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Federal Trade Commission Targeting Predatory Publishers

Posted by Jonathan Bailey on Sep 12, 2016 4:00:00 AM

In late August, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a complaint against OMICS, an open access academic journal publisher that has long been at the center of the debate over “predatory” publishers.
The complaint lists several practices that the FTC believe is anti-consumer and needs to stop.

That list includes:

  • Having journal names confusingly similar to major publications
  • Concealing publishing fees from prospective submitters
  • Overstating how regularly OMICS journals are cited
  • Not providing adequate peer-review processes
  • Holding scientific conferences of little to no value

According to the FTC complaint, the basic business model of OMICS is to accept and publish nearly any material submitted to it so long as the submitter paid the necessary filing fee. However, when some researchers balked at the high filing fees, they were told that OMICS was going to hold the work, preventing the researcher from going elsewhere.

According to a press release from the FTC, OMICS, “Used false promises to convince researchers to submit articles presenting work that may have taken months or years to complete, and then held that work hostage over undisclosed publication fees ranging into the thousands of dollars.”

OMICS, which is based in Hyderabad, India has long been a focus of the debate over predatory journals. Research Jeffrey Beall from the University of Colorado at Denver, who researches and maintains a list of journals he considered predatory, said of OMICS “If anything is predatory, it’s that publisher. It’s the worst of the worst.

These allegations have been backed by anecdotes from within the industry, including a recent article on Discover Magazine that highlighted a heavily-plagiarized article published by OMICS and that the journal failed to retract even after being twice notified of the issues.

To make matters worse, the article was co-authored by Dr Srinubabu Gedela, the CEO and managing editor of OMICS.

OMICS, however, has released a statement of its own calling the lawsuit “frivolous and baseless”. The company defended its practices saying that it does disclose its publication fees and only charges for withdrawals after it goes through processing.

But while the lawsuit, even if successful, isn’t likely to stop the practice of predatory publishing, it will definitely change one thing: Reignite the debate over open access publishing.

Though most open access journals do not charge publication fees, there is a broad belief that the practice is endemic of the industry. As such, the merits of open access as an approach to publication will be judged, rightly or wrongly, in this light.

If the lawsuit is successful and does shutter or limit OMICS, it may have an effect on other publishers. We saw something similar in January 2012 when the file sharing site Megaupload was shuttered and its founder arrested. Shortly afterward, other, similar services closed or changed their practices voluntarily.

However, the effect, in that case, was largely short lived, with other sites and services coming along to fill the void.

In the end, as long as there’s a demand for predatory publishers, there will be a problem. But a successful FTC lawsuit may be the first step in discouraging others from stepping into the field and giving the industry the chance to start self-regulating and finding better ways of separating ethical from unethical publishers.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today, and do not reflect the opinions of iThenticate.

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