Monday, July 27, 2020

Lower-quality regional open-access journals across the academic lifespan

Defining the terms

Lower-quality: journals that immediately evince features of failing to meet basic norms of academic publishing such as copyediting, rigorous peer review, having an editorial board that is actually reading and making decisions about articles, and so on. Often the term "predatory" is used to described these journals, but they often exist in a symbiotic relationship with scholars from the regions below (and others) who are pressured to publish in "international" and/or "English-language" journals for promotion and financial incentives by their employers.

Regional: I hesitate to use this word and perhaps should not, as it implies that journals based in North America, Europe, and Australia/New Zealand are not "regional." Of course they are. This whole enterprise depends on the fact that there is a worldwide archipelago of academic institutions, publishers, and scholars who represent a kind of elite in a given field, and that a large number of others are shut out. Ironically, journals in this elite category rarely if ever need to refer to themselves as "international," whereas journals that are shut out from this for reasons of, say, language, or resources, specifically use that word.

The "regional" journals I have in mind typically have a majority of contributors and editorial board members from the following regions:

China (but not Hong Kong)
Middle East
Eastern Europe
Southeast Asia (but not Singapore)
South Asia
Some parts of Africa

You'll note the lack of Spanish-speaking countries here. I assume that this is because publishing in Spanish is prestigious and 'international' enough to serve the demands of those places, though I cannot be certain as I'm not familiar with this area.

It's tempting to draw a distinction between more and less economically "developed" (a loaded term, to be sure) regions here, if we note the exclusion of Hong Kong and Singapore. There is a sense of these scholars being shut out of geopolitically organized knowledge regimes, and LQROAJs are an attempt, perhaps, to subvert this.

Open Access: OA doesn't mean "bad," but the OA infrastructure makes it easy to set up highly accessible and professional-seeming journals (of varying degrees of actual quality) very quickly.

Academic lifespan: from undergrad to grad school to professorship.


Here's what interests me about the possible influence of LQROAJs across the academic lifespan in, say, the context where I work. In no way am I suggested that scholars from the regions represented above cannot do good work, or that we should not diversify academic publishing. What I am concerned about is that students are frequently being socialized into academic literacy -- both on the "source use" side as students and the publication side as emerging scholars -- in ways that are counter to what their mentors might wish to be apprenticing them into. In fact, they might be being socialized into these things by automated processes -- search algorithms, spam emails, bibliometrics -- that simply cannot help them separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to discerning the quality of academic texts. Again, it is entirely possible that we should in fact be mentoring students into more geographically diverse practices in these areas, but the fact remains that there are many academic articles of very dubious quality available online, and many younger students and scholars may not be able to recognize them as such.

The following are fictional, but based on actual things I have seen.

A first-year undergraduate is given an assignment to choose five relevant sources for his research essay. He uses Google Scholar or her library database, and finds articles whose titles appear relevant and seem to appear in journals with impressive-sounding names. Unfortunately, three of the articles he chooses are from LQROAJs, and are rife with spelling and grammar errors and dubious claims, and are based on what would be considered by his professor to be outmoded theories.

The student (wrongly) learns that it is easy to find open access articles about any topic and you can often click on the first few results and get something that works OK for your paper, and that apparently (if he reads the papers closely, which, let's be honest, he may not) you don't have to be all the great a writer to get something published. Without guidance about what to look for in sources, the assignment has not improved his 'research' skills.

A first-year masters student is writing a literature review for a course about a topic she may be interested in doing research on later in her program. She searches for very specific key words in order, she hopes, to keep the amount of literature manageable. Many of the articles she ends up with are from LQROAJs, and as such are often not based on empirical research, but are themselves literature reviews.

The student (correctly!) learns that there are a TON of articles out there about the topic she's interested in, but without someone pointing her toward which journals are considered the most important in her field, she's lost.

A PhD student receives an email purporting to be from the editor of a Canadian academic journal in her field. She's delighted to have been contacted by someone who read an article she published in a small conference proceedings, and submits a paper she wrote in one of her classes to the journal. The paper itself was given a B by her instructor, who told her it had a weak theoretical framework and made conclusions that weren't well-supported. The journal accepts and publishes the paper within three weeks.

The student (wrongly) learns that good academic publishing opportunities are easy to come by and have no relationship to mentoring, networking, and learning how to 'read' the signposts and approach the gatekeepers of her discipline. She publishes in a journal that some of her current and future colleagues consider "predatory" and when a search committee sees this publication on her CV, her application is ranked lower than it might have been otherwise.

A senior academic at a Canadian university has written a paper reflecting on a course he developed some years ago, but has been unable to find a venue to publish it. When he receives an email inviting him to submit to the International Journal of Education, Humanities, and Social Sciences (I made this name up, but I wouldn't be surprised if it exists) and complimenting him on his eminence in his field, he sees an opportunity to submit this long-neglected paper. It is published in the journal's next issue alongside forty other papers, most of which are written by junior scholars from Ukraine*.

The academic wrongly assumes that because someone reached out to him, they know and appreciate his work, and that the impressive-sounding IJEHSS is, indeed, a worthwhile publication venue. He has potentially done intangible harm to his own and his department's reputation.

*Again, there is nothing wrong with being a junior scholar in Ukraine! These people need opportunities to publish and refine their work like anyone else!

Qs to follow up:
- Won't LQROAJs eventually become HQIOAJs (higher quality international open access journals) if given the time and space to grow?
- By sheer numbers, despite their often extremely poor quality, aren't LQROAJs actually often already widely accepted and successful?
- What gives you the right to call my journal an LQROAJ, a**hole?

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Why Summaries Are Hard

Something I have been aware of for a while but have trouble articulating:

Most of my students, when they first write a standalone summary for my first year writing class, write it as though the author of the original article doesn’t exist. The author is almost never mentioned unless I explicitly tell them to mention him/her. Why might this be? Perhaps because the students are predisposed for whatever reason to think of texts mainly as containing information to be understood, absorbed, reacted to, analyzed, etc., but not to set them in a larger context. Maybe it isn’t until university (or even later?) that you begin to see texts as situated and rhetorical, constructed by people with particular aims and agency, rather than simply neutral transmitters of information.

What I think I see happening is the student writers appropriating the identity of the original authors themselves, if that makes sense — taking on the role of the information-transmitter. Things not attributed to other voices by the original author are simply written without attribution. In fact, most first-time summaries I get are written with no attribution to the author of the text, but the student writers often go out of their way to attribute ideas to the other people/organizations/texts mentioned in the original text. Most of the articles I have them summarize are reported pieces, so in essence the student takes on the role of the reporter. It’s interesting to me how frequently they will go out of their way to quote things that were quotes in the original article — again, as if they themselves were the reporters, and that their job as summarizers is to report “who said what” in the original. It’s just that the author of the original text is rarely considered as one of the “who said whats” to include.

What’s so hard about summarizing is that we ask the students to write a wholly “objective” report of what’s in the original text — to keep themselves and their opinion out of it, if you will — and this makes it very hard for them to realize that they still have to establish some kind of authorial identity. Ironically, it is through attribution to the original author that the student writer can come to distinguish his/her voice from that of the original text. When a writer carefully attributes ideas to other writers, they’re able to carve out a space for themselves, even in a seemingly neutral, objective summary, as the curator, organizer, and interpreter of the text they are summarizing.