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CAAMP-PADL Source Evaluation: Publisher


Page header stating publisher


All resources have a publisher. From self-publishing a book, writing a blog post, academic journals published by prestigious organizations, to historic book publishing houses, publishers play a role in making information available. You might recognize Scholastic or Penguin as book publishers, or the academic publisher Nature, which owns many scholarly journals. 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines "publisher" as: "A person or company whose business is the preparation and issuing of printed or documentary material for distribution or sale, acting as the agent of an author owner." 

Publishers play a key role in making information available for both recreation and research. When selecting resources, it is important to identify who published the resource, because not all publishers provide reliable information. 

Guiding questions

  • Who published this resource?
    • When browsing in a database, be on the lookout for a publisher's name or logo. This is a good first step to see who published the resource. 
  • Is the publisher an authority in the discipline? 
    • To answer this question, first look to information provided by the publisher, then look to other websites for context about the resource.
    • Ulrichs Web is a helpful database for finding information about journal publications: 

Publishing Concerns

As discussed in the peer-review section, not all aspects of academic or scholarly work are infallible. Just as bias can creep into the peer-review process, publishers face their own ethical concerns. It is important to use well substantiated, leading publishers in the field; however, it is also essential to ask critical questions about any publishing intity. Comic about dubious publications

Tough topics to consider

  • Predatory publishing:
    • Predatory publishers use unethical practices to prey on researchers, and information provided in predatory journals can be misleading, unsubstantiated, or may not have been evaluated by a peer-review or editorial process. These publishers are also known as "Paper Mills." This recent news article from Nature addresses ethical issues surrounding the paper mill problem. 
  • Information Gatekeeping:
    • Publishers have power over what content is brought to market. When this power is abused, it is known as "information gatekeeping." Gatekeeping practices may be driven by profit margins, social or political ideologies, and other factors 
  • Censorship:
    • Publishers may censor authors by not publishing materials that indorse certain social, political, or ideological frameworks. This limits diverse perspectives. 

What about prestigious STEM journals? 

Every publisher has their own rules and regulations surrounding the publishing process, and some publishers are more ethically transparent than others. While leading journals do publish cutting edge research, they also have face ethical challenges. The satirical video below aptly highlights some of the ethical concerns surrounding top-tier journals, and keep the 8 Key Questions in mind as you watch:

Wait, researchers have to pay to publish? 

If you watched the video above, you learned about the world of lucrative academic publishing. Researchers often have to pay publishers a fee in order to have their work published. Rising publishing fees has paved the way for the Open Access (OA) initiatives, where journals charge reduced or no publishing fees and works are made freely available to the public. 

Comic made by XKCD, and is available under CC-BY-NC 2.5