This article provides information about the practice of predatory publishing where authors may inadvertently pay a fee to publish on a website that does not have academic credibility.
Getting a paper published in a journal is an exciting professional milestone. In theory, it should be a straightforward process: the author selects the journal, writes the paper and submits! Unfortunately, the reality can be more complicated with hidden pitfalls depending on the selected publisher.
The aim of this article is to provide information about the practice of predatory publishing which results in paying a fee and publishing on a website that does not have academic credibility. To put predatory publishing in context, this article also provides some brief background on the different publishing options available today (traditional print, open access, hybrid access) and provides some suggestions about how to identify a predatory publishing website/email /journal, versus a legitimate site for publishing.
Traditional Print Publishing: Before 2000, the primary academic publishing mechanism for a research study or a quality improvement (QI) project was to publish in a printed journal. The author did not pay any fees and the journal covered the publication costs from subscriptions paid by academic libraries and individual subscribers. This system had positive and negative features. On the positive side, there were no costs for the authors of the paper and the journal handled the peer review process. On the negative side, it was competitive to get published because there were fewer journals and manuscripts were often not widely distributed, being available mostly to subscribers.
Open Access Publishing: With the omnipresence of the Internet and powerful search engines, many authors wanted greater exposure for their academic work. Additionally, researchers challenged the monopoly of the print subscription model and suggested a new framework called Open Access publishing.
Under the Open Access model, it is the authors of the paper that pay a fee to have their paper published. For first-world countries, such as the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe the fees can range from $1,000 to $5000 per manuscript depending on the journal. Some journals have lower fee-structures for third world countries. For this fee, the journal covers the peer-review process, and publishes the paper online so that it is findable and sharable by anyone with a computer or smart phone. Many Open Access journals use a rigorous peer review process and publish only the articles that meets their publishing standards.
Hybrid Access Publishing: A third model is a journal that has traditional print publishing model but also offers an open access option where a fee is paid by the authors. In this case the article is immediately findable online and is also in print.
Follow the Money: Unfortunately, the rise of the Open Access publishing model – where the authors paid a fee to have their work published – also created a business opportunity for scammers attracted by the fees paid by the authors. The scammers create websites with journal names that look very similar to a legitimate publisher. The unsuspecting author pays the fee and uploads the manuscript. However, because the content is not peer-reviewed and is not indexed in the major academic indexes (PubMed, CINAHL, Scopus, and others) the publication does not count toward academic tenure. Another problem is that once the manuscript is available online, the author will not be able to resubmit to a legitimate journal. The lack of rigorous peer review is a major reason predatory publisher journals are not indexed.
Blacklists and Whitelists: Predatory publishers will create a website that mimics another well-know or legitimate website claiming rapid publication and open access, and then send emails and texts to encourage authors to submit to their site. This practice of creating a website to upload manuscripts is not illegal. However, it is unethical if the purpose is to deceive a naive author into handing over payment and their manuscript without the benefit of academic review.
To advertise this problem, Jeffrey Beall, an academic librarian working at the University of Colorado, started a blog that developed into an Internet “blacklist” of potentially predatory open access journals in 2008. Beale coined the term predatory publishing in 2010. Beall’s list was influential and was used by many authors to decide where to publish their work. Some universities used Beall’s list to review academic publications and did not count any publications from journals on the list for tenure review. Beale’s list became controversial with supporters and detractors. The list was abruptly taken offline in January 2017 after several publishers threatened legal action. An achieved list of Beall-identified potentially predatory open access journals is available at https://beallslist.weebly.com.
Lars Bjørnshauge, an academic librarian from Lund University, Sweden, took a slightly different approach. Bjørnshauge started a “whitelist” of acceptable journals called the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). The DOAJ remains very active and has thousands of journals listed on their website (https://doaj.org). The DOAJ describes itself as a “community curated online directory.”
Are Lists of Predatory Journals Accurate? John Bohannon, a journalist for the prestigious print/online journal Science, investigated whether the claims of predatory publishing were true. In 2013, Bohannon tested the accuracy of Beall’s list and the DOAJ list by selecting 304 open-access publishers from both lists that he considered suspect: 121 came from Beall’s list, 167 came from the DOAJ list, and 16 were on both lists. Over 8 months (January – August 2013), different versions of a spoof scientific paper were submitted for publication to the 304 journals at a rate of about 10 per week.
- Beall’s-list journals that reviewed the spoof manuscript had an 82% acceptance rate and 18% appropriately rejected the spoof paper.
- DOAJ-list journals that reviewed the spoof manuscript had a 45% acceptance rate, while 55% appropriately rejected the spoof paper.
These results show that neither list was perfect at identifying a predatory publisher. Therefore, authors need to be simultaneously knowledgeable and wary before submitting a manuscript. Bohannon has provided links to the publishers, papers, and correspondence (http://scim.ag/OA-Sting), and published an open access paper that describes his methodology and results (https://science.sciencemag.org/content/342/6154/60.full).
Recognizing a Predatory Publishing Website / Email / Journal: Using the criteria developed by Beall, DOAJ, Bohannon and others, the following features may help authors to identify a potentially predatory publishing website or journal.
- Journal is not indexed in PubMed, CINAHL or Scopus (relevant for healthcare)
- Journal website fraudulently claims to be indexed when it is not
- Journal website claims a high impact factor when this is not correct
Journal Titles and Editorial Boards
- Journal title contains “American Journal of ……” Or “Canadian Journal of ……” but the website, editorial board members and publisher are not based in North America
- Journal has the title “International journal of……” but the editorial board members are from a single country or geographical area without international members
- Multiple journal titles in unrelated specialties have the same editorial board members
- Journal titles mimic legitimate journal titles and websites
- The publisher is also the editor-in-chief
- The academic credentials of the editor and editorial board members are not listed
Grammar and Spelling Errors
- Website or emails have English language spelling or grammatical errors
- Journal does not have a peer review process
- Journal does not have a mechanism for digital preservation of published papers
Submission Fee versus Publication Fee
- The publisher requires a payment for a “submission fee” or “handling fee” when normally payment is requested only when the manuscript is accepted for publication
Spam Email to Solicit Publications
- Excessive spam emails with requests for publications
- The publisher’s email address ends in @gmail.com or @yahoo.com, or similar
Another option is to use the free “Journal Evaluation Tool” developed by librarians from Loyola Marymount University and Loyola Law School. This tool is available for download at: https://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1041&context=librarian_pubs
The issue of predatory open access publishing remains controversial. What is certain is that Open Access publishing is here to stay and that it is essential for all authors to have accurate information about the quality and reputation of a journal before submitting a manuscript. The DOAJ list is a helpful starting point but because new predatory publisher websites and journals spring-up all the time. However, it is important to look beyond the published lists and to use the criteria above to verify the quality and track record of any journal before submission.
Article By: Mary E. Lough