Exposing Sketchy Faculty Publications: The Dirty Western

Image credit: Wikicommons

What’s going on in Macomb, Illinois ?

The Dirty Western is a blog that is exposing faculty members who have published in — and are taking academic credit for — crummy papers published in predatory journals.

The blog has covered Western Illinois University (WIU) in Macomb, Illinois since August, 2009. Recently, the blog ran a series of exposés that critically examined the tendency of about 9% of the WIU faculty to publish in predatory journals. These faculty are not named in the blog, but the blog does link to their publications in predatory journals.

The advantage to faculty of publishing in predatory journals is this: the journals are basically vanity presses and have little or no peer review. Thus one can write a paper, submit it, pay a small fee, and see it published in a month or so.

Faculty are generally evaluated on teaching, research, and service. Quickly hammering out and publishing a couple of journal articles can fulfill one’s research requirement for a year.

In fact, I’m told that earning tenure at WIU actually involves very little published research on the part of the candidate and that the tenure and promotion process has no external review.

Moreover, a WIU bonus system rewards faculty based on research quantity rather than quality.

This blog is significant because it’s the first one I know that examines the research output of a single university in the context of predatory publishing. More such analysis is greatly needed.

The blog also points out some WIU-sponsored journals including the Western Journal of Criminal Justice. This department-run, open-access journal is extremely low quality and barely qualifies as a journal. It contains mostly the work of graduate students, including one article about the Koran that misspells the word holy as holly throughout the paper.

The blog reminds us that everything we publish in journals, especially open-access ones, will always be subject to scrutiny. Thus all university faculty should only submit their best work to journals and should never engage in author misconduct.

It is possible that some of these faculty members were fooled by the predatory publishers — that’s what these publishers do. Predatory publishers masquerade as legitimate publishers seeking article submissions from all faculty to boost their revenue. They are experts in deception.

However, in this case, it’s probably a good idea for faculty members to withdraw any papers that they unwittingly got accepted in predatory journals. Also, faculty today need to develop a greater awareness of predatory publishing and avoid it.

We congratulate the Dirty Western on its work. University faculty should not publish in predatory journals, and the blog has done a great service by exposing these lazy faculty.



15 Responses to Exposing Sketchy Faculty Publications: The Dirty Western

  1. Rob Rittenhouse says:

    I have very mixed feelings about that Dirty Western site. On the one hand it’s interesting to see how prevalent publishing in low-quality journals is but, on the other hand, some of it is, methinks, a bit nasty.

    What would be interesting is collecting some data and reporting it in the time honored format: “Compass Point University is a Midwestern university with . An analysis of publishing records from to shows the following pattern.

    Obviously these low-quality journals have a market because of the research evaluation practices of some universities.

  2. Robert J. Hironimus-Wendt says:

    It might worth noting that faculty at Western Illinois University are not being tenured or promoted on the basis of the articles found in predatory publishers. While the DW “broke” this story four weeks ago, Department Personnel Committees began addressing this issues at least a year ago. These publications are not being allowed for tenure or promotion consideration. I have made PowerPoint presentations at the department level regarding this issue, and gave a presentation to the University Chairs Council last month on this topic. I have openly shared my presentation materials internally (at WIU) and externally (with the American Sociological Association). Some departments actually have procedures in place to help junior colleagues avoid getting caught up in this national problem.

    In short, the DW is not breaking news. While they have shown that this problem can seriously affect campuses if left unchecked, Western Illinois has in fact been addressing this issue on our campus. We discovered it more than a year ago. We are working through Department Personnel Committees and Chairs to intentionally mentor our junior colleagues regarding this situation. We are trying to catch them prior to tenure so that they are able to remedy the situation before coming up for tenure. In the end, the DW has simply come to the table late, found evidence of food, and demanded that they get credit for the meal. They have also misrepresented how the dinner was served. In fact, we are not promoting people or tenuring people on the basis of these articles. But we are bussing the table now.

  3. Anonymous says:

    In fact, rhw, faculty are being rewarded for this behavior at wiu through awards, money, grants, and more. Clearly, given the recent problems in one dept. on campus this is still a problem. I’m nearly certain that some people have been promoted or granted tenure based on some of these publications. Remember…not all dpcs are created equal.

  4. Robert J. Hironimus-Wendt says:

    Dr. Mr. Beall

    I have a concern with another statement you make in your DW post. It concerns your pronouncement that “earning tenure at WIU actually involves very little published research on the part of the candidate and that the tenure and promotion process has no external review.” This statement is false, plain and simple. I would guess that the source of your information is “Anonymous.” I can also guess that your source did not provide evidence of their claim. Relying upon anonymous sources that are purely argumentative and lacking in substance may have led you to conclude as the anonymous source has. But doing so does not legitimate the claim.

    In fact, our departmental criteria are publicly available for review. Below, I provide you with the criteria from my own department. And I openly attest that our criteria for tenure and promotion in fact do require published research.

    More generally, WIU is bound by a faculty union contract, and that contract requires our minima criteria for tenure and promotion to be shared across departments. Hence, in all cases, WIU requires junior colleagues to submit for evaluation at least two peer-reviewed publications/professional works, that are have appeared in bona fide, legitimate venues. The validity of these venues it determined by department personnel committees, then the chair, then the dean, then the provost. I say “two” bona fide/legitimate professional works, because some departments require more. In addition, all portfolios must demonstrate additional profession works (beyond the two). We also expect junior colleagues to have established themselves in professional societies, through service in order to be tenured. Our university views legitimate peer review, service in regional and national societies, and the publication of additional, secondary scholarly works as a form or external validation from the disciplines and professional communities. While we do not go further to the point of asking faculty from other universities to serve as external reviewers, I do not believe this practice is common.

    The union contract requires DPC and other reviewers to effectively judge the quality as well as the quantity of professional works prior to making recommendations regarding retention, tenure, and promotion decisions. What follows are the criteria from my own department.

    A. Scholarly/Professional Activity

    1. Categories of Materials and Activities

    a. Publications of Scholarly Research: refereed journal articles, book chapters in edited scholarly books, and scholarly books

    b. Publications of monographs, refereed teaching notes, and refereed research notes

    c. Research Grants/Contracts: receiving, administering and fulfillment of research grant project obligations including written reports

    d. Editorship of a professional journal

    e. Officer or leadership activity in a state, regional, national or professional organization

    f. Other Research and Creative Activities (not prioritized)
    1. papers presented to professional associations and other
    2. professional meetings
    3. manuscript review
    4. work in progress
    5. research grant proposals
    6. consulting work, paid or unpaid, that is reflective of the faculty member’s discipline
    7. professional testimony to groups, agencies, courts, etc.
    8. book reviews
    9. film reviews
    10. encyclopedia entries

    g. Any scholarly activity can be counted only once

    2. Relative Importance
    In general, categories a, b, c, and d are judged more important than categories e and f.

    • Wow, two peer-reviewed articles to get tenure. Pretty impressive. I’d say great negotiating on the part of the union.

      • Robert J. Hironimus-Wendt says:

        Two plus, Mr. Beall…. Two plus. *smile* I’ll not speak directly to the union’s role in this, as I am not sure they like me any more than the DW. On the other hand, as least the union does not hide behind the mask of Kowardice *smile*

        As I indicated, there are additional professional obligations beyond beyond the two peer reviewed, bona fide articles in legitimate journals. I am not sure what you would establish as a threshold for peer reviewed articles across disciplines, but the one we have is currently two in category A.1.a., “plus” additional professional works. And surely you will acknowledge that getting properly published in some fields is more difficult than in others. Two represents our university’s minima, and departments may require more than two.

        I personally am not convinced it is problematic to ask new PhD’s hired into regional Masters level universities to establish themselves within five years by publishing a least two peer reviewed articles (I had more) plus a lot of other professional works, after being hired, is necessarily problematic. I will admit it is minimalist. I know some other Masters level universities set the standard at three plus additional works, rather than two. On the other hand, I am actually wishing to challenge your assertion that gaining tenure at WIU “actually involves very little published research on the part of the candidate.” Yours is a very generalist assertion suggesting the university as a whole has no standards. Yours is an overgeneralization based on an anonymous assertion that we have little to no standards. We do have standards – “two plus,” not “two,” as you now suggest. While we might debate whether tenure should require 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 or more legitimate publications in category A.1.a. within the first 5 years of a career, that was not the context of the original post. You simply suggested someone unknown to you led you to believe WIU has no standards. I suggest you were misled.

    • Anonymous says:

      Two peer reviewed works IS very little, rhw. Looks like you’ve proved DW’s and Beall’s point–far from proving it false as you claim. Good job.

  5. Kenneth Mitton says:

    This problem can be circumvented completely by all institutions making it clear policy that publishing in vanity press will not count towards their pre-tenure reviews. At our University, starting at the Unit level of review, we specify the importance of peer-reviewed publishing in respected journals. Then again at the college/school review level and finally the University Wide final review of a dossier. It is extremely unlikely that truly bogus publishing effort would be counted, and it would likely be noted in one or all three of the committee evaluations and would become a negative point against promotion. In the end the institution harms its entire reputation by not tackling this now. The Western bloggers are doing them a favor if they choose to correct the problem now. No time like the present. They can even come out looking good, if they do something about it (the Institution and their Faculty).

  6. Kenneth Mitton says:

    PS. It might be good to find out if any of their faculty are ONLY with vanity published papers. If they have some peer reviewed papers plus some vanity ones, well they are free to publish where they want if they can pay for it.

    It is also very likely that many have published not really understanding they were NOT submitting to respected peer-reviewed entity. After all, that is the whole point of this blog, there is so much predatory publishing going on that one can be fooled.

    These faculty may have simply been “the PREY”. I have seen respected scientists listed as coauthor on papers in some of these journals. These same faculty have several papers per year in excellent journals and often they are included as coauthors in papers where they contributed part of the sample analysis. (Eager new MDs doing research time, seem to fall prey to these journals often. Its hard to get solid experimental data in a 6-11 month “research break.”)

    I tell every new faculty member I meet that if a new journal has a list of editors that are all basically post-docs or assistant researchers, stay away from that journal!

    Thus, it may be somewhat unfair to post their colleague’s publication links without knowing the context of that publishing. Those of us tenured folk are responsible for educating our new tenure-track colleagues, and even post-docs, regarding this issue.

    K Mitton

  7. Robert J. Hironimus-Wendt, WIU says:

    For what it’s worth, I decided to search on the “41” faculty members the DW claims to have publicly outed in their blog. In fact, only 16 of the names they publicly outed are on faculty at WIU. Given that we have 650 FT faculty, 16 = less than 2.5%. Wow. Good work DW. The sky is clearly still falling.

    PS – Of these, none were tenured as a result of predatory publications.

  8. anony says:

    Robert, you are ridiculous. First, all of those profs did publish in those journals while at WIU. Some of them have only JUST retired. As for your assertion that NONE of these were tenured or retained as a result of these publications–how do you know? You don’t. And, the DW stated in their post that they weren’t including Unit B (for obvious reasons), which you are clearly including in your numbers.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Link to The Dirty Western, above, yields webpage that states they “don’t care anymore” dated 12/13/12 and is their “last post.”

  10. […] it can happen in the US as well. The story of Western Illinois University seems to be similar: the professors knew they weren’t really getting peer-reviewed, the […]

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