The Weaknesses of Journal Whitelists

Critique of the Bucket Classification of Journals

Conclusion: Researchers seek the easiest journals on a whitelist.

I just read an article [1] about a well-known journal whitelist by the brilliant Australian economist Imad A. Moosa. Entitled “A Critique of the Bucket Classification of Journals: The ABDC List as an Example,” the article examines the Australian Business Deans Council (ABDC) whitelist, showing its weaknesses.

Moosa finds,

The structure of the ABDC list gives rise to a kind of behaviour that resembles regulatory arbitrage, when academics publish in the lowest-quality journal within the same bucket of any discipline. By doing that, the researcher achieves the same performance and gets the same credit as when he publishes in the highest-ranked journal in the bucket (p. 12).

This is something I think about a lot. My lists are blacklists, journals I think researchers should avoid. Whitelists — or lists used as whitelists — include journals approved by a department, university, or government.

Whitelist Disadvantages

Here are some of what I find to be the disadvantages of journal whitelists:

  • They encourage researchers to seek the “easiest” journals on the list (from Moosa, above), a disincentive to publishing in top journals
  • They may not include high-quality “young” journals yet
  • There are many whitelists and they do not all agree
  • They regularly remove journals, affecting researchers who published in the removed journals
  • When a pay-to-publish journal is added to a whitelist, it may raise its author fee, as demand goes up
  • They may over-rely on publisher-supplied data, which can be glossed

Discussion

I am not opposed to the use of whitelists, especially those created at the university department level and incorporated into tenure criteria. One advantage is that journal whitelists provide an unambiguous goal for academic evaluation. If you are successful at publishing in the journal, you’ve met the criteria.

Unfortunately, competition among journals has made them less selective, especially author fee-journals.

DOAJ, the Directory of Open-Access Journals, was initially created to promote open access, an ideological tool. The 2013 Science sting exposed the folly of this approach. Directories, such as DOAJ and Ulrich’s, aren’t designed to function as whitelists, just as telephone directories are not lists of good people. In fact, ULRICHSweb Global Serials Directory aims to be comprehensive, so using it as a whitelist may be dangerous.

Some academic indexes, like Scopus, are created to serve as indexes of the scholarly literature. This is their primary purpose, but I think in many countries the scholarly index function has become the secondary use, and the chief use is as a whitelist.

Scopus.

Scopus.

Large “whitelists,” like Scopus, include tens of thousands of journals and always have a few bad apples. In the context of whitelists, these bad apples — very easy acceptance journals — become the sought-after prize for too many scholarly authors.

The only commercial service I know of that is designed to be a whitelist is Cabell’s, which is re-branding itself as “The Journal Whitelist.” It is professionally curated specifically as a whitelist.

Blacklists

The great advantage of journal blacklists is that they save researchers’ time. If a researcher is thinking about publishing in a journal, he or she can quickly check the blacklist. A bogus journal can be added immediately to a blacklist, and such lists help expose low-quality journals and publishers.

[1]. Moosa, Imad A. (2016, in press). A critique of the bucket classification of journals: The ABDC list as an example. Economic Record. http://doi.org/10.1111/1475-4932.12258

10 Responses to The Weaknesses of Journal Whitelists

  1. Toma Buba says:

    The biggest Disadvantage Whitelist journals is sentiment both at regional and country level.They accept article base on the ‘interest of their readers’, something that boost their Impact Factor. Against this, they will never accept article no matter the scientific soundness.

    • CZpersi says:

      “Dear author. Thank you for choosing our ‘History Journal’ as a venue for your research. However, your article is about ’History topic A’ and it would be better, if you would write something about ‘History topic B’ that would attract more readership base.” [Quote from an actual Editor’s response, only the topics and names were changed].

  2. Robert Cameron says:

    The case for blacklists is surely strong, and Jeffrey’s regularly updated lists fulfill this function. I can see the point of criticising the ABDC list, but I wonder if going for the “easiest” journal in a subject list is not actually something to be encouraged. The waste of spirit and time caused by the pressure to go for only the very highest journals in terms of TR index is one of the great perversions of out time. In the end, researchers should be judged on the quality of THEIR work, and not by the shortcut of using the journals’ TR index as a surrogate. Good papers, accepted with less hassle in lower ranking but honest journals both gives those journals the chance to improve their TR ranking, and, crucially, helps to sustain a pluralistic publishing scene outside the rip-off artists of Predatory publishers. The dominance of a few giants is profoundly unhelpful.
    Until work is judged on its particular merits, and not on the journal in which it is published, the scope for corruption will increase

  3. David Taylor says:

    I wonder if there is a distinctly Australian — and possibly U.K — problem here, what is sometimes referred to as ‘audit culture’ in which performance is measured by easily counted objective variables rather than in more meaningful ways. In the U.S. universities in which I’ve taught and reviewed promotion and tenure cases, as well as merit raise petitions, annual reports, etc, assessments of the prestige of each journal are considered, individually, rather than through some kind of white list on which the weakest journal appears to be comparable to the strongest journal. I don’t doubt that it does happen, but I also know that the imposition of national level metrics in countries such as Britain and Oz encourages shortcuts that are not sensitive to differences that are routinely considered in American research universities.

  4. […] y cuando tenga un buen equipo editorial y unos buenos árbitros de artículos. Tengan en cuenta que estas listas también tienen defectos. Recomiendo la lista blanca de […]

  5. Katja Mayer says:

    Thanks for this comment on the problem of whitelists and your mentioning of big indexes like Scopus or Web Of Science being treated like whitelists. Like you do in your article, I think we need to acknowledge even more the fact that every tool of evaluation is creating an effect on knowledge production. A way out of this could be to make peer review more transparent, and to encourage authors and reviewers in general to make the reviews public alongside with their papers.

    Furthermore we should not forget about an important benefit of white lists: the strengthening of locally relevant publications, which is of high importance in social sciences, parts of humanities, biomedical research and so forth.

  6. prollo says:

    Blacklist Disadvantages

    Here are some of what I find to be the disadvantages of journal blacklists:

    * They encourage researchers to seek the “easiest” journals not on the list, a disincentive to publishing in top journals (journal XYZ is not on Beall’s list! So it’s safe to publish tere…)
    * They may not include borderline-quality “young” journals yet
    * There are different blacklists and they do not all agree (i.e. I will never understand why Hindawi is NOT on yours, it is certainly on my personal one…)
    * They regularly add or remove journals, affecting researchers who published in these journals
    * When a further open access journal is added to a blacklist, the publisher is simply triggered to create a “new” publisher’s brand

    –> I find most of your arguments arbitrary!

    • Toma Buba says:

      You never consider the problems with the white list, which is the basic reason for the existence and increase in the blacklist.

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