Early career questions: Is writing a book review really worth it?

You probably agree that writing book reviews is a worst of time. Why spend a month critically reading a book, and then another week or two writing a review that will never be cited or counted as a scientific publication? You probably should have written an original research article or finished your experiments. However, book reviews deserve a better PR because they serve as an important resource for a busy faculty and a curious public.

Advising an early career researcher who had just written a book reviewer, Karen Kelsky wrote, “The important thing is that you don’t write any more.” She continued, “The problem with book reviews at your stage is opportunity cost. While you’re writing the review, you’re not writing the peer-reviewed publication that will actually count.”

I agreed with Karen Kelsky’s position. Until a family friend recommended me a book that was a deceptive pseudoscience quagmire. The writer of the book claimed he knew numerous natural treatments for cancer. And the US government did too, but didn’t want to disclose them last the big bucks in big pharma get ruined.

Sadly, my friend thought the claims were true. He wanted the miracle herb. After reading the book, I told him my thoughts – the book was rubbish. And using my little knowledge on cancer development, I pointed out the shortcomings of the book.

I’m sure he was disappointed. After all, who doesn’t want a miracle drug? Despite his disappointment, I’m glad I used my knowledge of the philosophy of science and mechanisms of toxicity to help him. Of course, my informal review of Kevin Trudeau’s Natural Cures will probably never appear on my resume. And I’m sure it will never count on tenure. But that book review, helped a person who was on the verge of being deceived.

Isn’t that the purpose of book reviews; fostering accessibility while promoting scientific integrity?

Writing a book review: My journey

A couple of months ago, I decided to write my first book review on climate change. As an African, climate change is a serious issue because we’re the ones who are going to be the worst affected. I contacted the book review editor at Science if they would consider my book review. They couldn’t because they had scheduled for the whole year. My inquiry on possible submission in 2018 went unanswered.

Since my book review was on climate change, I decided to submit it to Climate Change Journal. The editor told me they ‘consider book reviews by invitation only, and only those contributions which provide insight or stimulate discourse beyond a limited review are successful.’ I thought my review was up to scratch. It wasn’t, the editor rejected it because it was ‘too straight forward.’

I don’t consider the rejection a loss but I lesson. Because the next book review I wrote I made sure it provided insight and stimulated serious discourse. I submitted the review to Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management and it was accepted. There were two other books on climate change I wanted to review separately, but the editor advised me to consider a combined book review where I compare and contrast the two books. I loved it. And it was accepted too.

Working with book review editors helped me to become a better writer. But the best lesson came from the editor who rejected my book – a book review should provide insight and stimulate discussion. Doing that might take a lot of time, but I’m convinced it’s worth it. After all, even professors busy with research need book reviews for their own books and the ones they want to use in their classrooms.

Let me end this by quoting the wise words of Gary Natriello:

Reviewing books is truly a service to the community of scholars. Those who prepare careful reviews should be commended for their efforts. If all of us take the time to review books now and then, the resulting catalog of reviews will offer an efficient entre into our growing literature.

Image by Giammarco Boscaro

5 Things I Learned After Publishing In A Predatory Journal

Like thousands of young African researchers, I am a victim of a predatory journal. I published my first research paper in a predatory journal. I was young, I was ignorant and I was looking for validation. And a predatory journal took advantage of all of this.

Predatory journals are con artists. They pry on your ignorance and take advantage of your pride. But what is a predatory journal? A predatory journal is a journal that charge researchers submission fees but offers little or no peer review or editorial support. Hence, the primary goal of a predatory journal is profit rather than advancement of sound scholarship.

How I published in a predatory journal and why I regret it

In undergrad, I studied the occurrence of acrylamide in traditional foods consumed in Zimbabwe. Since I didn’t have the right equipment, I collected my samples and sent them to Sweden for analysis. The study confirmed traditional foods had acrylamide, a cancer-causing chemical although at a lower concentration than French fries or cookies.

1. People publish in predatory journals out of ignorance

I decided to publish my study on acrylamide in food. But I didn’t know anything about publishing manuscripts. Researchers at my university in Zimbabwe often published at Academic Journals. So, I sent my manuscript to African Journal of Food Science, which is published by Academic Journals.

2. Predatory journals only want your money

A week after submission, I received an email saying my paper had been submitted. I had to pay about $350 for my paper to be published. One of my co-authors paid, “Edmond, I have published many articles but I have never paid for publication. Be careful.” I didn’t listen, I only wanted to list a publication on my resume.

3. Predatory journals lack a robust peer review system

After reading Beall’s List of Predatory Journals, I realized the African Journal of Food Science was a predatory journal. They had a shady peer review system and only cared about their profits. I think my research was good. But with a good peer review system, my paper could have been better. Editorial support could have removed the grammatical and spelling mistakes I made.

4. Predatory journals can ruin your career

Publishing in a predatory journal put a stain on my resume. I think when recruiters see that I published in a predatory journal they assume I’m a shady scientist. As a result, I often think of removing the paper on my CV when I submit job applications.

5. Predatory journals survive from the greed and pride of researchers

A recent study found in the past decade the South African government lost between $7 million and $23 million subsidizing articles published in predatory journals. Out of greed and probably ignorance, most researchers resorted to paying $350 to predatory journals. After all, the South African government would give them $7,700 in return. Researchers at my school knew Academic Journals was a predatory publisher but they wanted the pride that comes with listing a dozen papers on your CV.

Summary

Three years after publishing in a predatory journal, I published my first article in a reputable journal. I dreaded the peer review but it made my manuscript better.

To date, I have published in Journal of Chromatography AEnvironmental Pollution and Water Research. I have a manuscript under review in Environmental Pollution and another in Integrated Environment Assessment and Management.

My email is flooded daily with emails from predatory journals. They want to me to submit a manuscript or become an editor. I mark all the emails as spam. And continue with my work, reviewing manuscripts or editing my own manuscripts.

Image by Eric MacDonell from Unsplash