Writing 101: Predatory Journals: Science or Scam?


Reader requirements:  A background in health sciences research and experience with journal editing or publishing.


  1. Course Information
  2. Schedule
  3. Giving Feedback

Course Information:

Instructor: Prof. Cary Moskovitz

Synopsis:
In 2013, Harvard University biologist and science journalist John Bohannon did something that
would normally be considered highly unethical in the publishing world: using an invented name,
he submitted a fake article with clearly bogus content to 304 open-access scientific journals
around the world. Over half of the journals accepted the article. Bohannon reported on this sting operation in the journal Science (http://science.sciencemag.org/content/342/6154/60.full).
One year earlier, Jeffrey Beall, an academic librarian at the University of Colorado Denver,
began his own effort to fight bogus journals. Beall started an online list of journals that,
according to his own analysis, were of questionable character. He added regularly to this widely
circulated list over the next five years, but early in 2017 the list was removed from the web.
According to Beall, he pulled the list due to harassment he was receiving from publishers and
legal concerns of his university. While the scientific peer-review process has never been perfect,
the rise of bogus and sub-par journals threatens to undermine the credibility of the scientific
enterprise. Over the past decade, there has been a rapid growth in journals that make little effort to oversee the scientific merit of the work they publish in order to maximize revenue from authors who pay to publish their work.
Students in this Writing 101 course will explore the world of what has been dubbed “predatory
publishing.” We will start by analyzing actual emails soliciting scientists to submit their work to
these journals. We will read and discuss essays that lay out the problems of predatory journals as well as published arguments for and against creating pubic lists of questionable journals. Then we will interrogate some questionable journals on our own. For the first major writing project of the course, students will each pick a journal suspected of being predatory, investigate its credibility, and write a formal report that lays out their findings and argues whether the journal should be considered bogus. To determine how to craft effective reports for this context, we will examine a range of possible models, after which students will work together to choose a format and articulate the important features and stylistic characteristics for their reports. For the second major assignment, students will craft essays in the form of “commentary” articles in scientific journals. In their commentaries, students will advance an argument related to predatory journals—based on both course readings and the work they and their classmates produced for the first assignment. Through work on these projects, students will get guided practice in library research, articulating claims and supporting them effectively with compelling and appropriate evidence, organizing their ideas on the page, substantive revision and editing, citation practices, and attending thoughtfully to the needs of readers.
A special feature of this course will be our partnership with Dr. Chad Cook, Program Director of
Duke’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program, and some of Dr. Cook’s colleagues. Dr. Cook,
who has a particular interest in predatory publishing, recently published the editorial
“Predatory Journals: The Worst Thing in Publishing, Ever” in the Journal of Orthopaedic &
Sports Physical Therapy, for which he is an editor. Dr. Cook will visit our class early in the term
to share his experiences as a journal editor and his views on bogus journals. Then, during the
semester, students will have the opportunity to meet with Dr. Cook or another PT faculty
member to get feedback on their research and drafts of their reports. At the end of the term,
students will present their findings to an audience of PT faculty and others interested in
predatory publishing. Students who are interested in publishing their findings will be given
guidance in how to do so.

Student Writing Assignment:

What students are writing: For the first major writing project of the course, students will each pick a journal suspected of being predatory, investigate its credibility, and write a formal report that lays out their findings and argues whether the journal should be considered bogus. For the second major assignment, students will craft essays in the form of “commentary” articles in scientific journals. In their commentaries, students will advance an argument related to predatory journals—based on both course readings and the work they and their classmates produced for the first assignment.


Schedule:

For this course, readers will primarily be working with students on the Commentary assignment—which will commence early March and run through the end of the term (early May). That said, if students would like feedback from their reader on a draft of their journal report—and if the reader has the time, we encourage this.


Giving Feedback

Giving feedback is the activity around which the entire project is designed. You may