Why did the office manager for the Mauritian Police Complaints Commission offer to vanity publish an academic book based on research that I haven’t even finished yet?

You might recall my Rule of Academic Emails, which I introduced previously.

It states: If someone sends you an unsolicited email asking you for money in return for promising to assist your academic career, what they’re offering is unlikely to assist your academic career and may actually hinder it.

But what if they don’t ask for money? Well, then things can get interesting. Let’s take today’s mailbag as an example. Out of the blue, unsolicited and with no previous engagement or interaction, I received an email from a woman called Hiteesha Bachoo, who works for an entity called Lambert Academic Publishers, inviting me to submit an academic monograph to her.

Now, sometimes legitimate academic invitations do occur. Mostly they occur to senior academics who are already very prominent in their fields. They get invited to give keynote lectures at conferences, and to contribute chapters to edited collections of essays, because their very name and presence, not to mention the likely quality of their work, adds kudos and prestige to the whole event or publication.

But it’s possible for little people to get invitations too. If you are one of the few people in a very niche specialism or with very particular interdisciplinary expertise, you might get an invite out of the blue to give a talk or publish in a special edition of a journal, or an edited collection.

Usually these kinds of invitations, to mere academic mortals, come from people who already know you and/or your work. But very rarely a legitimate invitation comes entirely out of the blue. I was once invited by the very prestigious Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin to take part in an event on weird fiction, and was delighted to do so. They flew me over, put me up in a nice hotel for a few days and even paid me. So it can happen. Here’s the proof:

Beardy weirdy me in Berlin a few years back. The beard is gone but the weird remains.

Anyhow, let’s get back to Hiteesha’s email. She gets straight to the point immediately (presumably because she’s got a lot of other emails to send, but also perhaps for another curious reason which we’ll get to later).

Dear Jim Clarke,

publish your own book based on your research titled"  “The Lingua Franca of the Hedgerow”: Lapine Linguistics and Invented Languages in Watership Down ". New publications contribute to the development of the academic market.

I am Hiteesha Bachoo and represent Lambert Academic Publishing, one of the biggest academic publisher worldwide.

Your book will be published at no cost, with print-on-demand technology and distributed on Amazon, Morebooks, Hachette, Publishers Graphics etc.

Jim Clarke would you accept to receive more information about publishing your own book?

You might have questions or need details about publishing, so let me know how can I be of help.

Hiteesha Bachoo   Sincere regards,
Hiteesha Bachoo
LAP Logo

So, she’s not looking for money, or at least not yet. My immediate presumption was that some mention of charges would occur down the line. After all, the usual procedure is that authors approach publishers with book proposals. I know because I’ve written two in the past six months, and I’ve done so multiple times in the past. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen that a publisher might approach an author, but it’s certainly not the usual vector.

So, I did my journalistic due diligence. I googled LAP, and then I googled Hiteesha. Let me summarise what I found. Firstly, NOBODY recommends publishing with Lambert. As this discussion on ResearchGate indicates, they spam an AWFUL LOT of academics, and their book production is low cost, low value and generally considered to severely devalue academic work. Their books rarely if ever get cited either.

In fairness to them though, no one seems to have been asked for money on that thread. Despite that, they and their parent company OmniScriptum Publishing were listed on Beall’s famous list of predatory publishers, but as an imprint of a vanity press rather than out-and-out predators. Eventually I found my way to this article from a decade ago, which includes loads of interesting information and background on Lambert, plus links to half a dozen more articles about Lambert.

Basically, universities, research advisors and higher education research councils on at least four continents have been advising students not go anywhere near Lambert, despite their lack of charging. They WILL publish your book, and they will do so for free. They won’t edit it. They won’t proofread it. They will do absolutely bare minimum design work on it. They won’t promote it in anyway. They’ll simply prep the copy structurally for print-on-demand and then pocket any sales that come in.

Additionally, there is some dispute over whether they even claim copyright, but as that often happens in academia, at least at the journal level, it really wouldn’t surprise me. In effect, you’d be better off self-publishing your work on Kindle or Lulu. At least then you might get some money from sales and you’d retain your copyright. But from an academic perspective? Worse than useless for your career. A waste of your research. A devaluing of your reputation.

I did mention that I also googled my correspondent, Hiteesha, and how her email seemed extremely rushed as if she was very busy. Well, she clearly is. I found her on LinkedIn, where she transpires unsurprisingly not to be an academic at all. She holds a BA in Marketing from the University of Mauritius. Additionally, while she does fess up to working for OmniScriptum as a “Freelance Acquisitions Editor”, her day job is as a management support officer with the Mauritian Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Additionally, she’s currently overtly looking for work, in office management or digital marketing, but she’ll even consider data entry work. The poor woman is basically doing this work as a side hustle. She’s almost definitely paid on commission of the sales of the books she recruits. No wonder she wants another job, and no wonder she spent very little time on my email. She’s clearly got a lot more to send, plus an office to manage in Mauritius in the morning.

How do I know she spent very little time on my email? Primarily because the paper mentioned in it, the one on Lapine linguistics in Watership Down, hasn’t appeared in public in any form yet! It hasn’t been published anywhere because it isn’t finished!

The research will only be presented for the first time later this month at the Critical Plants and Animals Studies Conference in Cappadocia. A more developed paper is also in preparation for the forthcoming Watership Down anniversary conference to be held at Glasgow in September. (You’re more than welcome to tune in to either conference and critique the work incidentally! Better still, attend both and see the interesting additions we have in store for the second iteration!)

Yes, I did say ‘we’. Because this is CO-AUTHORED research which I am conducting with the estimable linguist Hülya Mısır. Who coincidentally did NOT get spammed by Hiteesha, or anyone else at OmniScriptum. Bit sexist of them if you ask me.

Anyhow, what’s the moral of this strange story? I can think of a few. You should always check and double check any unsolicited academic invitations. The shady corners of the academic publishing industry extend quite a distance back in time and are somewhat persistent. Someone’s making money out of this, and it isn’t the researchers or indeed the poor hustlers working on commission. Oh, and office managers in Mauritius should be paid better, so they don’t have to do this in their spare time.

The Sea Monsters Scam of Academic Publishing, or, how I published an article about mermaids in an oceanography journal

This was originally published on LinkedIn. At some point, I will likely decide that I have no real purpose or need of a presence there, hence reproducing it here.

The oceans of knowledge are not a safe place for an unwary early career researcher, or academic from the developing world, who needs to publish their work to gain tenure or promotion.

Here be monsters, shady companies who prey on desperate and ill-advised academics. The scam is simple. There is a drive to open source publishing in academia to make knowledge as freely available as possible. This is because academics tend to produce their work as employees of universities, who are then charged by publishers to access that same work. This too could be considered a little unethical, but it is not new. The system, for those unfamiliar with it, is well described here.

No, I’m talking about a more recent development. With the drive to online, publishers have emerged offering to publish academic work for a fee. This fee, they insist, is to cover things like editorial, proofreading, and layout, as well as online hosting costs. However, the fees requested often run into hundreds or thousands of pounds. Unwary academics, often from developing nations, do not always distinguish these ‘journals’ from more respectable ones, which is how they make their money.

Most academics have been spammed at some point by these journals (the respectable ones don’t need to spam to recruit submissions.). Most academics wearily delete the emails. Some academics dream of spamming them back. Sometimes, academics with a little spare time troll the spammers, publishing nonsense articles to highlight their lack of professional standards. There have been articles published on the use of geese in obstetrics, the existence of midichlorians (the fictional cause of Star Wars’ ‘force’), and even an article simply entitled ‘Stop emailing me’, which consisted of that phrase multiply repeated.

I’ve been on parental leave recently, and as I had a day between writing projects and the baby was behaving himself, I decided to bite on the latest spam from an alleged Journal of Advances in Oceanography and Marine Biology. This too is an indicator of a scam journal, when their topic is very distant from your own speciality subject. Mine is not oceanography. I’m a literary scholar who teaches literature and journalism. So, rising to the challenge, I wrote an article about mermaids, selkies, sea monsters and oceans of lard.

They asked for $979 to publish it. We negotiated, while the article allegedly was out for ‘peer review’. Peer review is a system where other academics read your work blind and offer guidance on whether it should be published. It’s a voluntary quality control system, which moves slowly, because academics aren’t paid to do it, and it’s often at the bottom of their large ‘to-do’ lists. Articles can languish in peer review for months, and sometimes even longer. So it is another indicator of a scam journal when your article completes peer review in ten days, as mine did.

Meanwhile, I had beaten the cost down to $50. They got sticky there, because obviously the sales people on the email line like to make their money and this seems to be their floor. Equally, I didn’t intend to pay at all, and I knew that for the scam to work on others, they needed some content. I gambled that they would publish my article for free to lure others. I also gambled that they hadn’t actually read it, and nor had any peer reviewer. The gamble was correct, and you can read my ridiculous article here (until they read this and delete it.) It’s called Speculative Oceanography.

The Times Literary Supplement is entirely correct to demand a reform of the practice of charging universities for work that they themselves produce. But there is a risk that we may then lurch to an even worse situation, where predatory journals scam desperate academics and researchers with ever more prevalence. A brave librarian in the United States used to maintain a list of such predatory journals and publishers, as a guide for academics to consult, but he and his university were threatened with lawsuits from the deep-pocketed publishers, and now that list is no longer updated, though new journals and publishers pop up daily.

As we move to fully open source academic publishing, we need an international quality control system to prevent predatory journals from preying on the unwary. We need to kill off the sea monsters of academia.

Mermaid research and the pay-to-publish grind

This has been all done and dusted already. Really what I’m doing is archiving it here in case the other locations for whatever reason go dark.

The short version of events is that I was spammed by a pay-to-publish academic publisher, and I trolled them. The longer version is that this is the tip of a very dangerous iceberg of academic publishing, which threatens to destroy the credibility of peer review itself, not to mention the careers of many developing world and early career researchers. Anyhow, I banged on about that here before. For reference and archiving, it is now reproduced on this blog here.

Anyhow, here’s the article in question, just in case the hosting scam publisher goes dark, which they might well. You might have fun with it. It’s short, and packed full of joke references and some fun satire of academic writing. And lots of science fiction in-jokes for the nerds out there.