Open Access Linguistics: You’re Doing It Wrong

Note: this post first appeared on my personal blog in 2014.

Update 16/12/2020: in the last 48 hours I’ve had 15 comments on this, a six-year-old blog post which otherwise hasn’t seen much action since 2014. All the comments are broadly positive about the journal, and at least one is from an email address (the publisher of OJML). I’m loth to shut down debate, but since this has the flavour of an organized attempt to comment-bomb the post, I’m turning off comments at this point.

If you’re a linguist – any kind of linguist – then you, like me, will probably have received an email from the Open Journal of Modern Linguistics, inviting you to submit your work.

I’m extremely committed to open access in linguistics, and in academia more broadly; here’s why. But OJML is doing it wrong, and the rest of this post aims to explain why. The tl;dr list version of this post is as follows:

  • Don’t ever submit your work to OJML.
  • Tell your friends never to submit to OJML.
  • If you know someone who’s on the editorial board, gently ask them not to be.

So, what’s so very wrong with OJML? The short answer is that it is run by the wrong people and threatens to bring the entire, very promising, open access movement into disrepute by charging stupidly high APCs and skimping on quality both in terms of typesetting and intellectually.

The “costs” of progress: predatory publishers

Let’s take a look at OJML’s guidelines on Article Processing Charges (APCs). It’s $600 per article, but only if that article is within ten printed pages: in linguistics, that’s barely out of squib status. For each additional page above ten, an extra $50 is whacked on.

This may not seem like much, given that Elsevier charge up to $5000. But for a 20-page article, which is still short by linguistics standards, we’re talking $1100. Moreover, this kind of incremental model penalizes thorough argumentation and, in particular, proper referencing. It might even not be so bad if what you paid for was worth it – but I’ll argue below that it isn’t even close.

The open access community has a name for this kind of publishing practice: “predatory”. Jeffrey Beall maintains a list of predatory publishers on his website, along with criteria for inclusion. Surprise, surprise: “Scientific Research Publishing” (SCIRP), the publishers of OJML, are on the list at number 206.

What’s in it for them? Large amounts of money, made from academics’ naivety. Last year, journalist John Bohannon conducted a “sting” operation by submitting a series of 304 deliberately deeply flawed manuscripts by fictional authors to gold open access journals, many of them ostensibly peer-reviewed. More than half of them accepted the papers, including many that apparently sent the paper out for review, and 16 journals accepted the papers despite the reviewers spotting their damning flaws.

The journal Science, who hosted Bohannon’s piece, were keen to trumpet the failure of open access (unsurprisingly, as they represent the status quo that open access threatens). However, there are a lot of problems with Bohannon’s approach, which have been ably summarized elsewhere. In particular, since Bohannon didn’t include a “control group” of traditional subscription journals, there’s no evidence that open access peer review practices are any worse than those. And even if they were, the existence of exploitative behaviour within open access of course doesn’t entail that open access itself is a bad thing. But it’s clear from Bohannon’s experiences and those of others that, where there are new ways of making shady money, there will be crooks who leap to seize them, and that gold open access (and OJML) simply illustrates one instance of this general principle.

Bad production standards

One of the areas where any publisher can claim to add value is in ensuring the formal quality of their published submissions: typesetting, copy-editing, proofreading, redrawing complex diagrams or illustrations, etc. If a publisher does this well, they may merit at least some of the fees that they typically charge for open access. However, OJML’s performance in this area shows that they hardly even look at the papers they publish. Here are some examples from Muriungi, Mutegi & Karuri’s 2014 paper on the syntax of wh-questions in Gichuka (which, at 23 pages, must have cost them a pretty penny):

  • Glosses are not aligned (e.g. in (6) on p2).
  • The header refers to the authors, ridiculously, as “M. K. Peter et al”.
  • There are clauses which contain clear typographical errors, e.g. “the particle ni which in Bantu, which is referred to as the focus marker”, on p3.
  • In (17), the proper name “jakob” is not capitalized.
  • There are spelling errors: “Intermadiate”, in table 1, p8.
  • The tree on p14 has been brutally mangled.
  • Some of the references are incomprehensible garbage: “Norberto (2004). Wh-Movement.”

A quick glance through any OJML paper will reveal that these aren’t isolated occurrences, and little of this is likely to be the fault of the authors: at least, any linguistically-informed copy-editor or proofreader should have picked up on all of these points instantly, and any proofreader at all should have picked up on most of them.

Low quality papers

What about the academic quality of the papers accepted? I don’t want to pick on any particular paper: in fact, I’m sure that there are nuggets of gold in there (the Muriungi et al. paper mentioned above, for instance, is a valuable syntactic description of an aspect of an understudied language). But I invite you to skim some of the papers and draw your own conclusions.

In particular, the dates of acceptance and revision of the papers aren’t exactly indicative of a thorough review process. For instance, the paper by Muriungi et al. was “Received 7 June 2013; revised 9 July 2013; accepted 18 July 2013”. Again, this isn’t unusual for the papers in this journal. It’s certainly not impossible for quality peer review to take place at this speed – and it’s certainly desirable to move away from the unacceptable slowness of some of the big-name journals – but it is at least doubtful. And one thing that is extremely eerie is how many of the articles are dated as having been revised exactly one month after receipt, suggesting that the process may have been even shorter and that SCIRP is trying to cover itself, by means of outright lies, against exactly the kind of allegation I’m making.

The fields of linguistics given under their Aims & Scope don’t inspire confidence, either, with “Cosmic Linguistics” and “Paralinguistics” among them.

Why is this important?

OJML is symptomatic of exactly the wrong approach to open access. Open access, to me, is about disintermediation, about putting power back into the hands of academics. There are several good open access operators out there: Language Science Press is a prime example in the domain of books, the e-journal Semantics and Pragmatics has been performing a valuable no-fees open access service for years, and the Linguistic Society of America recently took a step in the right direction by making papers in its flagship journal Language openly accessible after a one-year embargo period. These initiatives are all run by researchers, for researchers.

In contrast, OJML is about opportunistic money-making. Here’s a quote from SCIRP’s About page, in relation to why their base of operations is in China while they’re registered as a corporation in Delaware: “What SCIRP does is to seize the current global trade possibilities to
ensure its legitimate freedom with regard to where to do what.” If this sort of creepy graspingness doesn’t put you off submitting to OJML, and the problems outlined in the previous sections don’t either, then I don’t know what will.

Unless we nip this problem in the bud, then it threatens to damage the reputation of the Open Access movement more generally. Time to boycott OJML, and to spread the word.


18 thoughts on “Open Access Linguistics: You’re Doing It Wrong

  1. zangyf says:

    I have checked the website and found that 364 papers has been published in the journal. It is a bimonthly journal, and there are about 10 papers are published in a issue recently.


  2. Erin says:

    I have published several papers, one of which was published in OJML. I think there is some truth in the points mentioned in the article, but not quite. First of all, OJML is a regular journal and has been around for 10 years. Secondly, the editing and review work were excellent and both of them were quite conscientious. All the processes were carried out in accordance with the formal publishing order, and I didn’t encounter any problems in the process of publishing. Admittedly, there are some shortcomings in the quality of the manuscript, and even some opinions are worth discussing. But I think it is normal for a journal that is rising and growing.


    • Thanks for your view, Erin! For the benefit of future readers, it should be pointed out that the email address under which this comment was submitted ends in (SCIRP being the publisher of OJML), so this may not be a neutral customer viewpoint.


  3. Charlotte says:

    I have published an article a few years ago in Occupational Diseases and Environmental Medicine, one of the journals of this Scientific Research Publishing, but I had a great experience. My paper was exceptionally thorough and caught some small things I failed to see in many passes through the draft.They get your publication out quickly and don’t cost a fortune.


  4. Grace says:

    A friend once recommended me to publish an article in the journal.The article was processed quickly, and it was published in less than a month. Article processing fee is acceptable if supported by the project.


  5. Celia Ye says:

    Yes, it really important for all authors to distinguish predatory journals from so many journals. I know that most of editors of JPEE are come from European developed countries, whose comments are valuable.


  6. Wing says:

    The authors pay for their paper so that their research works can be shared by more and more people. I think it counts. And the main features of OJML include open access with high visibility, peer review, rapid publishing, etc. So I think the fast publication of articles in OJML doesn’t mean their low quality!


  7. Hanna Zhang says:

    My classmates have recommended this journal before, they told me that the reviewers were very careful and gave a lot of valuable professional advice, which was very helpful for revising the article.


  8. Lucy LIU says:

    I have checked the website of Open Journal of Modern Linguistics ( The views and downloads of published articles are good. There are also citation details. The journal is evaluated based on Google Scholar metrics with the 2-year Google-based Journal Impact Factor and h5-index.


  9. nolehu says:

    I submitted a paper in JMMCE, which is also a journal of SCIRP. As far as I know, the academic performance of the editorial board of this journal is quite good.


  10. HappyRabbit says:

    My colleagues and I are very happy to publish articles in Open Journal of Modern Linguistics. Now OJML is developing better and better. In my mind, OJML is open, flexible and very popular. It looks like a dynamic young man. Its quality will have a new breakthrough with the development of quantity.


  11. HappyRabbit says:

    My colleagues and I are very happy to publish articles in Open Journal of Modern Linguistics. Now OJML is developing better and better. In my mind, OJML is open, flexible and very popular. It’s like a dynamic young man. Its quality will have a new breakthrough with the development of quantity.


  12. Amy says:

    I once cooperated with a journal called “Open Journal of Anesthesiology”, which was an open-access journal, but I have a good experience during the cooperation. It is not always the case, actually. From my perspective, when you are publishing a paper, you should have in mind what kinds of platforms you are looking for. A journal in SCI? SCOPUS? Or just a regular journal with ISSN is enough? Then you choose the most suitable one. Get your paper published. That’s what makes sense.


  13. Pooh Bear says:

    Yes I do agree with you. Some OA journals did wrong things with all its flaws, especially the scattergun approach they adopted to invite papers (which is a little bit troubling). It is the dilemma academicians faced that gave rise to open access publishers. It rises as a reflection of the times. I hope it will improve and make a difference in the future. I do hope it will do better and better and prove itself to be a blue chip.


  14. Hanna Zhang says:

    I heard from my classmates around me. They told me that the reviewers were very careful and gave a lot of valuable professional advice, which was very helpful for revising the article.


  15. Francine says:

    Most journals will charge APC, it’s not strange. However, the journal has many articles each issue and many authors published their articles there, isn’t it meaning recognition?


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