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I recently got an unsolicited email advertising a questionable-looking mathematics journal. Upon investigation, it looks pretty shady: page charges, manuscripts to be submitted in Microsoft Word (legitimate math journals always use LaTeX), overbroad scope, and a promise for peer review within 2 months (unreasonably short for mathematics).

And in its three years of operation, one particular author has been published in it three times, including an "elementary" proof of Fermat's Last Theorem, and another paper that appears to be a proof of a statement for which an explicit numerical counterexample is known. (Interestingly, it appears the same guy has also published a proof of the Goldbach conjecture in a journal with a nearly identical name from another publisher, and it's indexed in MathSciNet! He has also apparently settled the Twin Primes and Collatz conjectures.)

(Since the preceding paragraph may not make any sense to non-mathematicians, let me say: this is roughly the equivalent of a physics journal publishing a paper that claims to have achieved time travel with household materials. I should note that the journal has a subscription fee (which I have no intention of paying), so I can't actually read the articles in question; but their abstracts are pretty damning.)

However, the journal's editorial board includes some names from reputable institutions; people with many publications in high-quality journals. (There are many other names from institutions I know nothing about.) Giving them the benefit of the doubt, it's entirely possible that they are not paying attention to what the journal is doing, or they agreed to be editors without checking on the journal, or even that they have been listed without their knowledge (this has been known to happen).

Is it appropriate to try to inform these editors what's happening in their names? If so, how can I do it tactfully?

On the one hand, if someone was using my name on a shady journal, I'd want to know. On the other hand, I don't want to offend or embarrass them by just sending an email saying "this journal you edit is crap". It's even possible that they somehow approve of the journal (e.g. they have a philosophy that the world generally needs more journals and fewer barriers to publication), in which case, I fear no good can come of me criticizing it to them.

Edit: Since some people have expressed interest in knowing what the journal is, it is Pioneer Journal of Algebra, Number Theory and its Applications. But my question isn't really about this specific journal (there are many more like it), but rather how to approach this issue in general.

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@PeteL.Clark: I didn't particularly see the need to give the journal more attention, and naming the journal leads pretty directly to the editorial board. And I wanted to focus more on general principles than this specific case. But I am not particularly trying to keep it secret, and have no objection to others discussing it. (Incidentally, you are close, but not quite: you found the journal with the almost identical name.) –  Nate Eldredge Jun 13 at 3:14
    
Thanks for your response. I have the journal now. I would myself make a distinction between criticizing a journal and dropping names of editors of the journal: it is our job as practitioners of X to evaluate and monitor journals in subject X. Criticizing a person seems much more, well, ad hominem. Moreover, because the workings of the editorial board of a journal are totally opaque to an outsider, one cannot with any expectation of accuracy and justice criticize any one editor. As you say, one may well wonder whether everyone who is listed on the editorial board is really "on board". –  Pete L. Clark Jun 13 at 3:56
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Maybe they know full well what they’re doing. Maybe they are also involved in real journals, which receive a lot of unpublishable junk. In order to appease these junk submitters, and thus cut down on repeat submissions of junk, they provide them with a junk journal to publish their junk in. Thus, the submitters think they get published, while real academics only read the serious journals. Everyone’s happy. –  Timwi Jun 13 at 11:59
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@Timwi: except for anyone whose library budget is partly wasted on junk journals because of restrictive bundling deals (not relevant in this case, but does happen). –  Artie Prendergast-Smith Jun 13 at 15:12
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4 Answers 4

I wouldn't worry too much about tact. There's enough information in your question to identify the journal, and it looks impressively bad, even by the dismal standards of junk journals. It's so terrible that I'd consider it unethical to be actively involved as an editor, and humiliating to be passively involved. Bringing this to the editors' attention would be doing them a favor: if their names are being used without their knowledge, then they'll find out, if they haven't been paying close enough attention, then they'll get a valuable wake-up call, and if they are already well aware of how terrible the journal is, then at least they'll learn that someone has noticed their involvement and disapproves. Of course it would be quite an awkward e-mail. Perhaps the easiest solution is an anonymous e-mail: it won't make things less painful for the editors, but at least it won't affect your relationship with them.

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I'm impressed that you could identify the journal from my information. Unless you got the same email I did? –  Nate Eldredge Jun 13 at 2:45
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Goldbach proofs indexed in MathSciNet aren't so common, and the first one I found was by an author who fit all the other facts in your question. –  Anonymous Mathematician Jun 13 at 2:58
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You are under no obligation to tell the editors, but if you chose to email them, it would not be out of place. The key is to not insult them or the journal. Something along the lines of "I see you are the editor of X. I research topic Y. Do you think my research is in scope at the journal? It seems like some of the articles take a less rigorous approach than others. Can you tell me about the peer review process and any publication fees?"

The email handles a number of cases. If they didn't know they are an editor, they now do. If they thought the journal was thoroughly peer reviewing stuff, they now know it is not. If they did it to be able to say they are an editor, they now realise that they have been caught. If they did it because they support this type of publishing model, it will give them a chance to express their views and since they are willing to sign on as an editor, they probably are happy to express their views.

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I think this is a nice idea. One comment: there are many STEM fields in which "this paper takes a less rigorous approach" is something measured to say about a paper which may have other merits. In math, I think that almost anyone would read that phrasing as "some of your papers are totally bogus [why did you publish them?!?]". I personally find that past a certain point, overly polite or oblique language comes across as condescending (but I guess many other people must feel that the type of language I prefer is overly direct and confrontational). –  Pete L. Clark Jun 13 at 5:47
    
Not being insulting is very important. But I'm not convinced by the approach of pretending that you want to submit a paper. If they're a genuine editor, you're wasting their time. If they're not, they now think you're the sort of researcher who wants to publish in junk journals. I suppose they're likely to send you a reply saying, "Holy carp, I have nothing to do with those guys! I've told them to stop using my name." and you can reply to that saying that you suspected this all along and didn't really want to submit a paper. –  David Richerby Jun 14 at 16:37
    
@DavidRicherby I did not suggest to pretend that you are going to submit a paper there in the immediate future, but rather focus on determining if the journal should be on your "list" of journals that you consider publishing in. –  StrongBad Jun 14 at 16:46
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You could phrase your concern in the form of a technical question:

Dear Prof. So-and-so, I noticed that you are on the editorial board of the Journal of Shady Results, which recently published the proof of a statement for which Other-Person provided a numerical counter-example [1]. Is the journal claiming [1]'s counter-example was incorrect?

If you prefer a more indirect route, write your concerns to Beall to help expedite the journal's blacklisting. Once on the list, you can send an incredulous e-mail to the well-known person asking if he is actually involved with this journal.

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This seems to be a lot of game playing. What is the rationale for not being direct? We are all adults. –  Brian P Jun 13 at 2:31
    
When egos are involved ... one can't be too careful. –  Ari Trachtenberg Jun 13 at 3:39
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Beall currently only considers open access publishers. –  StrongBad Jun 13 at 5:09
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I would avoid raising the issue unless you happen to know one of those individuals personally. You are really not in a position to question whether or not somebody chooses to be involved with what you consider to be a poor quality or questionable journal. These types of journals (i.e., "predatory open access journals") have existed for years and have very little influence on science and broader scientific community. They are simply a nuisance. Focus on doing good research and give this as much attention as you would any other spam message.

Please note that I am an advocate of open access journals -- it is the predatory journals that are a problem.

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If I was confident the researcher in question had knowingly chosen to be involved with the journal, I would agree with you; it's their decision. But as I mentioned in my question, it's quite possible their name is being used without their knowledge or consent. –  Nate Eldredge Jun 13 at 2:35
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What does open access have to do with this question since the journal is subscription based? –  StrongBad Jun 13 at 5:08
    
@StrongBad: Yes, you are correct. This is not an "open access" journal. The practice described is entirely consistent with open access "predatory journals." That is the point being made with respect to open access. –  Brian P Jun 13 at 11:56
    
@NateEldredge: It looks like a shady journal, indeed. But, you don't have any evidence that the person's name is used without her or his permission, right? You said, "it's quite possible." You did not say, "I have evidence to know for certain that person is not on the editorial board." What are you potential risks if your are wrong? If you want some evidence, you should go find that person's CV and see if it is listed. But, as I alluded to earlier, these types of things are not uncommon in academia. –  Brian P Jun 13 at 12:06
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