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Open Access Vultures

Posted in: Microscopy and Imaging
Open Access Vultures

If ideas are born as a heresy and die as superstition, many enterprises are born for the bettering of humanity and serve as a source of scam at a later stage.

For example, a couple of years ago Amazon was full of 30–40 page ‘books’ on obscure topics such as 18th-century shipbuilding.  When a Wikipedia editor bought this book to improve his article about an 18th-century ship, he found out that the ‘book’ is a copy of his articles with no editing beyond calling separate articles chapters.

Unfortunately, Open Access publishing (OAP) is no exception from this rule. BsB has been reporting the progress of the movement against huge subscription fees and the pay-per-view access of traditional publishers from start through the development.  Now, the OAP is mature enough to attract the vultures.

How does it work?

Setting up a for-profit OAP company is easy and can be done by one person: a web-page and a ready-made ‘academics email addresses’ spam package is all it takes.

It works like the famous bank scam: ‘I have $10M in a Nigerian bank, send me your bank details and a thousand dollars and half of $10M is yours”. OAP vultures send tens of thousands of emails soliciting papers – often not specifying that publication of the paper has to be paid for. If somebody replies to the letters, they get an academic to review the papers and edit them for free, which we are used to doing anyway, and the scam keeps rolling. Since each publication costs the authors around $1000, having even one paper published is profitable.

How to avoid the vultures:

Be wary of the following features soliciting publications:

  • A letter starting with Dear Professor (and you are not a Prof.) or Dr (and you are a soon-to-be PhD, but not quite) and not your name means spam letter.
  • If you never heard of the journal or editor and a brief search doesn’t show any traces of the publication.

Delete the emails as these are tell-tale signs that the vultures are circling.

If the journal passes a cursory check:

Hopefully, these hints will help you avoid the Open Access Vultures.  If not, just remember that science is like life: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


D. Butler, Investigating journals: The dark side of publishing. Nature, V.495, I.7442 (2013)

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Image Credit: adkorte

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