Month: January 2015

Predatory Journals: An Experiment

In my occupation, tenure and promotion are big deals. University professors who want to get tenure or be promoted are usually expected not only to conduct research, but also to publish that research in academic journals. And in the last decade or so, the traditional model of academic journal publishing has been disrupted by the emergence of online-only journals and by open access journals.

This disruption has resulted in some good changes. It has led to alternatives to the process of anonymous peer review of journal submissions – a process which is supposed to be objective, but often isn’t. It can shorten the often lengthy time between the submission of a manuscript and the publication of the finished article. And it has also provided wider access to information that might formerly have been subscription-only or password-protected.

But the disruption has also led to the rise of so-called “predatory journals”. These are primarily online journals which have little or no academic legitimacy. They exist solely to make money for their owners, and they make that money by charging excessive “article processing fees”. Unfortunately, these journals prey on vulnerable researchers. That includes researchers who are desperate for publications to put on their resumes; researchers who are not confident in their writing ability; and researchers who can’t identify journals where a publication will hurt, not help, their careers. (Jeffrey Beall, who blogs about predatory journals, has an excellent list of criteria that he uses to define a predatory journal; you can find the list here.)

Predatory journals regularly send out spam emails soliciting manuscripts. I receive at least three of these emails every week. Other than being annoyed by the spam, I had never really thought too much about how these journals work. But at the end of last year, two astounding stories made the rounds. One was about a predatory journal accepting a manuscript that consisted of nothing but the words “Get me off your f***ing mailing list”. The other was about a predatory journal accepting a manuscript of computer-generated nonsense that was allegedly co-authored by two characters from The Simpsons.

These stories blew me away. How could this happen? Wouldn’t disrespectable journals at least try to appear legitimate by rejecting blatantly fake papers? How could even a disrespectable journal miss such obvious signs of fakery? So I decided to conduct an experiment of my own.

The outcome: Two journals accepted a manuscript for publication that was not only nonsense, but also plagiarized nonsense.

Here’s how it happened.

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Human Resource Management and the CBC

One of the biggest stories in work & organizations in Canada right now is the ongoing workplace scandals at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. At first, attention was focused on the firing of former radio host Jian Ghomeshi.  In the first week of 2015, Ghomeshi was charged with three more counts of assault, and  two CBC executives were placed on indefinite “leaves of absence”. But now another controversy has arisen that involves a different CBC employee – senior business correspondent Amanda Lang. According to a report quoting another CBC reporter, Lang intervened in the CBC’s coverage of a news story involving a company that Lang was paid to give speeches to; she also had a personal relationship with an executive at that company.

Before last week, it might have been possible to attribute CBC management’s ineffective strategy of dealing with Ghomeshi – which seemed to be to ignore or downplay signs of trouble for as long as possible – to the challenges of an exceptional situation that even the most experienced executive would have trouble handling. But the news about Lang’s alleged behaviour – which the CBC again seemed to manage by denial and by downplaying dissent – raises the very serious possibility that CBC has a systemic and widespread problem with its workplace culture and its human resource management practices.

A reader of this blog contacted me to point out one part of the CBC story that has largely gone unnoticed. This part involves Todd Spencer, who is CBC’s “executive director, people and culture” and is one of the two executives currently on leave. (more…)

Executives and Harassment in Organizations: An Interview with David Yamada

The New Year has started off with new developments in the story of disgraced CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi. On January 5, the CBC announced that two of its executives – Chris Boyce, the executive director of CBC radio, and Todd Spencer, the “executive director of people and culture” for CBC’s English-language operations – had been placed “on leave until further notice”. Then on January 7, what was supposed to be a routine court appearance for Ghomeshi turned into something more, as three new criminal charges were laid against him – including one involving a former CBC employee.

Ghomeshi now faces seven charges of sexual assault and one charge of overcoming resistance by choking. He has pleaded not guilty to all eight counts, and his next court appearance is scheduled for early February.

When events like this involve a workplace, there’s always the issue of whether the organization responded appropriately to the behaviour in question. In most organizations, executive positions at Boyce and Spencer’s level have the ultimate responsibility for ensuring safety and respect in the workplace. But there might be many layers of responsibility and authority between that executive level and the level at which the unacceptable behaviour is taking place. So how accountable should executives be for workplace events which they might not have had direct control over?

To get some perspective on that question, (more…)