Invitations from unknown sources to join referee panels and editorial boards

It is with increasing frequency that scam organizations are attempting to set up open access journals with the aim of making money from charging authors for publication. Many of these are springing up around the world and their progenitors are sending messages to email lists trying to elicit academics to submit their papers, join the referee panel and also join the editorial board. One recent one was also asking for random people to become editor and/or editor-in-chief of a non-existent journal. Why anyone would respond to a complete stranger who had no connection with the field is beyond me. Hopefully, no one is naive enough to respond to these random calls for strangers to take part in non-existent journals. But, who knows? Maybe the urge to add things to an academic CV might prompt inexperienced and untrained people to become editors and referees, handling papers written by strangers for publication by an unknown organization for an undisclosed page fee!

Some of these open calls for strangers make a great play that there is some kudos in having an ISSN number, as if that were some kind of badge of quality or acceptance, when it is merely a registration number. All sorts of spurious claims accompany such calls, presumably hoping to confuse and impress folks who know nothing about publishing. We need to check carefully whether such random claims of authoritativeness have any real meaning. Another increasingly common practice is invitations to submit papers to special issues where the Guest Editor is not an authority on the topic of the special issue. Imagine the situation – a call for papers is sent from a guest editor who has never written on the topic to email lists indiscriminately inviting anyone to submit papers. The papers get refereed by people who have never written on the topic, based on random criteria, and the inexperienced guest editor accepts whatever the referees’ majority verdict is. The author pays for publication and paper is made available freely, with the guise of an authoritative international refereed journal! I hope that this is an unlikely scenario. How can we guard against it?

All of this is grist to the mill and a regular part of the daily trudge through unsolicited and junk email. However, it seems to have encouraged editors and publishers with more recognisable names and titles to trawl email lists for random members of editorial boards and everyone or anyone is invited to take part in a journal on any topic they choose. Worse, we are now seeing evidence of fake referee reports, where an author has registered with a journal as a referee, under a different name, with a generic account, such as yahoo or gmail, and then nominated his fake account as a referee for his own paper, so that he can provide a glowing referee report! This aptly demonstrates the dangers associated with blanket invitations to join in the activities of a journal.

My conclusion from these new practices is that authors and editors have to be vigilant in ensuring that they are only dealing with people they know or recognize. For example, there is no substitute for going to international conferences and engaging actively with the international research community. Otherwise, great care is needed in figuring out whether people are who they say they are, checking bona fides and following up on the details of previously unknown people to make sure that they come from bona fide institutions.

The consequence for Construction Management and Economics is that we will not accept submissions from strangers with non-institutional email accounts and we shall not invite referees to review papers unless we know who they are. We certainly will never put out an indiscriminate request on an email list in an attempt to recruit editorial board members. While we are acutely aware of the need to avoid cronyism and exclusivity, we need to steer a careful course between isolationist policies and indiscriminate involvement.


About Will

Professor of Construction Management and Economics, University of Reading, UK. Editor-in-Chief, Construction Management and Economics (1992-2016). Programme Director, MSc Construction Management. School Director of Postgraduate Teaching Programmes.
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2 Responses to Invitations from unknown sources to join referee panels and editorial boards

  1. Wasiu Adeniran Bello says:

    Important alert there for folks that are desperate on ‘improving’ their CV for “promotion”. But I need to know if it is right to shun journals asking for publication fee or any fees whatsoever. Thanks Will.

  2. Will says:

    Wasiu, thanks for the comment. I would not simply shun journals because they are asking for a publication fee. Journals are paid for one way or another, and whether they are paid for by their authors, their readers or by a learned society is not the basis on which we should choose where to publish. The key thing is to look at the editor and the editorial board and determine whether these people are leaders in their respective fields. Ultimately, if these people are well-published and write good research papers themselves, then you should be seen in their company. If the editorial board is made up of people whose names are unknown to you, then the journal is probably not relevant to your interest. Of course, this is all based on the assumption that an author, in trying to figure out where to publish, has already determined who the key people in the field are through a comprehensive and critical evaluation of the literature. Ultimately, a judgement is required, not simply a list of journals that someone has arbitrarily decided are the key journals. You need to decide for yourself who are the key people in your particular sphere of research. I hope this helps.

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