Centre for Journalology

What researchers need to know about predatory journals​

“Predatory journals and publishers prioritize self-interest at the expense of scholarship and are characterized by false or misleading information, deviation from best editorial/publication practices, lack of transparency, and/or use of aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation practices.” (Grudniewicz et al., 2020).

False or misleading information

  • Fake impact factors (e.g. Index Copernicus, fabricated impact factor) 
  • Incorrect physical location of publisher
  • Misrepresentation of the editorial board
  • False claims to indexing
  • False claims of membership in industry organizations, e.g. they claim they are a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), but they are not
  • Misleading claims about peer-review practices

Deviation from best editorial/publication practices

  • Behaviours which are not in keeping with the standards set in the statement on Principles of  Transparency and Best Practices in Scholarly Publishing, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), the Open Access Scholarly Publishers
    Association (OASPA), and the World Association of
    Medical Editors (WAME)
  • No retraction policy
  • Not mentioning a Creative Commons license in an open access journal
  • Requesting a transfer of author copyright when publishing open access articles

Lack of transparency

  • Lack of information on the contact details of the publisher or on article processing charges
  • Editors or an editorial board that are not verifiable

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Use of aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation practices

  • Use persuasive language, excessive flattery, repeated and persistent emails, often with a disconnect between the expertise of the author and the journal’s field

Learn more about the impact predatory journals have on research and researchers

How to identify a predatory journal

There is no gold standard that has gained community acceptance concerning how to identify a predatory journal. We suggest that researchers consider the following suggestions to make an overall assessment of a journal..

Consider the examples of predatory journal characteristics in the table above when evaluating a given journal’s transparency practices. If a journal has more than two examples of characteristics, we would advise strongly reconsidering submission to or citation of the journal.

When considering submission to an open access journal, researchers should check to see if the journal is listed in the DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals). If yes, the journal is likely not predatory because of the vetting done by DOAJ. However, a journal has to have been in operation for one year to be listed and there is some previous history of predatory journals seeping into the DOAJ.

Consider checking where the journal reports to be indexed and verifying this is accurate information (i.e., if it says it is in PubMed, check). If a journal is not indexed it is unlikely work published in it will be responsibly disseminated. Further, we warn about journals that indicate they are indexed by databases or servers that don’t do indexing (E.g., Google, Mendeley, ResearchGate)

Consider whether the journal is a member of COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics). If yes, the journal is likely not predatory because of the membership requirements of COPE (journal published for at least one year and journal practices follow the COPE principles of publication ethics outlined in the COPE Core Practices).

Does the journal present false information? It may promote a fake impact factor on its website (e.g. Index Copernicus Value (ICV)) or false indexing. If yes, the journal is likely predatory and you should consider avoiding this journal.

Have you been invited to submit to the journal via e-mail? If so, do you know the journal already from your reading or previous publishing experience? Do you know the editor or a member of the editorial board directly? We suggest you peruse the editorial board for familiar names with the awareness that predatory journals often appropriate the names of scholars without their consent. You can reach out to editorial board members you know directly to confirm their involvement at the journal. Do your colleagues know the journal? If not, this may not be a good outlet to choose – if you and your peers aren’t reading the journal, even if it is not predatory, it may not be the best choice.

Journals that are new, or that are published in low-income economies with fewer resources may meet some criteria listed above, however, it is important not to confuse new or under-resourced journals with predatory journals.

What to do if you submit to a predatory journal?

What about Beall’s list? Or other lists of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ journals?

It’s difficult to talk about predatory journals without mentioning Jeffrey Beall. Jeffrey Beall was previously the Scholarly Initiatives Librarian at the University of Colorado, Denver. He was one of the first to recognize problems with dubious journals in the scholarly landscape and was the one to term these journals ‘predatory’.

In 2012, Beall published the first edition of his criteria for Determining Predatory Open-Access Publishers. From those criteria, Beall later published his Lists of Predatory Journals and Publishers, naming journals and publishers. In January 2017 he took down the lists and left his position at the University of Colorado, Denver. The archived lists live on.

Beall played a significant role in recognizing the issue of predatory journals and publishers, and in popularizing their growth. However, Beall’s lists were not curated systematically, and his criteria for finding and listing journals were not transparent. For this reason, and the fact that his lists are no longer updated, we recommend against using them.

Other lists of predatory journals exist. One such list is produced by the company Cabells. A challenge of using Cabells is that it is not publicly available and researchers or their institutions need to pay to access the content. It is also unclear how Cabells selects their criteria for determining what a predatory journal is. Research has highlighted limitations of both Beall’s and Cabells’ lists.

We note here that many predatory lists are referred to as ‘black lists’ and ‘white lists’. This is racist terminology, which we have avoided use of on this website.

Predatory journals can contaminate the legitimate literature

There is the potential for legitimate research articles to cite work published in predatory journals. There is evidence suggesting this occurs. Frandsen conducted a bibliometric analysis of potential predatory journals as well as potential poor scientific standard journals to compare characteristics (e.g. geographical location, citations, and publications) of the citing authors and publishing authors. 1295 citations to 124 journals were collected for this study from Scopus and it was determined the profile of the citing author are similar to those of the publishing author. Specifically, first authors of these publications did not differ from the rest of the authors, geographically speaking. Authors citing these potentially predatory and low quality standard journals tend to be inexperienced authors mainly from Africa, Southeast Asia or South Asia, and to a much lesser extent, experienced authors from other parts of the world.

How to deal with predatory journal articles in systematic reviews

Due to the rising threat of predatory journals, it is becoming more difficult for researchers and clinicians to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate publications. As such, low-quality research shared in predatory journals may unknowingly make its way into systematic reviews, which poses a huge problem since systematic reviews form the basis for patient care, guidelines for clinical practice, and health policies. As such, we may not want unvetted work included, especially if it presents itself as having been vetted.

This presents challenges for systematic reviewers, for which we have suggested solutions.

  • Specify in your protocol how you are going to deal with the potential inclusion of predatory journal content
  • Register an explicit protocol that includes your description of how to handle predatory journals
  • Check the DOAJ to see if the journal is listed
  • Use COPE to check for best standards for publication practices
  • Consider example characteristics (note will link to table above in researcher section) above when evaluating a given journal’s transparency practices. If a journal has examples of characteristics, we would advise strongly reconsidering submission to or citation of the journal.
  • Conduct a subgroup analysis with and without the identified predatory article(s)

For further discussion of predatory journals penetrating systematic reviews

In this study, researchers investigated to what degree predatory publications in health and biomedical sciences are cited in systematic reviews. Authors determined that 62 of 459 journal titles had published a total of 120 articles that were cited by at least one systematic review and that 157 systematic reviews cited an article from 1 of these predatory journals.

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In this commentary, the author identifies potential problems for systematic reviews. Firstly, predatory publications in systematic reviews dilutes credible literature and distorts the evidence base. Secondly, it contributes to research waste due to the increased amount of poor quality or useless data, and thirdly, includes duplicated or fraudulent data in systematic reviews.

Additional Resources

Compass to Publish is the first free tool that allows everyone to assess the authenticity of Open Access journals by answering a series of questions. The tool guides researchers and the public in a do-it-yourself approach so that they can identify and avoid possible predatory journals on their own, all of this with a transparent criteria-based evaluation and scoring method. In doing so, users can learn more about Open Access, best practices, and helpful tools and organizations.
Compass to Publish was developed by a team of librarians working at the University of Liège, Belgium.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwisQdgHWWs

Another major initiative that is currently being developed is Texas Tech’s STEPP training. STEPP is a research and training program designed to prepare STEM scholars, and other stakeholders, to navigate the academic publishing terrain. The research aspect of this program will further our understanding of the ethical challenges that arise from predatory publishing, through empirical research that solicits input from key stakeholders in the situation.

THINK.CHECK.SUBMIT is an initiative that began in 2015 that helps researchers identify trusted journals and publishers for their research. It focuses on educating researchers, promoting integrity and building trust in credible research and publications.

https://thinkchecksubmit.org/

Researchers need to act responsibly when selecting journals to disseminate their research. Check out these tips on how to do this correctly to ensure quality dissemination.