When assessing an expert witness, including one with a background in academia, it is important to ensure that they are credible experts in their field. There are several ways to determine the legitimacy of an expert that we will cover in this blog, including verifying their professional license or credentials, determining the legitimacy of academic journals the experts have published in and vetting the conferences they’ve chosen to attend. These methods can be used to both to vet prospective experts or to raise questions about opposing experts.
First, experts may be required to be licensed in their respective field with state or federal regulators and the licensure and enforcement of regulated occupations and professions is often a matter of public record. Most often, these records are retained at the state level, as many professional licenses are issued by state governments, and many industries are regulated at the state level – though there are notable exceptions, particularly with work that goes beyond a single state’s border. State licensing boards, departments of professional licensing, commerce, business divisions, or departments of consumer affairs are all possible locations for a state’s professional licensure. The BRB Sourcebook includes an index of State Occupational Licensing Boards, which is organized by state and then by license area.
Another means of assessing the legitimacy of a claimed expert is to assess the journals they have been published in. Traditionally, peer-reviewed journals have not been widely accessible to researchers due to subscription fees and the niche nature of these publications. However, the development of the Internet has led to the creation of “open access” journals, which are both cheaper to publish and open to the public use and inspection. Open access journals, however, have also led to manipulation by publishers who value profit over the protection of academic standards. These types of “predatory open access journals” are run by publishers who take a fee with little or no peer-review process.
Distinguishing predatory open access journals from legitimate ones can seem daunting, as there are tens of thousands of journals with similar names. Even more confusing are the tactics employed by predatory journals, such as mirroring a well-known journal’s name, but switching the order. For example – there is the Journal of Economics and Finance, published by Springer (a reputable publisher) with a questionable counterpart called Journal of Finance and Economics. There is the reputable Journal of Engineering Technology but also the predatory version, GTSF Journal of Engineering Technology.
Fortunately, there are several verification resources available to researchers to determine the legitimacy of a journal. There was a fairly extensive and free list compiled by Jeffrey Beall, a former librarian at the University of Colorado, of several hundred pay-to-play journals that he personally catalogued. Beall used specific criteria for determining if an open-access journal was predatory, including whether or not they abide by two documents published by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). Beall’s criteria for evaluating these sources can be viewed here. Beall stopped updating his website in early 2017, however there was a secondary, mirrored version of his website created here. This site contains an archived version of Beall’s List that is maintained by unnamed persons. Beall’s original list of links is updated by these people, who also add notes to the list. It was last updated in June 2018.
Another way to verify that an open access journal is legitimate is to search it through the Directory of Open Access Journals to see if it is eligible for inclusion there, as the Directory vets all journals in its system. This is an index of over 10,000 quality open-access journals that shows the journal requirements, peer review systems, APC costs, and editorial board information on each entry. The Directory is recommended for research purposes by schools such as the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. A subscription-based option is available through Cabells International, which has a searchable list of 10,323 journals and publishers.
A third means of assessing the credibility of expert witnesses is through the conferences they attend, which includes congresses, symposiums and gatherings. Conferences can be subject to manipulation through sponsorship by industry groups or other interested parties and are sometimes be referred to as “vanity conferences.” Like questionable academic journals, these so-called vanity conferences can employ deceiving names that make it difficult for academics to distinguish them from legitimate conferences. For example, in 2013, entomologists were recruited to appear at what they thought was the highly prestigious Entomology 2013 conference. However, the conference they were duped into attending was called Entomology-2013 (with a hyphen), which was a conference featuring speakers recruited through e-mail as opposed to professional merit. Dana Roth, a special projects librarian at the California Institute of Technology, has compiled a list of 50+ questionable conferences, which is viewable here. Roth provides links for each conference’s website and the reasoning on why they have been marked as questionable. A common reason he cited – the conferences are connected by sponsorship or organizers to publishers that appear on Beall’s List.
For more detail see our sources (linked below if not already linked in the body above)
The New York Times, “Hoaxers Slip Breastaurants and Dog-Park Sex Into Journals,” Published October 4 2018
Beall’s List of Predatory Journals and Publishers
CalTech Library, “Open Access/Predatory Publishers/Questionable Conferences,” https://libguides.caltech.edu/c.php?g=512665&p=3503029;
Chemistry World, “Predatory Conference Scammers are Getting Smarter,” Published August 6 2018;
Inside Higher Ed, “No More Beall’s List: Librarian removes controversial list of ‘predatory’ journals and publishers, reportedly in response to "threats and politics,” Published January 18 2017;
The New York Times, “Many Academics Are Eager to Publish in Worthless Journals,” Published October 30 2017;
The New York Times, “Scientific Articles Accepted (Personal Checks, Too)” Published April 7 2013;
The Economist, “Publish and Don’t Be Damned: Some science journals that claim to peer review papers do not do so,” Published June 23 2018;