We are all familiar with that little rush of excitement when we see a Call for Papers (CFP) that directly addresses a topic within our field of research. When issued by a scholarly journal or book publisher, these CFPs offer a direction for tailoring a paper and giving focus to a project. Also, there is the added benefit of a specific deadline for submission. This serves as motivation to move an amorphous project or research idea toward something with shape and substance that will get finished, be submitted, and hopefully be published.  

AIB-L is a precious source of CFPs and I came across one in 2020 calling for chapters in an edited book on a topic and a region of the world that fitted me perfectly. As we were all in full COVID lockdown, this project gave me something to focus on so that I could feel productive during all those months of isolation. 

My proposal for a chapter was accepted by the co-editors and I wrote and submitted a manuscript for review. During the blind review process, I was very disturbed to discover that reviewers had not only reworded certain passages but also added new sentences into my manuscript without any indication of “Track Changes.” The lead co-editor even asked me to include a political document (as an exhibit) in my chapter that had no bearing on my analysis or discussion. I noted these red flags about the review process but thought I could still trust the system that we all know and expect during review. I made some small revisions to my manuscript and submitted the final version for publication.  

Discovering Deception

Months went by without any further contact from the lead co-editor, another red flag. Discreet email inquiries from me asking about progress toward publication were answered with terse one-line emails with no salutation or signature, yet another red flag. I was beginning to feel like ‘persona non grata.’ The new publication date was announced as “end of 2022.” For months, I had been expecting to receive galleys for approval and a limited copyright release form for signature, but seemingly the ‘connection had gone dead.’ 

During summer of 2022, I decided that something must be done: either the co-editors would publish my work or I would withdraw the chapter. When I asked the lead co-editor about actual publication date, he answered “Didn’t you get your copy?”  

Apparently, the book had been published worldwide two months earlier. I was not allowed to review or approve galleys, review or approve a copyright transfer agreement, or even know the date of actual publication of the book. Now the red flags were really blowing hard! 

I demanded an author’s copy of the book from the publishing company and nearly fell off my chair when it arrived. My work had been completely adulterated. It was no longer a scholarly piece of theory-driven analysis but now included, for example, seventeen personal color photographs copyrighted by the lead co-editor, making my work look like a travel brochure. Even worse, the photos each had a tag, two of which were blatantly misogynistic and racist. My text had been extensively rewritten, reorganized, parts omitted, new statements added, and was unrecognizable as my original scholarly work.  

Of extreme concern to me was the fact that one of these unsolicited, unapproved, and unannounced statements added by the co-editors made a political judgement about the country of study and the statement directly contradicted what I had written. In my chapter I had specifically repudiated any such political statement. Even worse, the front cover of the book also included a politically driven misrepresentation.  

To cap it all, the publishing company stamped my chapter as its copyright. 

You can imagine what happened next: a long, complicated, frustrating, and unproductive email correspondence with the co-editors and the publishing company in which I asserted that they had collectively and individually committed copyright infringement and piracy. My goal was to stop all distribution of my work, either as a downloadable chapter or as part of the book, to protect my good name, to protect my reputation for scholarly work, and to protect myself from any repercussion from the government whose border had been willfully misrepresented in connection with my work. 

The parties concerned showed no interest in responding to my complaint, so I issued a Cease-and-Desist Letter. Litigation may yet prove necessary to achieve compliance and remove the adulterated versions of my work from public access, sale, and circulation. 

Lessons Learned

What lessons do I draw from this horrendous, unexpected, and very distressing experience, my first such encounter after many years of scholarly writing and publication?  

  • First, do not assume that everyone will treat your intellectual property (IP) with respect or even according to the law, much less according to any code of professional ethics.  At a minimum, log in to the AIB Member Portal and do a name search to see if the persons hosting the CFP are AIB members.
  • Second, always check who is asking to receive and publish your work. Do your due diligence in checking out the credentials of everyone involved with the CFP, including the publishing company.  For example, in the case of edited books, is this the only activity of the editors? In other words, is it a money-making activity for them publishing other people’s work? Have the editors published any scholarly journal publications in their own name or is their research record only an amalgamation of others’ work? All this proved to be true in my situation which, sadly, I only discovered after the crisis occurred.
  • Third, do not assume that because a CFP appears on a professional listserv such as AIB-L that the parties behind the CFP have been vetted or that the post itself has been evaluated.  This may be true, but the responsibility lies with each of us to protect our own IP. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt in handling your IP, as I did, only resulted in global dissemination of my work that is virtually impossible to rein in, once set in motion.

In the case of AIB-L, I have learned from AIB Secretariat that it is not necessary to be an AIB member to post or receive messages on the listserv. This is how I made my mistake, assuming that posts are made by AIB members who have subscribed to AIB’s Code of EthicsIn the spirit of constructive feedback, I have suggested that AIB should add a disclaimer to the footnote on each post appearing on AIB-L, warning “buyer beware.”

Additional Resources

In closing, I note that this problem extends beyond edited books to the predatory journal, conference, and publishing industries which charge heavy fees to publish scholarly work after acceptance. See this personal experience detailed on Technology Networks

Beall’s List of Potential Predatory Journals and Publishers is a useful, free online resource list which attempts to identify fraudulent actors in academic publishing. 

Editor’s Note: Prior to the publication of this article, AIB-L policies were updated to enforce higher standards of quality, consistency, and accountability for announcements distributed through our Listserv. With the exception of job postings, an active AIB membership is now required to make an announcement on AIB-L. The author’s general recommendations for avoiding fraudulent actors in academic publishing, however, remain applicable.

Lyn Amine, Professor Emerita
Saint Louis University
United States