Spoofing the predatory “open-access” journals

As an author, you want to put your work in a place where it will be read widely. Indeed the people funding your research (including your own University) may demand that you find a way of doing so. But not every journal promising open access to your work is quite what it seems….

In the wake of the campaign for more ‘open-access’ publishing, most journals now offer authors the chance (for a fee) to make their article available to anyone and everyone (not just the journal’s subscribers).  For example, for ROLSI, Taylor and Francis charge authors (or whoever is paying on the authors’ behalf) $2,950 / £1,788 / €2,150. That’s frightening for an individual academic, and unsustainably steep for an institution (a medium-sized University might have staff producing 1000 articles a year, costing nearly $3 million or £2 million). Or the government – through its research funding agencies – might pay, but that would be politically unpopular.

What’s the alternative? Two kinds.

At the top end, there are some some excellent  journals backed by governmental or charitable institutions (as is, for example, Sociological Journal Online). The paying institution sees promoting scholarship and science as part of its mission. Charges to authors may be minimal, or even free. That is a wonderful service to the research community.

At the bottom end, though, are publishers who scent a money-making opportunity. They set up a journal (or, often, a whole raft of journals) promising open-access and fast turn-around, paid for by a fee tantalisingly within reach of an individual author – say $150 dollars.

But to make as much money as possible, the worst of these new publishers (who often turn out to be individuals operating from private addresses) will accept just about any submission, and your decent work becomes lost in a sea of ephemera and worse. To compound the problem, the publishers may issue no DOIs, give no assurances that your article will stay online, and insist on keeping copyright of your work even if you try to withdraw it once you realise what’s going on. Your research ends up on some obscure corner of the internet, in amongst a lot of poor-quality work, and liable to disappear at any time, The whole sorry saga is wonderfully well documented by the campaigning librarian Jeffrey Beall.

Spoofing the predators

Inspired by the large-scale efforts of John Bohannon, of Science magazine, I decided to see how easy it would be to get a nonsensical paper get accepted by one of these predatory journals publishing (supposedly) in the humanities and social sciences – or even to get a fake author onto one of their Editorial Boards. Enter my colleague Fay Kortha, who kindly assented to take on the mission. As it turned out, it was far from impossible.

Fay’s story

Fay is an emeritus professor at the distinguished, if rather elusiveBasingstoke University College. Her Department is prone to occasional name changes but is currently  known as the Department of Neurology and Management.

Responding to an e-mail, she sent off a request to join the Editorial Board of the International Journal of Applied Language and English Literature. She soon received a very simple  application procedure – the editor only required her name, e-mail address (kindly provided by aol.com) and her Basingstoke affiliation (which she forgetfully gave as the Department of Humanities (Social and Hospitality Studies); but the editor apparently forgave the discrepancy from her original enquiry). A short bio was also required, in which she claimed to ‘devote myself to furthering the objectives of open access in the international orbit’.

screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-18-47-11Her application was immediately accepted, and her name is proudly listed among other academics (see image on the right).

She has yet to receive any mss. for review, but I’m sure that it’s only a matter of time.

Submitting a paper

Emboldened by her success in getting onto an Editorial Board, Fay decided to try submitting a paper – not to her own journal (-  conflict of interest) but to one of its many rivals.

Finding a few pages of spare text in her archives, she turned the document into a new article by the simple expedient of replacing every instance of “learning”, “disability”, “communication”, “service”, and a few others, with “nomothetic”, “neurological”, “parking”, “public pathways”, and other random words; then translating the article into Swedish, from Swedish into Spanish, then back into English. Here’s the resulting Abstract:


Success was almost immediate. The International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Review quickly wrote back with these referees’ reports:



This was very encouraging, for a paper entitled “Problematization of neurological correlate of nomothetic factors in the service of structured living experience“. Publication was promised within a week – with one proviso: Fay had to pay $160 dollars by the upcoming Monday.

There matters rest. Invitations to join Boards and submit articles continue to arrive through the e-mail. Fay and her new co-author Kanye B. Leavitt have another iron in the fire, so there may be a new publishing opportunity soon. But whether it will truly be in the spirit of ‘open-access’ is quite another matter.

For more on predatory publishers, see Jeffrey Beall’s constantly updated site devoted to patrolling the more corrupt fringes of the publishing world.


Guest blog: Stuart Ekberg on digital psychotherapy

Can psychotherapy really be offered online, without seeing or hearing the other person? Is rapport possible? What does the therapeutic conversation look like? These are increasingly topical questions as therapists explore the affordances of the internet and email. In this fascinating guest blog, Stuart Ekberg introduces us  to the world of digital therapy in his report on the article in the new issue of ROLSI that he wrote with Alison R. G. Shaw, David S. Kessler, Alice Malpass and Rebecca K. Barnes.


Stuart Ekberg, QUT, Brisbane

Talk is supposed to be central to psychotherapy – so much so that therapy has been described as ‘the talking cure’ since the 1890s. However central, this basic format has not been immune from digital disruption.

In our research, we’ve explored a particular type of online psychotherapy that gets delivered in a text-based ‘chat room’. We were interested to know how psychotherapists and their clients could engage in psychotherapy in an online setting where they couldn’t see or hear one another.

We found the process answering this question almost as interesting as the answer itself.

 An enormous corpus of data

Fresh from my doctoral studies, I was used to long periods of fieldwork to collect data. However, on my very first day working at the University of Bristol, I began analysing 151 sessions of online psychotherapy. I would later be given access to a further 1,128 sessions. To put it another way, the 1,100 or so hours of social interaction our team was studying contained approximately 1.5 million words. When I checked, no other ROLSI study – of any kind – published in the past decade has reported analysing this much data.

 Looking at randomised-trial data with CA

A study of this magnitude was possible because my Bristol colleagues had the foresight to collect these data as part of a randomised trial. Although this trial established that clients receiving online psychotherapy report reductions in mental distress, the researchers knew that this trial didn’t address the actual process through which online psychotherapy gets delivered. For this (as Stommel and te Molder, 2015, did for phone counseling), they turned to conversation analysis.

Never before have I been involved in a project that has achieved so much in a short space of time ( – and perhaps I never will again). Across a 15 month period we managed to get across all that data. This was partly because the data was already collected. Being text-based online interaction, we also didn’t need to do any transcription – the participants had already done this for us through their interaction with one another.

 An intense 15 months of analysis

Even with our shortcuts past some usually time-consuming parts of conversation analytic research, the sheer amount of data we were working with meant an intense 15 months of analysis. This is why we started out working with a subset of 151 therapy sessions, moving on to the full corpus only after we’d built an initial collection and developed a candidate analysis. On the basis of this initial work, we were able to develop a search strategy – described in our new ROLSI article – to expand our collection using the full 1,279 sessions at our disposal.

What we discovered

Our analysis showed that even in a context where therapists cannot see or hear their clients, they manage to make orientations to clients’ emotional experiences. We show how they design these orientations in orderly ways.

Sometimes clients describe a particular circumstance and then clearly articulate a current, personal, and negative emotional impact of that circumstance. In this context, therapists’ orientations to emotion were usually commiserations (e.g. “I’m sorry to hear that”). If clients didn’t highlight a current emotional impact, therapists could still orient to emotion, but tended to do so with an alternative practice to commiseration.

In addition to orderly design features, our research also highlights how the text-based medium of online therapy can shape the delivery of orientations to emotion. In these therapy chat rooms, participants privately compose their posts before sending them. This means that therapists can design multi-action turns that would be difficult to accomplish in face-to-face therapy. This enables therapists to combine orientations to emotion with attempts to move the discussion in a particular direction – often away from sustained discussion of emotion. Our research was therefore able to identify not only how orientations to emotion are possible in online text-based therapy, and also how this medium can shape these orientations.

The usefulness of CA to study online talk

We think our article contributes more to conversation analysis than an exploration of how psychotherapy is accomplished online. It also highlights the payoffs of working with other types of researchers, such as clinical triallists, who may be collecting interactional data in the course of answering their own research questions. For those with an interest in this area, this will be one of the themes of the next International Meeting on Conversation Analysis and Clinical Encounters, which will be hosted by the University of Bristol in 2017. Through our experience of collaboration, we have achieved much more than I previously would have thought possible.

Stommel, W., & te Molder, H. (2015). Counseling Online and Over the Phone: When Preclosing Questions Fail as a Closing DeviceResearch on language and social interaction48(3), 281-300.

Guest blog: Lucas Seuren on reading classic CA

One of the pleasures of PhD work is the chance to browse in the dustier corners of the digital library. Lucas Seuren reports on finding books and articles which pack a remarkable punch, even many years after first publication.


Lucas Seuren, Groningen University

A few years ago, before I had started as a PhD student, I attended a few talks by Trevor Benjamin who at the time had just finished his dissertation on other-initiation of repair. During these talks he would point out that while conversation analytic research has developed much over the past few decades, there was still so much we did not know about what he called the ‘boring topics’.

To clarify, he did not mean by this that topics such as his were actually boring, but that they may be perceived as such because they were dropped as  subjects of investigation early on in the inception of CA.


Harvey Sacks, Sacks Archive, UCLA

Recently I’ve started looking at one such subject: topical organization. Now there are obvious reasons for why conversation analysts have steered clear from topical organization. As Sacks noted in his lectures and as was explicated in more detail later on by Jefferson: topics tend to flow from one to the next, and so there are typically no clear boundaries between topics. And to paraphrase the third founding parent of CA: what is being talked about is hard to pinpoint and in fact usually less relevant than what talk is being used to do. Structure in interaction is achieved through sequences, not through topics.

People do orient to ‘topics’, nevertheless

But as Sacks, Schegloff, and Jefferson also point out in their various discussions; participants do orient to topics as a means of organizing their talk. So to get a handle on how participants orient to topics, and thus how I might make use of topic as an analytical tool, I went back to the famous trilogy Graham Button and Neil Casey wrote in the eighties on topic-initiating sequences. (I actually have the ROLSI editor, Charles Antaki, to thank for making this even possible. When the university library in Groningen failed me, he came to the rescue.)

While reading Button and Casey’s papers, what struck me was how much has already been said about topical organization; it seems almost impossible to contribute anything meaningful. Might it be that researchers stay away from topics not just because topic is a problematic analytical tool, but also because there is simply little more to say?

What one can learn from ‘old’ articles

What I found particularly fascinating is how Button and Casey bring their findings together. At first glance it might seem like all they did was describe some practices participants use for doing boundaried topical movement: topic initial elicitors, itemized news enquiries, news announcements, and launching topics as business-at-hand. But they go beyond these observations, showing why these patterns arise: these practices are generic solutions to generic problems. The problems could be broadly described as (i) how to stay-in-conversation, particularly when the flow of topic has failed; and (ii) how to introduce a topic if prior talk may or does not warrant its introduction.

One might wonder why participants come to the solutions that Button and Casey found. And here too they provide a simple and elegant answer. When launching a new topic where stepwise transition has failed, the topic will initially be speaker-oriented or recipient-oriented (as Sacks explains: it should become something for us). If a topic is speaker-oriented, the speaker can introduce it with a news announcement. If on the other hand it is recipient-oriented, the speaker can either provide the recipient with carte blanche by doing a topic initial elicitor, or s/he can nominate a particular topic by doing an itemized news enquiry. As for the second problem: by treating or even establishing a topic as known-in-advance, introducing it becomes not only legitimate but possibly even necessary.

It’s not all dusty stuff

After reading these papers, I think I can make another recommendation in addition to the one Trevor proposed. Not only should we go back to the ‘boring’ topics because there still may be plenty to investigate, but there is also still much we can learn from them. The papers by Button and Casey (and related works by Sacks, Schegloff, and Jefferson) showed me where my research might contribute to CA, and they are beautiful examples of how conversation analytic research can be done and reported. While I would not go so far as to say that they demonstrate the only way or the best way to do conversation analysis, they can definitely sharpen our analytical senses.

To end with a quote by Anita Pomerantz from her plenary during the International Academy for Conversation Analysis earlier this year.

‘Regularities and patterns [in interaction] are artifacts of participants’ orientation to particular affordances and constraints, tasks and problems, and principles…:’

… and we should try to figure out what the bases are of patterns we find.

Selected References

Button, G. & Casey, N. (1984). Generating topic: the use of topic initial elicitors. In J. Heritage & J.M. Atkinson (eds.), Structures of Social Action (pp. 167–190). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Button, G. & Casey, N. (1985). Topic Nomination and Topic Pursuit. Human Studies, 8(1): 3–55.

Button, G. & Casey, N. (1988). Topic initiation: business-at-hand. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 22(1-4): 61–91.

Guest Blog: Lisa Mikesell on repair in conversation with dementia patients

Readers of the journal will often see Conversation Analysis applied to real-world problems, and in this guest blog, Lisa Mikesell reports on her work with patients with dementia. The full story is in her article in the current issue, and here she asks how   caregivers manage the delicate task of monitoring patients’ actions – and on occasion, correcting them when things go wrong.

Mikesell photo.png

Lisa Mikesell, Rutgers University

I often work closely with clinicians, from neurologists to psychiatrists. I take a keen interest in how communicative and social behaviors are typically measured, and what those measures end up meaning clinically and practically to both providers and patients.

Behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is one such example. FTD is a young-onset neurodegenerative dementia, in which basic cognition is relatively preserved in early stages – but social behavior, personal and interpersonal conduct, are markedly impacted. That makes it particularly interesting to understand from an ecologically grounded perspective such as Conversation Analysis.

How can Conversation Analysis help?

So for the last several years, I have used been using CA to examine everyday functioning in this kind of dementia, particularly with the aim to better understand the relationship between formalized measures of social behavior and what individuals are actually doing in the real world. It was this interest that motivated my look into interactional repair and moments when caregivers’ guide individuals’ participation in a range of activities. While my previous work tended to focus on the trouble sources targeted by repair (and what it says about the diagnosed individual), this new paper focuses on the repair initiator and repair sequence (and what it reveals about the practical challenges of caregiving). (And here I would like to express my thanks to the insightful suggestions of the ROLSI reviewers who helped me down this path).

 Co-ordination between caregivers and patient

Much of the data is activity-centered with caregivers coordinating – initiating and guiding – tasks like playing games, shopping, making meals. This guidance is often accomplished with directives that identify an individual’s participation as inappropriate and in need of altering. In these activity contexts, the formats of caregivers’ directives often make compliance the relevant next action, and thus gloss the perceived impaired status of individuals. However, their directives also seem to be motivated by the necessity and urgency of some alternative engagement to successfully accomplish a task.

 Maintaining progressivity

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 22.48.30Activities that required a particular kind of engagement, and required it quickly to maintain progressivity of the activity, were often repaired with imperatives – or, in Curl and Drew’s (2008 )terms, high entitlement, low contingency (HE/LC) directives.

For example, here ET and Steve have agreed to enact the comics with each responsible for a particular character. After ET directs the pre-activity arrangements (lines 1-15) to which Steve aligns, Steve is to enact his character but remains looking silently at the newspaper (the trouble source, TS). CT and ET then repair using imperative forms.

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Repair using imperative, line 20

Such HE/LC directives explicitly identify the TS and often articulate the next action required for activity progression. On the other end of the activity spectrum are activities whose successful accomplishment does not require a particular kind of engagement or require urgent participation to accomplish. During these activities, caregivers are more likely to redirect participation using weaker, more mitigated directive formats.

 Dealing with trouble

Below while ET and Robert are making lunch, Robert leaves the water running and ET initiates repair, not by producing a strong imperative form that makes relevant compliance as the next action (thus maintaining progressivity of the lunch activity underway), but by asking a “why” question (line 4), which makes relevant an explanation or account. Although this multi-turn repair sequence derails the lunch activity perhaps more extensively than simply directing Robert to “turn off the water,” his immediate compliance here may be less crucial to the focal activity, given there is no urgency or particularity with which lunch must happen.

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Asking a pointed question, line 4

In the middle of the activity spectrum are ones in which a particular type of participation is not essential or urgent for activity completion but one’s engagement is nevertheless treated as inappropriate but not urgent or essential, for instance, as ill-timed in the activity’s progress. In these cases, we see a variety of mitigated directive forms including accounts and descriptions of (non)desired actions (“you’re jumping ahead”;“we’re sitting up”).

 Directives when urgent

In sum, for well-defined activities requiring a particular kind of engagement to happen quickly, HE/LC directives seem to be the preferred format, illustrating not only caregivers’ orientations to their rights to direct those in their care but perhaps also their sensitivity to the disruption of the progressivity of the activity, often producing the “quickest” fix. Caregivers of individuals diagnosed with FTD face a number of unique challenges different from caregivers of other dementias. This paper hoped to provide a glimpse into how they manage everyday tasks by redirecting the participation of those in their care.


Curl, T. S., & Drew, P. (2008). Contingency and action: A comparison of two forms of requesting. Research on language and social interaction, 41(2), 129-153.

Guest blog: Andrew Carlin on the ‘Directions in Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis’ series

Several publishers have series devoted to interactional studies, and among them is the ever-lively collection Directions in Ethnomethodology & Conversation Analysis. Andrew Carlin has kindly agreed to give us an account of the scope and range of the series, and what the collection is trying to do.

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Andrew Carlin

With the closure in 1994 of George Psathas’ Studies in Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis, there was a need for a new book series that was recognized as an outlet dedicated to high quality ethnomethodological and conversation-analytic research. Continue reading

Guest blog: The Oulu University Multi-Tasking Research Team (iTask)

I’m delighted to welcome back Antti Kamunen to report again on the exciting activities of the iTask research team, based at Oulu University (Finland). “Multi-tasking” in interaction with other people means synchronising multiple activities between participants, and is, as you can imagine, as complex as it is rewarding to analyse. Antti takes up the story.

In the previous post a few months ago, as the iTask project was just beginning, I introduced the team, the initial research questions and the method. Since then, research has shown that interactional multitasking is a pervasive phenomenon; it is everywhere and nowhere! So there is lots more to report, which I think will be of interest to ROLSI blog readers. Continue reading

Guest blog: Bethan Benwell on patients’ small talk while being assessed for surgery

Even the most sober-sided institutional interaction can be infused with ordinary human concerns, expressed in everyday terms. In this very welcome guest blog trailing her and May MacCreaddie‘s article in the new issue of ROLSI, Bethan Benwell casts a humane yet analytic eye over the talk that goes on in a highly charged medical encounter.

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Bethan Benwell, University of Stirling

Anyone who has ever had to go into hospital for elective surgery will know that there is a routine information-gathering process that patients have to undergo a few weeks prior to admission, which is usually called a ‘pre-operative assessment’. The assessment usually takes around 20-30 minutes, involves procedures such as taking blood pressure and ECGs, and getting the patient’s medical history via a series of routine, usually optimised questions (e.g. ‘you don’t have any history of heart problems? Any recreational drugs at all?).

However, as you might expect, interaction during these sessions is not exclusively focused on medical matters, but as with other types of service encounter, sometimes involves a good amount of ‘off-topic’ small talk too. Not only is chat about your holiday in Ibiza and the terrible weather in Scotland an ideal way of building rapport with potentially nervous patients, it also provides a tactful distraction from the embodied contact central to these sessions.

How do patient and staff manage this off-topic material?

Such talk has the potential to disrupt the medical agenda, and if not managed well, could make the encounter an unsatisfactory one for the patient. Indeed these pre-operative assessments were, according  to survey data from one Health Authority, the subject of a particularly high number of complaints by patients. So, as part of a broader healthcare communication project conducted between my University’s departments of Health Sciences and English Studies, Dr May McCreaddie and I looked closely at what was going on. Could the management of small talk be to blame?

An initial noticing about the small talk phases was that the boundaries between ‘on’ and ‘off-topic’ talk occasionally blurred and needed careful negotiation by both participants. Sometimes ‘off-topic’ phases emerge where the patient’s initially medically relevant response expands into a social sequence. So, for example, a patient might respond to a routine question about family history of heart problems with an extended discussion of his father’s recent health problems., While the nurse would be able to engage socially with this topic briefly, she must deploy her skills in returning the talk to the medical business at hand.

When the talk gets personal

Even more marked were instances where social talk began to evolve into personal disclosure and troubles telling which led to difficulties in the negotiation of sequence closure. In one extended sequence during a series of medical tests, a patient’s disclosure of personal material (about his grown up son’s mental health problems) during a social sequence transforms the ‘small talk’ into something more akin to ‘troubles telling’. What is fascinating here is how the nurse displays engagement and sympathy whilst subtly resisting the trajectory of ‘troubles talk’. This is largely achieved by minimal responses that acknowledge an on-going narrative but which do not encourage its expansion and also by recasting a troubles telling or negative news as something positive.

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From Benwell and MacCreaddie (2016)

Other studies (e.g. Beach 2003 on ‘managing optimism’; Holt 1993 on ‘bright side sequences’; Maynard 2003 on ‘good news exits’) have observed a relationship between positive recasting and a movement towards topic closure, and it is likely that our nurse here is deploying ‘optimistic projection’ as a way of managing the social talk that has emerged.

 Pre-operative assessments do cause worry – but probably not because of the nurses’ style

Although these pre-operative assessments did attract more than their share of complaints, it seemed clear from our  analysis that communication during these sessions was not where the problem lay. Indeed the nurses coordinating these sessions were almost without exception hugely skilled in their ability to negotiate the tricky transition from social to medical agenda.


Beach, W. (2003). Managing Optimism. In P. Glenn, C.D. LeBaron & J. Mandelbaum (Eds.), Studies in Language and Social Interaction: In Honor of Robert Hopper. Mahweh, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Holt, E. (1993) ‘The structure of death announcements: Looking on the bright side of death’. Text 13(2), 189–212

Maynard, D. (2003) Bad News, Good News: Conversational Order in Everyday Talk and Clinical Settings. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Benwell, B and MacCreaddie, M (2016) Keeping “Small Talk” Small in Health-Care Encounters: Negotiating the Boundaries Between On- and Off-Task Talk. Research on Langage and Social Interaction, 49 (3) in press and online