We Want You On Our Editorial Board

May 15, 2013

An invitation to be on the editorial board of a journal can be a significant marker of academic prestige.  If a subject-based journal can be seen to define a particular academic community then your name on the editorial board would suggest that you are a respected member of that community.  This is a pretty well-recognised convention and editorial board membership is used in PBRF as evidence of peer esteem.

A few years back university staff throughout the world began to receive emails from certain publishers asking them to join editorial boards of new journals, most of them Open Access titles – i.e. journals that do not charge subscriptions  and are freely available to all Internet users, making their money by charging fees to authors instead.  There was nothing unusual about this at the time, except that the volume of requests suddenly increased and people found that they were being approached by journals from disciplines quite unrelated to their own.  Looking back, this was an early manifestation of the phony publishing phenomenon that has resulted in a flood of highly questionable material masquerading as published academic research onto the market.

Most of the time this doesn’t matter too much – the articles languish unread and uncited on the Internet and the only victims of this low-level fraud are the authors who paid money in the hope that their “publications” would bring them attention and respect.  Occasionally, however, one of these sharks sneaks through the safety net, such as the so-called Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences that was indexed by the Scopus database for two years.  In similar vein, most of the requests you are sent to join editorial boards probably won’t make it through Massey’s spam filters.  For universities they are the equivalent of letters from the widows of Nigerian presidents, and the result is that when you try to access articles from some “academic journals” they are blocked if you are on-campus because they come from spam-associated websites.  Even when the occasional email sneaks through, they are generally pretty obvious for what they are – badly-spelled, clumsy, naïve or hopelessly generic – but every now and then one of them will be more convincing and someone will get caught.

So here are a few words of warning –

  • It’s probably not your name they want on the editorial board, it’s your affiliation with Massey University.
  • Once they have your name on their editorial board it will be really difficult to get it taken off again.  You may not even be able to track down the publishers and, even if you do, they will be in no hurry to remove Massey’s name from their website.  Why would they be?
  • There is no academic prestige to be gained from association with a dubious title.  The opposite is more likely.
  • You may be aiding and abetting a deception.  For example the Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences has no association with Australia in either its authorship, content or publication – it has merely borrowed that country’s research reputation to reflect  lustre onto its own lacklustre contents.

Some simple rules

  • Ignore any invitation from a journal you haven’t heard of.  You will probably know whether you are the right person for the journal at the time you are asked.
  • Ignore invitations from publishers suggesting that you might want to be on the board of “one of our journals”.  Unless you are very prestigious, the only reason to be an editorial board member is because of your specific subject expertise and this will be for a specific title.
  • Ignore invitations from new journals unless there is some very good reason for them to exist and they have extensive support from within your field of research.

This might all seem like a rather melodramatic response to a few dodgy emails but malpractice of this sort is very much a live issue.  The completely unauthorised use of personal and institutional names in editorial boards has led the United States National Institute of Health to threaten one particular publisher with trademark infringement.  What is particularly unfortunate is that all of this is occurring in the name of Open Access publishing.

Bruce White
eResearch Librarian

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