Battle of Spamalot a costly undertaking

TRU professor Peter Tsigaris estimates spam emails cost university between $200,000 and $400,000 each year in lost productivity

A Thompson Rivers University researcher is hoping young scholars won’t succumb to spam after co-authoring a paper that puts the cost of unsolicited emails to researchers and academics at more than US$1.1 billion per year.

Researchers often receive unsolicited emails from publishers of open access journals, seeking a processing fee that is typically between $500 to $1,000, according to Peter Tsigaris.

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“I’m an economist and I get emails from medical journals or other journals unrelated to my research or field. It’s very obvious they’re spam,” he told KTW.

Tsigaris decided to tally up the time wasted dealing with unsolicited offers and spam and came to the conclusion the time spent amounted to about $150 per researcher per year.

“If you multiply it by about eight-million researchers — a number which is also expanding — that’s what makes it a big, big number,” Tsigaris said of his estimate of the cost of spam to researchers.

At Thompson Rivers University alone, Tsigaris estimated such emails cost the university between $200,000 and $400,000 each year in lost productivity.

“It’s a measure of opportunity cost, as we say in economics. But there are other costs, if you’re paying the article-processing fee,” he said.

Tsigaris said his research was prompted by his own curiosity, but also by the work of TRU colleague Derek Pyne, who found himself at the centre of controversy after he published a paper, The Rewards of Predatory Publications at a Small Business School, which drew attention to the use of predatory journals.

In exchange for a processing fee, a so-called predatory journal will accept and publish work without review. This is in opposition to the more traditional model of scholarly publishing, which involves peer review by other scholars.

“The paper itself could be a good paper — a really good paper — but nobody knows because it wasn’t peer reviewed,” Tsigaris said.

The TRU School of Business and Economics professor said he suspects spam is becoming more of a problem for researchers because of how much more research is being done.

He said research is “exploding” out of China and India, noting scholars need somewhere to publish their work.

And, because the traditional print-based peer-reviewed model of publishing has physical space limitations, researchers have begun looking elsewhere — and vice versa.

“This open-access movement came up and they said, ‘Look, we can create a journal on the World Wide Web and there’s no space limitations. We can publish as much as we want,’” he said.

That open-access movement has led to more research being published, but Tsigaris said it also often means doing without peer review and dealing with the problematic pay-to-be-published model.

He doesn’t think experienced researchers will fall for the spam offers, but Tsigaris said he does hope his work on the study will serve as a warning to those still early in their publishing careers.

© Kamloops This Week


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