘predatory journals’ carried out by an international consortium. Predatory journals are journals that pretend to be scholarly publications but do not have a proper peer review procedure in place and generally publish everything they are offered, upon payment of a fee.
Until recently, the American librarian Jeffrey Beall of Colorado University at Denver maintained Beall’s List of Predatory Publishers, which was universally regarded the main blacklist of predatory journals. Among many other publishers, Beall’s list includes major publishers such as OMICS and Scientific Research. EM discovered that these two publishers published a total of 39 articles authored by EUR-affiliated academics. Seventeen of the authors in question were affiliated with the Erasmus MC, seven with the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague, and six with the Erasmus School of Economics.
'This can’t be right'
The name that features most prominently on this list is Meine Pieter van Dijk, an Emeritus Professor at ISS. So far, he has written some three hundred articles, five of which were published by predatory journals. Together with his PhD students, he contributed articles to Modern Economy, the American Journal of Climate Change and Low Carbon Economy (all of which are published by Scientific Research). He also contributed articles to two OMICS-published journals: the Journal of Coastal Zone Management and the International Journal of Waste Resources. However, at the time of publication, Van Dijk says, he was not aware that these publications were predatory journals.
When did you realise that something was amiss at these journals?
“I submitted an article on China to Modern Economy, and the only I comment I received was that I had to rewrite a sentence on Mao Zedong. I thought at the time: this can’t be right, because the article wasn’t about Mao at all. But I was happy to have had the article accepted, so I went along with it. Also, with top-tier journals, you will often receive four or five reviews, each of which will be three or four pages long. With these journals I received two reviews at most, and they tended to be very superficial. The discussion on predatory journals didn’t arise until later.”
What are the consequences of having your work published by such journals? Do you think it reflects badly on your research?
“Not necessarily. The article I had published by Modern Economy, which is now clearly a predatory journal, is actually included in the Google Scholar index and has been cited twenty times. Also, only five of my three hundred articles were published by such journals, so while it’s sad, it is not a huge deal to me. However, if you have only published one article, you may be left empty-handed. I once had a colleague who applied for a permanent position with an Indonesian university. When the dean discovered that his only article had been published by a predatory journal, the job was given to someone else.”
‘I work with PhD students from third-world countries, and not all of them are brilliant. We can’t all compete in the Champions’ League’
Do you think it is common for PhD students not to realise that they are dealing with a bad journal?
“Some ten thousand journals are in print. Who knows off the top of his head which of these are proper journals? There may be about sixty decent journals in your field, only five of which will be truly top tier. You will try to have your articles published by these journals first, but if that doesn’t work out, you will try the less highly regarded ones instead. I’m not afraid to admit that. I wish to publish on my studies, and I wish to help my PhD students have their studies published. So when the top-tier journals don’t work out, we’ll try lower-tier journals. I work with PhD students from third-world countries, and not all of them are brilliant. We can’t all compete in the Champions’ League.”
It seems to me that the problem with having your articles published by journals without a proper peer review procedure is that articles by well-reputed academics may be published alongside articles by alternative medicine practitioners and studies paid for by companies, as described by De Volkskrant. I should think that would damage these academics’ reputations, and the reputation of science in general.
“I completely agree with you on that, but you are presuming that academics receive the entire issue, and that they actually read it. Of course that is not how things actually work. You will have a quick look, and you’ll think, hey, that looks pretty decent. You won’t read the whole thing. That’s why Beall’s list was so useful.”
'We did receive feedback'
Michaéla Schippers, a professor holding an endowed chair at the Rotterdam School of Management, tells us a story that demonstrates that it is harder to make a clear-cut distinction between proper academic journals and predatory journals than one might think. In association with her PhD student Andreas Alexiou, she published an article in Psychology in 2012. The Psychology journal is published by Scientific Research, which is on Beall’s list. However, her experience with the journal was not entirely what one might expect from a predatory journal.
When you and your PhD student submitted your article, were you aware that Psychology was considered a predatory journal?
“No. According to the information I had at the time, it wasn’t a top-tier journal, but at first glance, its articles struck me as being of decent quality. It’s an open-access journal, so we didn’t have to pay a fee. Back in 2012, the phrase ‘predatory journal’ was unknown, but obviously, we checked whether the journal met our minimum quality requirements. And it did. So then we submitted a conceptual article – which is to say, a confirmatory study, not based on any data. I thought it would be useful practice for my PhD student, having his first article published this way.”
‘I think this is a lower-tier journal rather than a predatory journal’
Did you notice anything ‘off’ during the submission procedure?
“There wasn’t an extensive review procedure, as with top-tier journals, but we did receive feedback, which we incorporated into the article.”
So you don’t consider it a predatory journal, since it doesn’t charge a fee?
“I think it’s a lower-tier journal rather than a predatory journal. I believe there’s a large grey zone between predatory journals and journals with a low impact factor, or no impact factor at all. The articles published by such journals aren’t necessarily of poor quality, but the journals do lack the extremely thorough peer review procedures employed by journals with a high impact factor. Which, I would like to point out, aren’t a solid guarantee of high-quality articles either.”
I am disappointed that the writer of this article did not even engage this professor of ISS on his racist remark about third world PhDs. Is that the view of Erasmus magazine too! He needs to apologise to us and the magazine too. I am tempted not to read this magazine again.
Dear Elizabeth, thanks for your comment. I am committed to saying that the opinion we publish does not necessarily reflect EM’s opinion.
Meine Pieter van Dijk’s excuse for publishing in a predatory journal is to argue that it’s not a big deal, and then to pass the buck on to his ‘third-world’ students who cannot publish in quality journals. Instead of challenging him on his views or reaching out to this co-authors for their opinion, you took his extremely derogatory (borderline racist) quote, blew it up and made it the centerpiece of your article. Saying that this does not necessarily reflect EM’s opinion does not absolve you of responsibility. You have an obligation to ensure you do not publish material that is insulting and derogatory to others, in this case most ISS students. This article should be taken down, or at the very least, Meine Pieter van Dijk’s comments about his students should be removed. He may want to defend his dubious academic credentials, but he should’t get to pass the blame on to others.
True, EM cannot pretend they just write, they are part of this and the reason they bolded the racist remark. Your views are not the views of Erasmus but they are views that seem to agree with the racist remarks ( we are naming it as Racism and naming is important in the way we do our scholarship and development activism in ISS). You need to apologise to us and especially ISS Community of Student Researchers. If not, please drop the name Erasmus that connects you and Us and then we will evaluate you differently.
This article is very disrespectful and disappointing regarding the statement from Emeritus Professor of ISS. I am not sure the consideration of how the Erasmus Magazine decides to publish such racist remark to the students of Erasmus University itself. This article is affecting our respect and perspective towards the whole community of Erasmus University staff. We deserve to know an open clarification about this statement both from Erasmus Magazine and the person who made the statement.
This is how racism looks like! It is in the everyday perceptions about “third world”people. In the normalized assumptions about us. It is in the dehumanization implicit in stating we are not as intellectually capable of as… a white western PhD researcher? This is also a good example on how racism is very much alive in the institution we are part of: ISS and Erasmus.
I am a former MA student at ISS and currently a PhD researcher based in Bristol, UK. That this article remains on the website is a slap in the face of all current and former ISS students and faculty from the Global South. Someone who holds such opinions shouldn’t be associated with a critically-minded social studies institution, much less supervising PhD students that he considers below par! And you, as a magazine, must take responsibility for letting this go to print. The world over, journalists and magazines have faced consequences for publishing racist and bigoted opinions from third-party sources. You cannot hide behind the “Free Speech” defense. And one would like to think that as the official EUR magazine you would have higher ethical and editorial standards than red-top tabloids, which are typically the sort of outfits that publish such views.
I think it should be said that EM not only chose to publish the statement as it is without critically discussing it BUT ALSO chose to highlight this comment in larger, bolded, blue-coloured font.
This statement is not only racist it is also condescending and patronising. “We can’t all compete in the Champions’ League”. Wow! What is this Champions’ League that you talk of? Based on the quote, is it one where first-world PhDs have the presumed brilliance needed to enter and only those coming from the third-world are scrutinized and given the double burden of proving themselves worthy by virtue of where we come from?
Rather than focusing on lessons learned and ways to avoid “predatory journals”, this article ends up showcasing that racism and first-world privilege (dare I say white privilege?) is alive and well in academia. Perhaps the title should be changed to “This professor blames his publication in a predatory journal on his third-world PhD students”.
The statement made by Professor Meine Pieter van Dijk is just plain racist.
While I am not surprised to hear such statement (coming from the so called 3rd world countries we hear this a lot in The Netherlands), it is disappointing to see EM provided a stage for this open, blatant racism that has contributed to many struggles PhDs at the ISS have to face. At the very least you could have problematise the statement instead of publish it as it is!
The fact that in today’s world and in a space like Erasmus Magazine he felt it was OK to say such thing indicates that racism is indeed alive and well in the world, in The Netherlands, in Erasmus University, and in ISS (many of us are not surprised, so maybe it is time to just put all cards on the table and discuss). The fact that EM took his statement and publish is as is without critically discussing it speaks volumes.
By the way, deleting the post in EMI facebook page without properly responding to the comments we left there is a form of erasure that we, PhDs from 3rd world coutries are too familiar with. My comment is erased along with the post there, so I bring it here. Please be decent and discuss. Delete without discuss your mistake and our responses to it is just like hiding your head under the sand.It does not solve the problem of racism. When you take your head out, it will still be there, staring at your eyes..
Thank you for your comment. To clarify: EM did not delete the post on the Facebook page. We suspect it was reported by facebook users and subsequently removed. We don’t know this for sure, Facebook doesn’t report this to the admins of the page. I personally think it is very regrettable that this relevant discussion has been deleted from Facebook. Fortunately there’s still the option of discussing it here.
As for the question whether we should publicise a statement like this: we think it is very relevant for our readers to know about these views of a professor working with PhDs at ISS. We never endorse the statements of our interviewees, that’s not how journalism works.
Kind regards, Elmer Smaling
Dear Elmer, even in journalism it is expected to condemn racism [or any other form of discrimination for that matter]. You, in your article didn’t. So the complains are also against you. Edit your piece, add an amendment, or issue another online article condemning Professor Meine. That would be the least you can do. Best, Gerardo, ISS Alumni, 2008-2009 MA in Development Studies
Thank you for your response, and for clarifying that EM did not delete the post on EMI facebook page.
Addressing your response:
” I personally think it is very regrettable that this relevant discussion has been deleted from Facebook. Fortunately there’s still the option of discussing it here.”
Indeed, it is a pity that the discussion has been deleted; but as you said, we still have option to discuss the problem here.
“As for the question whether we should publicise a statement like this: we think it is very relevant for our readers to know about these views of a professor working with PhDs at ISS.”
I have to agree with you here. Nevertheless, I think the essence of our concerns is not about whether or not you publish the views of the professor in question, but HOW you publish it. As it is now, it appears to be giving space for racism rather than exposing his ignorance for publishing in predatory journal.
“We never endorse the statements of our interviewees, that’s not how journalism works.”
This is where I disagree with you. The article in discussion does endorse the statements of your interviewee, in this case Professor Meine Pieter van Dijk. You publish it in bold, blue font, without any critical discussion. How is this not providing an unchallenged stage for racism?
As for the last part of your sentence “that’s not how journalism works”, this is rather patronising, don’t you think? While I might not be working as a journalist now, I do understand how journalism works. It involves balancing the view by including those who were mentioned by your interviewee in such derogatory manner–in this case PhDs from 3rd world country. This way you do publish the statement of your interviewee, in this case Professor Meine Pieter van Dijk, without endorsing his view.
Last but not least, may I say that replying to my comment with “that’s not how journalism works”simply echoes the same racist tone that Professor Meine Pieter van Dijk had in his statement regarding PhDs from 3rd world countries. The underlying assumption behind that phrase is simply that I must have written my comment without proper knowledge on how journalism work, and you as a journalist who obviously know how journalism works need to point that out to me.
Today ISS Rector Inge Hutter forwarded an apology from Prof. van Dijk to ISS PhD researchers. I have copied and pasted it below. In this apology he claims that some of his sentences were taken out of context, thereby implicitly placing some of the blame on EM editors. I’m curious to know what EM has to say to this. Is the template response, “This does not represent our views” still sufficient?
The fact that the particular sentence in question was written in larger, blue, bold font likely means EM was aware of the controversial nature of this statement. Was that the intent? To create controversy at the cost of possibly offending others? It isn’t sufficient to wash your hands of this offensive article. There should be an apology and a commitment for more critical journalism when faced with such statements to avoid providing the platform for such negativity.
My apologies for the Erasmus Magazine article on predatory journals
I sincerely apologize for the wording in the article in EM and the trouble it caused to ISS and the ISS community.
I regret that not all I have said was presented in a proper way and some sentences were taken out of their context suggesting causal relations that do not exist and which I did not wish to suggest. Of course I should have checked the text before it was published but unfortunately I failed to do so. I take full responsibility for that.
I feel sorry that I have hurt your feelings. As a promotor of many PhDs (most of them from developing countries) I should have been more careful. Of course I am very willing to further explain my views and contribute to a discussion on publishing research findings / output.
Meine Pieter van Dijk