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Spam: 'We invite you to submit an article to our Open Access journal'

June 4, 2013 - 19:24 -- Bart G.J. Knols

Every week I receive several emails from publishers that invite me to submit an article to their journal. I am convinced that the same happens to many of you as well. Frankly, I am getting very tired of this - the reason why this happens is not that these journals are approaching us because of what we do or who we are. It is all about money. Under the umbrella of 'our journal is Open Access' publishers have found a new way to generate income by lobbying hard for our manuscripts. For which of course we need to pay to get them published. Today I received another invitation from MDPI AG Publishers (Basel, Switzerland) which triggered me to do a bit of research...

The email came from Prof. Christos Hadjichristodoulo, from the University of Thessaly in Greece. He will serve as the Guest Editor of a special issue of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (IJERPH) that will be titled: Epidemiology, Prevention, and Control of Malaria. His name was unfamiliar to me and given the fact that I know most scholars in the field of malaria that have a reasonable publication track record I became suspicious. When I searched PubMed for publications of Prof. Hadjichristodoulo I found articles which he (co)authored about rabies, E. coli, meningitis, cancer, and a suite of other diseases, but where was malaria?. A deeper search revealed only one article on malaria on which he served as the 11th author (out of 12), which was a review about malaria in Greece. So I wonder: Should a Guest Editor for a special issue on malaria not be an authority in the field of malaria?

Perhaps it was just this review that triggered MDPI AG Publisher to invite Prof. Hadjichristodoulo to serve as the Guest Editor. The text that followed in the email explains this:

"Malaria is a vector-borne parasitic disease that, according to the World Health Organization estimates, caused over 200 million cases and over 600 thousands deaths in 2010. Although malaria is known to rank fifth as a cause of death in low income countries, during the last decade and due to socioeconomic destabilization and massive migration, malaria has become a real threat for developed countries as well. This has resulted in the re-emergence of the disease in countries that have been malaria-free for a long period of time. This special issue invites researchers worldwide to submit their work in order to broaden our knowledge on malaria reoccurrence, prevention and control. Therefore, it may include topics such as the emergence of the disease in malaria-free countries, reports of malaria outbreaks in countries that are in the elimination phase, the development and the outcomes of integrated surveillance programs, the new technologies in prevention and control of the disease (integrated mosquito management programs, vaccine trials, etc.) and the evolution and geographical distribution of insecticide resistant vectors and antimalarial resistant parasites."

In short, if you work on vectors, insecticide resistance, drugs, vaccines, or whatever in the field of malaria - this write-up is broad enough so that 'anything goes'. Of course, a Special Issue on the liver stages of P. vivax would be much more difficult to produce (yet would be much more valuable). But this goes against the grain of an 'Open Access' publisher in need of cash. "Better invite as broadly as possible, with the likelihood that we receive more manuscripts (and thus cash)", they must have reasoned in Basel.

Further down in the email the most difficult sentence for the Publisher has to appear: "Article Processing Charges are 1400 CHF per accepted paper. For details see: http://www.mdpi.com/about/apc/". That's USD 1478 to publish your work...

Noteworthy are the words 'per accepted paper'. So if your manuscript gets rejected MDPI AG Publisher doesn't make any money. So obviously they want to accept as many papers as possible and that's where the true danger of our beautiful Open Access model comes in: Publishers that only accept manuscripts of outstanding quality (no doubt few) will go bankrupt whereas those that publish anything they get their hands on thrive. There is actually a term for this: Predatory Open Access.

Predatory Open Access publishers are known to accept (almost) anything submitted to their editorial office. Some examples exist of where a researcher used a random word generator to produce a manuscript that was actually accepted within 10 days after being submitted (read the story here).

I then decided to have a closer look at the MDPI AG Publisher. On their website it becomes clear that MDPI AG has massively increased the number of journals over the last few years. Some titles are amazing like 'Technologies', 'Symmetry', 'Risks', and even 'Religions'. There is even a journal titled 'Publications'. Of course: broad journal titles generate more manuscripts, right? Today alone (4 June) MDPI AG launched three new journals.

All of this doesn't sound very credible one could think. But MDPI AG is clever enough to show us an impressive list of Nobel Laureates that serve on their Editorial Boards.

Publication fees are equally interesting. MDPI AG has a list of publication costs that, interestingly, shows quite a few titles where you don't pay to publish. Strange? No. Just above the list is written 'Please note: MDPI will introduce further changes to the Article Processing Charges (APCs) on 1 July 2013'. Aha - first you hook authors and then you start charging them. Funnily enough, although it seems as if charges are waived when a new title starts, some of them are still for free even in their 3rd or 4th year of existence. Apparently these journals do not take off as intended, which of course is a further reason to launch even more journals.

I am sorry that MDPI AG Publisher became the focus of this blog. No doubt I would have found similar issues with the other journals that spam me continuously with their great 'Open Access' model.

But next time you publish, perhaps think twice. Who do you publish with? To guide you there is a list of predatory Open Access Publishers and also a list of dubious journals

As long as there is much money to be made in academic publishing we will continue to see (an increase of) these misleading email messages that look good but are all geared towards one thing: money.

That's why it is so hard to find journals where you don't pay to publish and you don't pay to read. That can maintain full integrity and publishing ethics and are not depending on profit to survive.

I know one such journal (click here to see it)...

Comments

I would like to thank you, Dr Knols, for your comments. It is true that I have only one publication in the field of malaria. Since you are searching my CV, I’d like to inform you that I have 122 publications concerning mainly communicable diseases surveillance and prevention, environmental hygiene and public health issues.

In addition, I would like to let you know that in January 2012 we launched the project “Integrated surveillance and control programme for West Nile virus (WNV) and malaria in Greece (MALWEST, www.malwest.gr)”, which is funded by National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) 2007-2013 through the Greek Ministry of Health and coordinated by me as Professor and Director of the Laboratory of Hygiene and Epidemiology at the University of Thessaly (Central Greece). The project runs for a 24-month period.

As you may know, Greece was considered as a malaria endemic country until the implementation of an intensive eradication program that started in 1946 and ended in 1960 resulting in malaria- free certification acquisition in 1974. Since then, imported cases were only reported with a few sporadic locally acquired infections in 1999, 2000, 2009 and 2010. In 2011, a total number of 42 autochtonous cases were reported; 36 of them were located in Evrotas municipality (Lakonia district), while more 23 cases were recorded in the same region in immigrants from endemic countries (imported cases).

In the kick-off meeting of the MALWEST project, that took place in 26-27 January 2012, apart from 77 persons from collaborating partners of the programme and organizations related to programme activities, five European experts were also invited in order to participate in the meeting and communicate their knowledge and experience in malaria epidemiology and control.

The MALWEST project aims at the development of an integrated control programme for both WNV (surveillance for human cases, mosquito surveillance, avian surveillance, and equine surveillance) and malaria (surveillance for human cases, mosquito surveillance). The main objectives of the project are the detection of the west Nile virus and malaria parasite activity, the detection of the geographic regions with the greatest risk, the development of risk assessment tools by using GIS, the prediction of spreading of the diseases and the implementation of the appropriate interventions.

Concerning malaria, we have already run seroepidemiological study and massive screening in immigrant populations in Lakonia district (malaria epi-center) and in points of entry. We evaluated the Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) sensitivity, specificity and positive predictive value in a non endemic country. Also, we organized and supervised the mosquito surveillance along with the infection rate assessment. Educational seminars have been organized for health professionals in order to be familiar with the re-emerging disease, and informative leaflets have been distributed to the public. We have already started a massive control programme in Evrotas region (Lakonia district) including fever screening, mass directly observed therapy in immigrant populations, bednets distribution and integrated mosquito surveillance and management.

One out of seven Work Packages of MALWEST project is dedicated on a thorough bibliographical review (State of the Art) about malaria diagnosis, control and surveillance (humans, mosquitoes), a work that we would like to communicate through the malaria special issue that we suggested.

For these reasons, we proposed to the chief editor of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public the special issue “Epidemiology, prevention and control of malaria”.

Bart G.J. Knols's picture
Submitted by Bart G.J. Knols on

Dear Prof. Hadjichristodoulo,

Many thanks for your response - this is much appreciated. Thank you also for elaborating on the MALWEST project. However, this is not what this blog was all about...it was about spam emails from publishers, about predatory open access, about publication fees and publication ethics...regretfully you do not comment on any of these points. Can you please do that too?

Many thanks,
Bart Knols

Submitted by Random Reader (not verified) on

...and just like that, Prof. Hadjichristodoulo vanishes into the same thin air he came from!