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These days, many scholarly journals are emerging. Since they are not famous or high impact, they look for less famous scientists to fill their editorial board. This scheme fits many mid-level professors who are satisfied with their routine job, and just need some scientific recognition for official purpose.

However, if you have a big plan for your future, will you join the editorial boards of these journals? When you become a renowned scientist and joined famous journals, will you regret this past decision? Or this is a community service, and we should help new journals too? (Renowned scientists are busy, young scientists should take the job.) In other words, can serving a low-quality journal as a member of its editorial board be considered as a weak point in your academic career?

I am moreover interested in the case, if a journal is listed on Beall’s list of predatory publishers.

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    Here's a somewhat related question I asked a couple of years ago. – Ilmari Karonen May 2 '15 at 6:23
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    Note that if you happen to come to the conclusion that a journal from Beall’s list is not predatory, you should inform Beall about it. – Wrzlprmft May 2 '15 at 6:55
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    Just to note the notions of Beall's list journals and open access journals are far from identical. There is a number of good and even more of just decent open access journals which are not on Beall's list. – just-learning May 2 '15 at 11:29
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    You conflate many things here: new journals and low-quality journals (I know journals that had several Fields medal winners in their very first editorial board, and every signs they where to be very good), and as has been mentioned predatory journals and open-access journals. – Benoît Kloeckner May 2 '15 at 12:25
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    "many renowned scientists are also supporting these journals and are their editors" and some of them don't even know it! Some of these scam journals put the names of prestigious people on their editorial boards without their knowledge or consent. – Joel Reyes Noche May 2 '15 at 22:54
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Joining an editorial board is a form of endorsement as well as a service to the community. You should never become an editor unless:

  1. You understand how the publisher and journal operate, and you have good reason to believe the operations are competent and professional in every way.

  2. You know the other editors, at least by reputation, and are certain that they are actively engaged in running an academically respectable journal. In particular, you have talked with other editors about how the journal is doing and what is involved in joining the editorial board.

  3. You honestly believe that publishing papers in this journal is good for the research community as well as the authors (and no well-informed person could describe it as junk, corrupt, predatory, or exploitative).

If you know enough to be sure all three conditions hold, then it doesn't matter what Beall says. If anyone questions the respectability of the journal, you can convince them they are wrong. Over time, the reputation should improve.

If you aren't sure, then you need to investigate further. You have no business joining the editorial board of a journal you aren't prepared to endorse. (I'd even go so far as to say it's unethical to lend your reputation to a journal that doesn't deserve it.) If the journal is predatory, then being an editor will look bad.

When I've joined editorial boards for journals I know well as a reader and author, I've still had discussions about expectations for editors and how the journal works from the inside. Becoming an editor is a substantial decision that should be based on careful consideration. Nobody will be offended if you have questions or just want to talk. (At least, if they are offended, then you shouldn't trust them.)

There's also the question of whether becoming an editor of a low-prestige journal looks bad, assuming it's not predatory but just publishes below-average papers. One key question is whether the journal publishes papers you are interested in, papers you or other people you respect consider worth reading and citing (even if they aren't exciting or important papers). If so, then being an editor sounds worthwhile. If not, then what's the point of being an editor? If the papers aren't worth reading, then listing it on your CV risks making people think "This person either has low standards or is willing to do pointless work just in order to be an editor." That's not a disaster, but it's not a particularly flattering assessment.

  • +1 for "whether the journal publishes papers you are interested in". – Ilmari Karonen May 2 '15 at 6:26
  • One should note that "you need to investigate further" could very well include contacting Beall directly and inquiring as to why the journal or publisher is on the list. There's a fairly wide range of behaviours represented there and it Beall does not indicate what the offence was or when it happened, so finding that out is a good place to start on investigating the journal and publisher. – E.P. May 2 '15 at 18:38
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I can think of many reasons to become involved with legitimate even if currently lower-tier journals. For example, you may find the editorial experience a useful way to network. You may gain better insight into the publishing process. If a journal launches in exactly your specialty, where no journal existed before, you may have every reason to contribute to making it a success--and it may not stay lower-tier. These positions may not look great on your CV, but should not be an embarrassment either. The main issue comes down to how much time it is wise to devote to such endeavors.

However, I cannot see any advantage to becoming affiliated with a predatory Beall's list journal. Even if a few top-notch people have agreed by mistake to serve on the ed board (or have been listed without their permission, as sometimes is the case), having your name there makes you look inexperienced or gullible. Few if any of these journals are going to persist in the long term, so it is not like you're getting in early on a good thing. Listing editorial positions with these journals on your CV simply suggests you have nothing more positive to describe. And finally, these journals are exploitative of science and of scientists. Why would you wish to lend your name to that?

Disclosure: I am on the editorial boards of three journals, all open access: two top-tier and one mid-tier (from a top university press) that I would like to see become top-tier.

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Yes, it's bad. I was invited to join the editorial board of a journal. I looked up the other people on the board, many of them well-respected scholars. So, I agreed. The first paper they asked me to review was a surprise -- I learned that the journal did not practice blind reviewing. Then I learned that the publisher is on Beall's list. I immediately resigned, and was relieved to be removed from the board and the website. I also removed all reference to it from my CV.

It's pretty well known these days that these predatory journals are proliferating. They have a terrible reputation among scholars, their editorial practices are shady, and there is no benefit to being associated with them. In fact, it will hurt you.

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