If you are at least a semi-active researcher, chances are that you have received an invitation to contribute to one of the thousands of predatory publishers that are out there. Predatory publishers, in case you are unfamiliar with the term, are scammers who produce pretend journals, advertise aggressively and charge high publication fees to publish your work. Now, assuming you have money to spare, or you can persuade your university to pay, you might be tempted to use their services. You shouldn’t, and one of the many good reasons not to is because, if you publish your work in a predatory journal, you cannot change your mind later.
The following is a message from a reader of this blog (paraphrased, at their request):
I read your post about Bogus Journals. I have published an article in a predatory journal, and I am wondering what authors in my situation might do to protect their work. Is it acceptable to re-publish the paper in a genuine research journal?
Work published in a predatory journal is just wasted
I am afraid that there is little that can be done after the work has been published. When an article is accepted for publication, the author transfers the copyright to the journal publisher. Publishing the same content in a different venue would be a violation of the publisher’s copyright and could lead to legal action being taken. Besides, all reputable journals will insist that any work you submitted to them has not been published anywhere previously. I understand that it must be very frustrating when a solid piece of research is lost amid the clutter typically found in fly-by-night journals. Unfortunately though, once this mistake has been made, there is very little that can be done about it.
I hope that you did not reach this page because you’ve already published in a predatory journal. If that is the case, I wish I could offer you more consolation than this post did, but you need to remember that this is not the end of your career and you will do much better next time! To help you with that, in the next section, I have added a list of six ways to spot bogus journals.
Six ways to spot predatory publishers
It’s generally not hard to spot predatory publishers. For example, journals that email you out of the blue inviting your contributions are almost always predatory. Real journals just don’t beg for papers. The invitation will most likely resemble the style and grammar of Nigerian 419 scam emails rather than the norms of academic communication. And if the promises they make (e.g., super-fast peer review) sound too good to be true, that’s probably because they are not.
However, if you do not feel comfortable trusting your gut feeling, here are additional six criteria that you need to consider (drawing on a list by Jocalyn Clark, which appeared at the British Medical Journal Opinion blog).
For a number of years, the go-to reference list for checking whether a journal is legit was the Scholarly Open Access blog, or ‘Beall’s List’, which was curated by Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at Auraria Library in Denver. This is sadly defunct (here’s why [paywall]), but cached versions of the list is still available (e.g., here, here and here). Cabell’s Scholarly Analytics also curate a blacklist which you should consult if your university subscribes to it.
Another approach to evaluating the quality of a journal is to check whether it is indexed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), a list of mostly reputable publishers. In order to be listed in the DOAJ, journals should meet certain quality thresholds and practices, so if a journal is included, it is probably legitimate. This criterion should be used in conjunction with others, however, because it is not uncommon for some shady publishers to manage to make it in the list, and some promising journals might not be listed because they have not been evaluated yet.
3. Professional organisations
In addition to the DOAJ, legitimate publishers will generally be associated with professional publishing organisations, such as the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), the International Association of Scientific, Technical, & Medical Publishers (STM), and the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA). The journal websites will sometimes indicate such affiliation by adding badges at their website, but so do predatory publishers. So rather than trust the information on the publishers’ websites, what you should be doing is referring to the directories of the publishing organisations.
The most important journals will be indexed in major metrics databases, such as PubMedCentral (free) or the Web of Science (paywall). Once again, you need to be careful, because predatory journals will invariably claim to be indexed, and will often display metrics in their website which are either entirely made-up, or created by scam databases. The image below (taken from Scholarly Open Access) shows the URL of such a database, maintained by the Institute for Science Information, which mimics the name of the legitimate Thomson-Reuters Institute for Scientific Information (which used to publish the Web of Science).
On the other hand, just because a journal is not indexed does not always means that it is predatory: many journals, especially newer ones or those having a relatively regional focus, are not listed in the major indices.
5. Boards and peer review practices
To the extent possible, you need to try to evaluate how transparent the editorial and peer review processes seem. To begin with, look for the names of the editor and editorial board. If you can’t find these, that’s a huge red flag. You will also want to verify any information that you do find (check the academics’ university webpages and CVs), because some predatory journals just lie about their editorial boards.
Another thing to look for is whether the journal acknowledges the work of reviewers (often in the last issue of every year). Not all journals publish this information, but it’s still worth considering in conjuntion with everything else. You should also check individual articles for information about the submission and publication dates – what you’re looking for is a span of a few weeks or months. A much faster turnaround is suspicious and it might mean that the journal does not really conduct proper peer review.
While on the topic of transparency, you will also want to see how clearly the publishing costs are.described. Many open-access journals levy what they call Article Processing Charges for every article they publish, and you should be able to find information about these in the website of the journal or their publisher. If this information is hard to locate, you should ask the editors.
The two greatest red flags are when the journal charges submission fees (as opposed to publication charges) and when publication involves fees that are not clearly described in the website. (Btw, if you were to point out that the Article Processing Charges levied by publishers like Elsevier or Springer also qualify them as predatory publishers, I would find it hard to contest your view).
More to read
You can read up on predatory journals by following the links below:
- Investigating journals: The dark side of publishing (Nature News)
- Cabell’s New Predatory Journal Blacklist: A Review (The Scholarly Kitchen)
- Hallmarks of bogus journals
- How do you choose a journal when it’s time to submit a paper? (Scientist Sees Squirel blog)
- How are we encouraging predatory publishers? (I wrote this with the Greek higher education context in mind, but I think it’s more broadly relevant)
If you have any stories or comments about such publishers, which might be helpful to other readers, you might want to add a comment in the space below. Also please help combat predatory publishing by using the social sharing buttons below to share this content with anyone else who might find it helpful.
About this post: This post was originally written in response to a question from a blog reader in December 2013. It was republished in September 2018 after a substantial revision, which included adding the section with advice on identifying predatory publishers.