The pressure to publish or perish is very real in the world of science and research. Students and researchers not only need to deliver novel, significant research, they also need to produce impeccable manuscripts that will be accepted by reputed journals. With the surge in the numbers of articles being submitted to journals, research authors now need to put in more time and effort in getting their work published and not everyone is able to successfully manage this process. This is where predatory publishers and journals come into the picture, entrapping unsuspecting researchers desperate for publication with false promises. In this article, we discuss these fraudulent players and how to go about identifying predatory journals and steer clear of them.
The growth of predatory publishing
Predatory publishers and journals misrepresent facts and deceive authors or readers about who they are, how they review and present content, the quality of the articles they accept, or the cost of publication. The Cabells Journal Blacklist currently lists 74 indicators of predatory publishing, including peer review, ethics and integrity, business practices, indexing and metrics and overall publication practices.1 However, despite checks and measures, there has been a growth in the number of predatory publishers, with many exploiting the open access model to make money.
Impact of predatory publishing2
It’s important for researchers to be aware of and avoid predatory publishers and journals, which can not only hurt researchers, but also reduce trust in science. Since these journals are seen as unethical and lack the required reviews, research published in these titles, however good or ground-breaking, are seen as suspect and authors do not get the credit they deserve. It also means a waste of funds, effort and other resources as most good-quality evidence is seen as unsubstantiated and lost forever.
Moreover, as many of the researchers who fall into the trap of quick publications come from low- to middle-income countries in Africa or Asia, this tends to taint overall perception of research coming from these countries. Predatory journals also exploit the open access publishing model, adding often mediocre data and analysis to the available science. This can impact future research, policy decisions, and erode public trust in open access and science as a whole.
However, this problem is only growing. An investigation by the Guardian in 2018 revealed that over 175,000 articles had been published by five of the biggest predatory publishers; more than 5,000 students from British universities had published in these predatory titles.3 This reiterates the importance for all researchers to know what to look for when identifying predatory journals.
How to identify a predatory journal
By following a few simple steps researchers and students can ward off potential predatory journals and publishers.
- Examine the journal website: It is of utmost importance to check the website of the journal to see if it provides the complete address and contact information of the publisher and not just an email address. Researchers must make sure that the publisher’s name is available on the website and there are different avenues to contact them.
- Check if the journal is indexed: Many predatory journals and publishers claim to be indexed in key databases but this needs to be cross verified. Some titles can be very deceptive in their design and format, mimicking well-known journal formats to mislead students and researchers who may be pressed for time and fail to notice the red flags. So be sure to carefully check if the journal is indexed on a reputed database, many of which have their own set of stringent checks.
- Understand the review process: Most fraudulent journals promise quick publication, but often do not have an effective peer review or quality assurance process. So ensure that the peer review process is clearly explained and there are no promises of ‘quick’ peer reviews. If present, it is also good practice for scientific authors to spend some time understanding the standard review process and guidelines for publication.
- Beware of unjustified publishing fees: Researchers must also be vigilant and check if a fee is being charged for publishing their paper and whether it is justified. Since the key motive of predatory journals and their publishers is making a profit, they often require fees to be paid upfront. Some journals may divulge their fee only after a copyright agreement has been signed, which forces researchers into coughing up high processing fees to get their work published.
- Assess the quality of previous editions: As a matter of discipline, the student or researcher should go through the journal’s previously published articles to check if they are of good standard and quality. Mostly predatory journals are quite poorly edited, so may be rife with errors and this is a good indicator of trouble.
- Look up the editorial board: It’s also important to check if the editorial board has been listed and whether it genuinely consists of reputed people in the field. It is always advisable to check the professional pages of the listed members to ensure that they are actually on the editorial board of the said journal.
- Cross-check titles with peers: If you’re unsure about a journal, it’s a good idea to cross-check if it is reliable and known within one’s academic community, especially by senior members in your field who usually know about the best journals and publications. When choosing a journal for your research manuscript, it is recommended to search the Global Journal Database, a product by Researcher.Life that offers details on more than 32,000 journals.
Finally, beware of promises or guarantees that seem too good to be true. For instance many predatory publishers and journals reach out through email, inviting you to submit your manuscript for quick publication or welcoming you to join the editorial board. If you come across a journal or publisher that does not offer clear and transparent processes and guidelines, use these checks to avoid the trap and protect your work and reputation.
- Gaertner S. The Rise in Predatory Publishers–How Can the Scholarly Community Protect Itself? The Wiley Network, May 2019. https://www.wiley.com/en-us/network/publishing/research-publishing/trending-stories/the-rise-in-predatory-publishers-how-can-the-scholarly-community-protect-itself
- Gogtay, NJ, Bavdekar, SB. Predatory journals – Can we stem the rot? Journal of Postgraduate Medicine, July-September 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6659424/
- Hern A, Duncan P. Predatory publishers: the journals that churn out fake science. The Guardian, August 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/aug/10/predatory-publishers-the-journals-who-churn-out-fake-science