Malicious mislabeling at the expense of embracing DEI

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Nick Newcomer

Rightfully so, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are at the forefront of every conversation in higher education and academia, writes Nick Newcomer

This includes institutions touting their support for DEI as well as publishers discussing how to create a more equitable landscape for all researchers and support libraries in providing rich, diverse content. Unfortunately, for so many years, DEI has not been prioritised within the academic community and through the current standards of scholarly publishing the entire landscape has been created through a euro-centric lens. As part of a medium-sized international independent publisher, I have seen this lens suppress not only underrepresented researchers but stifle the distribution of quality research due to biases and discrimination within the industry. 

While many are discussing how to increase diversity in publishing by monitoring key demographics, bringing more racial and gender diversity into publishing houses, and creating coalitions to educate on these topics, it is important to review the current industry standards that are collectively holding us back from achieving true diversity. For hundreds of years, the standards of 'quality, essential research' has created a 'boys’ club' of who can get the highest citation impact, mislabeled and criticised publishers who stand outside of the Big Five, and put immense pressure on libraries. Additionally, it has severely limited the English-as-a-second language academics, early career reserachers, and international researchers. 

Through this article, I would like to inform, educate, and call for a new, higher standard of publishing. My goal is to share with you all the hinderances we, as a publisher, have faced in our efforts to historically support international and underrepresented researchers. While this editorial is just one publisher’s perspective, my hope is that the overall industry continually questions and rethinks what resources and publishers should be supported through our quest of DEI. 

If you publish research from early career academicians or research from developing countries you are a rogue and vanity press 

For context, IGI Global has embraced the concept of DEI through international perspectives since the inception of the company, in 1988. At the time, most major academic publishing houses were not interested in investing in small-run monographs in research areas that were not trending in the field of research. During our inception, we actively sought out these concepts and focused on driving international perspectives in all our titles. Through this mission and mindset, now we have published with over 150,000+ researchers with 40 per cent of our contributors hailing from non-Western countries. With a double-blind peer review process and strict ethical guidelines (backed by the Committee on Publication Ethics), many now see these statistics as a positive. However, due to our historic approach to collaborating with researchers from various countries and expanding publishing opportunities and resources to developing nations, we have received criticism for the quality of our content and been critiqued by librarians, institutions, and others in the academic community. This includes the labels of being a write-only, rogue, and vanity publisher.

This mislabeling of the 'write-only' originates from two blog posts, one that was written in 2007, by Dr. Debora Weber-Wulff from the University of Applied Science at HTW Berlin, Germany, and the other written by Dr. Ian Bogost from Georgia Tech University, USA, in 2008. In Dr. Weber-Wulff’s personal blog, she reviews IGI Global’s website and determines that: 'The authors do seem to exist; however, they teach at minor schools. The business model seems to be: young academic writes book, publishes here, library purchases overpriced book, academic now has a book published, gets a new job at another university, has library there purchase book, etc. etc.' (Weber-Wulff 2007, par. 7).

Unfortunately, these conclusions are all uninformed (view our full piece reviewing this blog post at: bit.ly/3yw28Uz). However, the larger issue that this presents is the element of the editors coming from 'minor schools' or early career researchers. This leads to questions on what the overall standard is in the industry of who should be published. This is further perpetuated by Dr. Bogost’s blog, in which he notes that 'They [IGI Global] capture and feed on fragile individuals in order to advance their kind as a whole' (Bogost, 2008, par. 6). 

Through this mindset, it perpetuates the industry standard that those who are not publishing with specific publishers and do not come from prestigious institutions are seen in a negative light. One comment responding to Bogost’s blog describes this “standard” well by saying: 'Aspects of academic arrogance, such as the generalised attacks on a press based on citation numbers and its manner of soliciting contributions, reveal one of the fundamental and persistent problems with academia: its inability to abandon forms of ivory tower mentality' (G, 2010).

Due to commentary from researchers like Bogost, we are now seeing a troubling trend where the industry has been adopting the 'ivory tower mentality'. Where regardless of the facts that IGI Global is a full member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and all of our titles are fully double-blind peer-reviewed, we are seen as not credible due to the opinions on a few scholars. The reality is that many of our processes are ahead of the industry in terms of monitoring the publishing process and rigor but are is being overshadowed by the prejudices against us a publisher or our network of 150,000+ academicians and researchers. 

What is more alarming is that these opinion-based blog posts are being quoted as factual, in articles including 'The false academy: predatory publishing in science and bioethics', by Stefan Eriksson, from Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden, and Gert Helgesson, from Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, in a Springer journal, which coins IGI Global as a 'rogue publisher'.

They state: 'The idea seems to be that the editor of the book, a researcher craving more academic merits, gets a nice item to add to the publication list, while the publisher draws money from selling a few mandatory library copies. Ultimately the public pays the salaries of these questionable publishers, while those sections of the public truly in need of good edited collections (such as scholars from low and middle income countries who can’t afford access to many journals) stand to benefit nothing. Nor is the book likely to have any impact whatsoever on scientific development' (Eriksson and Helgesson, 2017, par. 28). 

Unfortunately, these researchers' opinions are isolating many other researchers and publishers, including those that are supporting early career researchers, English as a second language researchers, and those from developing nations. If publishers are bullied into limiting opportunities solely to established and career authors from select institutions, research will become repetitive and stale with nobody challenging it to become more forward thinking, disruptive, and inventive. Should the content not be held under greater scrutiny than a person’s name or affiliation? 

Although, you may be thinking that this is one isolated incident with one publisher, this has historically occurred. With popular publishers, including MDPI being place on the Beall’s List, the emergence of a 'new fake Beall’s list', and various forums where politics and academic smear campaigns take precedent over promoting quality research and publishers. 

Over the years, as the academic community strives to develop criteria that sets credible, predatory, and vanity publishers apart, the system continues to fail its researchers as there is still not one single reliable source for the academic community to turn to with full confidence, and many are taking advantage of this and manipulating perspectives to suit their own agenda through their own platforms (quite often as blog entries and editorial pieces as seen in the aforementioned). 

Additionally, through these formulated lists, reviews, and blog posts, it is noting the overall prejudices that are occurring within the industry. If you are an early career researcher, underrepresented researcher, or if you research comes from a specific country, it is seen as 'less impactful', regardless of if the research was vetted by a leading scholar, underwent a peer review process, and was deemed through the scientific method as quality. This is hindering on all fronts of the academic community, including affecting: 

  • Who researchers are willing to collaborate with (as prestigious institutions are less adept to collaborate with researchers from developing countries);

  • What resources librarians will acquire, as often we hear feedback on not wanting to acquire publications due to editorship in India or another foreign country; and 

  • Ultimately, with many publishers, who they are willing to pursue projects with based on 'profit margins' and perceived prestige of the research. 

The boys’ club of citation impact and quality standards

Not only are these few researchers’ opinions perpetuating a false narrative of quality, but it is also continually exasperated by the overall standard of quality research – where, not only does the publishing process and merit of the research (determined by peers in the field) matter, but the overall citation impact and indexing of the publication.

Overall, with citation impact, we as a publisher have seen it countless times, where the research coming from the most prestigious schools are highly cited or research coming from United States and Europe. However, this method is now being utilised to create a 'boys’ club' mentality, where academicians and researchers will create 'citation farms' or citation networks and constantly feed (cite) each other’s work to help increase the prestige of the publication. (Noorden and Chawla, 2019, par. 3)

Often, we see and hear that occurs in some of the top journals. Although, many have noted the flaws in citation impact and many companies have come out with alternative metrics to measure research’s impact, the citation impact factor reigns supreme. In addition to needing a high citation impact, the standard that a publication must be indexed in Web of Science or Scopus is another off-base requirement for researchers to receive credit for their work or for libraries to consider it for acquisitions. 

Prof. Jon Tennant, from the Institute for Globally Distributed Open Research and Education (IGDORE), UK, summariises the issue with this mindset perfectly in his article, “Web of Science and Scopus are not Global Databases of Knowledge,”: 'WoS [Web of Science] and Scopus are both commercial and for-profit services that, irrespective of their methods, have a fiduciary duty and accountability to that of their shareholders and investors. Not a duty to science, or to the public…Both are shining beacons in the world of “platform capitalism” — with business models that not only predate but also outperform those of Google and Facebook in terms of profit. It is perhaps no wonder that these databases are so biased towards favouring research from western Europe and North America. WoS is owned by Clarivate Analytics, based in London, and Scopus by Elsevier, based primarily in Amsterdam and London. Their geographic location is not a coincidence here, two of the centres of historical western colonialism, of which the after-shocks are still being widely felt' (Tennan, 2020, 1-2). 

Sadly, these metrics that are being utilised to measure quality is hindering underrepresented and international academicians from getting their work noticed, acquired, and widely accessible. Institutions and even full countries are now mandating, which publishers their researchers can publish with, and libraries are able to acquire. They are utilising the indexing status of the individual publications to help determine these factors. Combine these factors together, it is excluding thousands of researchers, quality institutions, and even, notable publishers from getting a seat at the table of scholarly communications and research. Even if a publisher has publications indexed, they are still blacklisting them due to false narratives and based on the opinions of a small number of researchers. 

Additionally, we often are seeing that these metrics coupled with the above malicious mislabeling overshadow one of the most important elements of quality, the peer review process. As one of the most important elements to ensuring that discrimination does not occur, the double-blind peer review process is key as reviewers and editors do not know any information regarding the contributors’ identities, including race, gender, sexual orientation, geographical location, etc. ensuring the evaluation is based solely on the quality of content. If completely correctly, the reviewers should be only reviewing the quality of the overall research and the network of reviewers should come from various countries and perspectives. One major barrier that we see occurring across the industry is the fact that many editors are rejecting papers outright based on grammatical issues. While there are certainly grounds to reject papers that are unreadable, it is important to remember that most native English speakers do not even write “perfect English” and that perhaps there is room to work with authors whose English is not picture perfect but whose research findings are significant.

The path forward 

A great quote to summarise this overall phenomenon of the 'ivory tower' comes from an editorial article, 'Discrimination in Scholarly Publishing,' featured in Taylor and Francis’ journal, Critical Arts, Prof. Elizabeth le Roux from Aarhus University, Denmark, says: 'Discriminatory practices [in publishing] may include unfair reviewing processes, unethical behavior, exclusion from the ‘old boys’ network’, and other constraints on time and research. The values that underlie the scholarly communication system – such as the maintenance of ‘high standards’ – may also function to exclude.' (le Roux, 2015, 703)

This was written nearly six years ago and sadly, although there is more dialogue around DEI; the reality is that we now must undo hundreds of years of publishing standards and practices to re-establish a truly diverse landscape. 

Although multiple books could be written about the biases in academia and potential solutions to combat them, it is important for everyone in the academic community to question the standards of the current industry and educate yourself on how in each of your areas you can optimize to achieve this change. While we transition into this pivotal time in academia with institutions, publishers, researchers, and the librarian community responding to this historical DEI movement, it is important to not only support those in the industry that are touting their commitment but recognise outlets and institutions that have historically supported this movement to differentiate between those that are simply profiteering from the latest 'trendy movement' to ensure that long-term solutions can be enacted.

For researchers, discuss with your publisher and institution on ways to help increase the diversity in your research. This can include for editors and authors, increasing diversity on your editorial review boards, asking for resources to break down language barriers, increasing international collaboration and mentorship, and review diversity of authorship. 

For librarians, acquire research from diverse perspectives, review your collections for diversity, collaborate with publishers on initiatives (such as Read & Publish models) that could help support underrepresented researchers, and educate your patrons on key elements that could be hindering them from truly embracing DEI. 

Lastly, for publishers, we need to come together as a collective unit to provide resources to all parties involved, which includes providing flexible acquisitions models and solutions for libraries acquire research and further DEI in their institutions, resources to our contributors on how to overcome the bias in the industry, and not only increase research in DEI but ensure that what we are publishing provides a holistic viewpoint from various perspectives. 

Sadly, for so many years the structure of academic publishing has been solely based on profit with some publishers racketeering off the academic community, and the standards set in place are to line someone’s (or should we say multiple someones?) pockets. 

Understanding that this article is merely scratching the surface of these issues, I welcome discussion on this topic and how we can collaborate to champion the DEI movement. Additionally, if you are interested in additional information on IGI Global’s stance on DEI, contact me directly at nnewcomer@igi-global.com

Nick Newcomer is senior director of marketing and sales at IGI Global

References:

Bogost, Ian. “Write-Only Publication.” Bogost.com, November 24, 2008. http://bogost.com/writing/blog/writeonly_publication/. 

Eriksson, Stefan, and Gert Helgesson. “The False Academy: Predatory Publishing in Science and Bioethics.” Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 20, no. 2 (2016): 163–70. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11019-016-9740-3. 

G. Gaylen [Comment on the article “Write-Only Publication: IGI Global and Other Vampire Presses”]. Bogost.com, December 7, 2010. http://bogost.com/writing/blog/writeonly_publication/.

le Roux, Elizabeth. “Discrimination in Scholarly Publishing.” Critical Arts 29, no. 6 (2015): 703–4. https://doi.org/10.1080/02560046.2015.1151104. 

Van Noorden, Richard, and Dalmeet Singh Chawla. “Hundreds of Extreme Self-Citing Scientists Revealed in New Database.” Nature News. Nature Publishing Group, August 19, 2019. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02479-7. 

Tennant, Jonathan. “Web of Science AND Scopus Are Not Global Databases of Knowledge.” European Science Editing 46 (2020). https://doi.org/10.3897/ese.2020.e51987. 

Weber-Wulff, Debora. Write-only publications, December 31, 2007. https://copy-shake-paste.blogspot.com/2007/12/write-only-publications.html

 

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