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.

Clarke’s Rule of Academic Emails

Any academic working in the past half century or so has come to understand that their research lives or dies, not by its quality, but by its ‘impact’.

This has a particular meaning in academic circles. It means how many citations your work has received, how widely it’s been read, how many times it got tweeted about, and so on. It’s a vain attempt by bean counters in academic administration to implement yet another performance metric and apply it to researchers.

A similar term is ‘outreach’, which is again a vain attempt to quantify and measure (and set targets about) the extent to which an academic’s research gains traction beyond academic circles. This is of course easier to achieve in some disciplines than others. If you’re researching cures for cancer or some sexy aspect of history, there’s always an outside chance a newspaper might pick up your work and mention it. If you work in politics or social policy, you might even get mentioned in a government report.

All academics are now under pressure to achieve impact and outreach with their research. Sometimes their jobs depend on hitting targets over which they have no control. Little wonder, then, that people have seen a financial opportunity in this.

Last month, I received an email from “Julian” at an entity called ‘Research Outreach’. They offered to do all sorts of sexy things with my work on Buddhism and Pulp Fiction, creating ‘resources’ which I could use to publicise my work and achieve higher impact and outreach.

Sounds good, right? But I’m the suspicious type, so I googled them. In my response I then clarified that I didn’t have hundreds of pounds to spend, that I am myself a trained journalist who produces online content, and that I didn’t want to speak to them by phone (where I feared I’d be inflicted with a hardsell). And so they went silent.

Then today I get another email, this time from “James” at “Science Animated”. The wording of the email was almost identical, except they offer a slightly different package, involving making little videos which can be disseminated on YouTube about my work. I noticed that James and Julian had the exact same telephone number. So again I googled.

Lo and behold, it turns out that there are quite a few such entities based in the same Gloucestershire office, all dedicated to providing promotion “services” to fraught academics, promising impact and outreach. I kept googling.

Now, some of you may recall how I turned the tables on a predatory publisher and got them to publish my ridiculous article on mermaids in their journal previously. I’m somewhat more pressed for time now, and I wasn’t entirely sure how the Gloucestershire Impact Mob functioned, so I decided not to engage. I sent James the same email I sent Julian and suggested that they might want to convene with one another before contacting me again.

Then I checked the following ResearchGate post, in which a valiant academic has attempted to restore and update the lost list of predatory publishers once maintained (until threatened with legal action) by Jeffrey Beall. And therein, about a year ago, is a message from an American academic discussing this outfit. Which led me in turn to this post, in which 300 or more academics discuss them.

As far as I can tell, their business model seems to run like this: they have multiple similar or identical operations all running out of the same office, which is red flag number one. Number two is that they spam academics from all disciplines with the exact same email. There is mention of a “cost” and a request to speak to them for five minutes by phone. Many of their staff appear to be sales operatives, and few to none seem to be academic experts in any particular discipline, so we can surmise how that phone call goes.

According to some people on the ResearchGate post, they seek hundreds of pounds (the figure of £890 was mentioned) to produce promotional and PR material in relation to your work. This seems to then get disseminated solely in their own publications (which of course are not peer-reviewed, though at least they don’t claim they are.) I have no idea who is reading these publications. Possibly no one. And their fees for making an animation are notably higher again.

This was the LOWEST quotation on offer!

James later got back to me to clarify that, yes, there’s a whole bunch of similar companies with shared ownership operating from their office, and that they “aim” to provide 80,000 “impressions” during a four week campaign. An aim is not a promise or a contractual agreement needless to say, nor does an internet page impression equal engagement (try arguing that one with your academic administrator!) Furthermore, there’s no way of knowing how many of those impressions are generated by bots.

This business model isn’t illegal, but to my mind it’s not ethically much of an improvement on predatory publishers. They too are attempting to leverage large sums of cash out of the desperation of gullible academics panicked by target-hitting in the ‘publish, promote or perish’ arena of contemporary academic research.

It’s a strange hybrid of vanity publishing and excessively expensive DTP services. I’d hesitate to even call it PR. It’s not like they’re going to press release your work to the BBC, after all. Again, it’s an issue of caveat emptor. Buyer beware, just as with the predatory publishers.

Foolish academics will part with their cash (or with some of their hard-achieved funding) in the desperate hope that paying these people will lead to more citations, more people reading their work, more “outreach” and “impact”. It most likely won’t twitch the needle much if even at all.

Is there an alternative? Sure, I can think of a couple of good ones, neither of which cost a penny, and both of which are much more likely to be impactful and outreachful (yes, it is a word now!)

You could touch base with your Research Office and/or Public Relations Office in your own institution and work with them. It’s literally their job to do this kind of thing. Alternatively, you could pitch an article on your work to The Conversation, which publishes articles by academics worldwide, and then offers them for syndication to the world’s media. I’ve had colleagues reprinted in the British broadsheet press, and online in places like Yahoo News.

In summary, let me formulate Clarke’s Rule of Academic Emails: 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.

I appreciate there may be exceptions to this rule, but thus far I haven’t come across one.

Dumbing Down Peer Review

What if academic articles weren’t so long? What if they were like 10% or 15% as long? That’d be easier to read, sure, but equally wouldn’t convey much information. And what if they were published almost instantly? That’d be great, right? No hanging around for months or years after submission?

But what if they eschewed peer review as it is understood, though, and simply published after a couple of people recommended to do so, even if dozens of others had recommended refusal? What if their only criteria was whether it was readable? Would that still sound like a rigorous approach to academic research and publishing? Or blogging under a thin veil of borrowed academic legitimacy?


Recently I have begun receiving spam from Academia.Edu, asking me to peer review papers on a wide range of at best tangentially-related research.

Initially this confused me somewhat, because when Academia began, it presented itself as a kind of social media outlet for academics. However, this soon morphed into a variant of the ResearchGate/Scopus/Orcid model, wherein academics post their research online in the hope of disseminating it more widely.

Academia then introduced a pay-to-play option, which required subscribers to pay a fee to access most of the information which was useful to them, ie statistical information about who was reading their work. At that point, it began losing my interest, and I became less motivated to post my work for free to their site to make them money.

It’s still a useful site, especially for independent researchers, who generally lack affiliation to a university with library subscriptions to the big journal publishers. Like ResearchGate and the others, there’s a chance to find a pre-pub version of an article on Academia quickly when you need to check a citation. But they’re not satisfied with that.

Anyhow, obviously they’ve now decided that the peer-review academic publishing market is hackable, and have gone after it with zeal. What’s interesting is where they’ve positioned themselves.

I’ve written previously about the scam publishers who demand payment in return for publication. (I even scammed the scammers.) Though there are also reputable publishers who seek funding from researchers, there are many more who are not so reputable. The challenge for ECRs is in discerning between them. Academia, to their credit, have not gone into that murky market. By contrast, they’ve decided to dumb down peer review.

According to their pitch – for that’s what it is – they’ve launched something called “Academia Letters”, which they bill as “a new experiment in rapid academic publishing.” In practice, this means that micro-articles of 800-1600 words, on ANY topic, are submitted and then immediately sent, IN BATCHES, to potential reviewers. Hence my spam.

An article will be published as soon as two reviewers agree to its publication. There are two issues with this. Literally hundreds could recommend rejection and an article would still be published under this system, entirely defeating the main purpose of peer review. Additionally, the model overtly states that it does not accommodate revisions. It is not possible for a reviewer to recommend that an author revise or improve their work. It must be published as is.

In fact, such is their desire for sausage meat for their academic sausage factory, they openly guide reviewers that, even if they detect a need for improvement, they should still accept it for publication, so long as it is “rigorous and worth reading.”

The deciding factor of whether an article is “worth reading” is something that they set great importance upon. In fact, it’s the only question they want their reviewers to answer. Here is their list of criteria they want reviewers to consider in deciding whether an article is worth reading:

  • Is the article interesting or thought-provoking?
  • Is it novel in its methods or conclusions?
  • Does it counter current thinking?
  • Is it especially timely?
  • Does it address a longstanding question or debate in the field?
  • Would it change thinking on that topic, if it were true?
  • Is it rigorous and the argument logically sound?

That all sounds good, or at least, it doesn’t immediately raise too many alarms. But an academic article would not ordinarily be published just because it was “timely” or because it stubbornly and crankily ran counter to a consensus of opinion. Worse, Academia manages to lower the bar even further by noting that their site is read by people who include “curious members of the general public”, and hence articles should be assessed for whether ANYONE would want to read it.

In short, here is the dumbing down of peer review, a tragic tribute act run for the profit of a for-profit corporation, and enabled by the free labour of any academic sufficiently gullible, or desperate, to play along, either as author or reviewer.

Academia.Edu want to reduce the length of academic articles to that of the average blog post, replace genuine and fastidious peer review with a single “would anyone read it” criterion for publication, and eradicate the processes of recommendation, revision and resubmission, all in the name of … well, what, exactly? Efficiency? Timeliness? Or their own bottom line as they seek to drive more traffic, and recruit more subscribers?

I really can’t see an upside for academics in getting involved in any of this. It’s a total erosion of all existing standards. And yet, the spam keeps coming…