We in the science and skeptic community value peer-reviewed, scientific journal articles as being a reasonably high quality source of evidence and science. We use these articles to make a point, to inform our decisions, and to keep abreast of the current consensus and state of the science for a particular topic. In this day of easy digital publishing, we are seeing an increasing number of low quality, or fake, academic journals. This is not a new problem, but it is one which is growing significantly.
I had been aware of this before, Mr. Dunning did a bit on it in Skeptoid episode 50, but it’s now gaining much broader exposure. A recent article in the New York Times, by Gina Kolata, brings the subject to national attention. This is a big concern science, media, and especially us skeptical folks. Since many of us aren’t primary research scientists and certainly not experts in all relevant fields, we are left with little choice but to trust the science done by those who are experts. We further are in a position where we rely on peer review and quality journals to further separate good quality science from poor quality science.
What is a layperson, like myself, to do when trying to find good evidence amongst all the dross? Unsurprisingly, help can be found with academic librarians, specifically, Jeffrey Beall. Mr. Beall runs a blog called Scholarly Open Access, in which he discusses issues relating to and about academic journals. He specifically calls out journals and authors engaged in questionable activities. It’s a fascinating read and I encourage you to check it out. The journal Nature even published an article highlighting the issues surrounding questionable journals in this age of cheap and easy publishing.
The takeaway from all this is to continue to be skeptical of all things, even the sources of evidence one might turn to as an aid for skeptical inquiry. Always verify your sources, double-check your references, and look for multiple, independent sources of confirmation for your position.