What can we believe in? The question acquires new urgency when the IT revolution makes it easier to spread information through channels that obey other laws than those hitherto characterizing journalism and academic publishing.
The free flow of information online requires a critical stance. That critical stance, however, requires a certain division of labor. It requires access to reliable sources: knowledge institutions like the academy and probing institutions like journalism.
But what happens to the trustworthiness of these institutions if they drown in the sea of impressively designed websites? What if IT entrepreneurs start what appear to be academic journals, but publish manuscripts without serious peer review as long as the researchers are paying for the service?
This false (or apparent) academy is already here. In fact, just as I write this, I get by email an offer from one of these new actors. The email begins, “Hello Professor,” and then promises unlikely quick review of manuscripts and friendly, responsive staff.
What can we do? Countermeasures are needed if what we call critical reflection and knowledge should retain their meaning, rather than serve as masks for something utterly different.
One action was taken on The Ethics Blog. Stefan Eriksson and Gert Helgesson published a post where they tried to make researchers more aware of the false academy. Apart from discussing the phenomenon, they listed deceptive academic journals to which unsuspecting bioethicists may submit papers (deceived by appearances). They also listed journals that take academic publishing seriously. The lists will be updated annually.
In an article in Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy (published by Springer), Eriksson and Helgesson deepen their examination of the false academy.