The term Predatory Publishers has become part of the publishing vocabulary. It was popularised by Jeffrey Beall, a Librarian at the University of Colorado, on his blog where he compiled a list of "predatory open access journals". He also published an article on the topic in Nature in 2012. Jeffrey Beall deactivated his blog and list of predatory journals in 2017, for reasons that have never been fully explained. However, versions of it are still in existence and being updated.
The combination of the rise of online publishing, the importance placed on university rankings, the expectations on academics to publish in prestige journals, and the movement towards Open Access publishing has seen an increase in the number of predatory publishers. This trend covers not just journals and journal articles, but also monographs, books, and conferences.
As the threat posed by predatory publishers has continued to rise, more research has been conducted into, and information written, about predatory publishers, their effect on research and how to avoid falling prey to them.
There has been a lot of debate about what predatory publishing is and which publishers should or should not be termed predatory. Even the term "predatory" has been contentious. Descriptions of the practice has varied from fraudulent, unethical, deceptive, fake and vanity publishers.
In April 2019, a group of leading scholars and publishers from ten countries agreed on a definition of predatory publishing:
“Predatory journals and publishers are entities that prioritize self-interest at the expense of scholarship and are characterized by false or misleading information, deviation from best editorial and publication practices, a lack of transparency, and/or the use of aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation practices.” Nature, 11 December 2019.
It can be very difficult to identify these publishers, but the risks you face by publishing in such a journal or presenting at a predatory conference can be far reaching. The risks include:
There have been real life consequences of research that has been published in fraudulent journals. This has not only affected researchers and institutions, but ordinary people who have relied on the research and science published in these journals. The documentary "Inside the Fake Science Factory" outlines the serious consequences to readers trusting information in fake journals.
There is also research showing that predatory journals are "infiltrating" citation databases such as Scopus. This has ongoing repercussions for science and medicine in particular.
Background Briefing Podcast - Predatory publishers criticised for 'unethical, unprincipled' tactics( August 2015)
Why Beall's Blacklist of Predatory Journals died - University World News, 22 September, 2017
Predatory journals and (un)ethical publishing - Publishing Power Hours video (Curtin staff and students only)
Inside the Fake Science Factory This 30 minute video is in German with English Subtitles. A very powerful documentary of an investigation by German journalist Svea Eckert and a small team of journalists who went undercover to investigate a massive underground network of fake science journals and conferences.
The Predatory landscape is varied and ever changing, and you will find that there are a number of different types of predatory journals. Some of the most difficult to identify are those termed hijacked or cloned journals. These journals pretend to be an actual legitimate journal, and the publishers are deliberately setting out to deceive authors into thinking they are dealing with the authentic, reputable journal. In many cases it is almost impossible to separate the predatory journal from the authentic journal title.
You will also find that the journals and their websites are constantly evolving and changing. Often you will go back to a journal website and it will no longer be active or it will redirect you to a different site.
Predatory publishers can and do:
However the following is also true:
A to Z list of common features in emails from predatory publishers (Rutgers University)
Well known Predatory Publishers
There are some predatory publishers that are very well known, yet they still remain in business. They are very proactive in targeting academics and graduate students via email. If targeted by a predatory journal or publisher it can be very difficult to extract yourself and your research once you have submitted an article for publication.
Some of the more well established publishers to beware of include:
There are many more publishers than those mentioned above. One website based on the original Beall's List has a list of Predatory Publishers. It is updated as new information is found or submitted to the site. You should always use more than one source to verify if a publisher is predatory.
There are often a number of warning signs that may alert you to the fact that you are being approached by a predatory publisher. Questions to ask yourself or signs that should ring alarm bells include:
One of the many ways in which a predatory publisher tries to convince authors that they are a legitimate publisher is through the use of metrics and impact factors. Often these are made up or totally irrelevant. For example some publishers simply list names of well-known universities and/or their libraries as evidence of impact. They may list Google, Google Scholar, EndNote or iThenticate (a plagiarism detection software) as evidence of metrics. These are totally meaningless in this context.
There are some well known fake metrics around that can raise a red flag. The list includes:
When considering if a journal is predatory or legitimate, it is advisable to use more than one source of information to determine its status. We advise that you consult a range of sources and base your decision on the total evidence that you gather.
There are many resources available to assist you to check if a publisher is predatory. Academic libraries and publishers produce checklists and guidelines that you can follow. The websites and organisations below are particularly useful in developing a strategy to check for predatory publishers:
If you follow the guidelines and use the tools listed for selecting quality journals in this toolkit, you will be well on the path to choosing a journal that is ethical, reputable and will showcase your research to your peers and your chosen audience. However, there are also some specific resources that you can use to help you identify any journals that may be predatory. It has been estimated that more than 90 checklists have been developed to help identify predatory journals and publishers.
There are some publishers who have tapped into the market and have launched their own subscription based lists of journals that they have identified as predatory. One such publisher is Cabell's International. The Blacklist, now called Journalytics, had over 12,000 titles on its list of predatory journals in 2019.
If you suspect a journal may not be authentic, you can do a quick assessment to get a feel for the legitimacy of the title:
Lists of Predatory Publishers
After Jeffery Beall took down his list, a small group of scholars and information professionals decided to anonymously rebuild and resurrect that list. They provide a number of good tools to start the process of assessing if a journal is predatory. Do not use the lists as the sole source of truth, but build the evidence from a range of sources. The group has lists of the following:
Lists of Legitimate Journals
Predatory publishing has flourished in part because of the Open Access movement. Using the tools that identify if Open Access journals is therefore one way of checking the credibility and legitimacy of journals.
A number of countries in the Global South have begun to develop lists of credible journals that are published by their institutions. This is a response to the proliferation of predatory journals that are published in the region.
For many academics attending conferences is a way of showcasing their research, testing new ideas, keeping up to date with research trends, networking and finding collaborators. It is a way of getting feedback on your research from your peers, prior to publishing your research in a journal or a book. However, as with predatory publishing, there is an increase in predatory conferences, and often the same predatory journal publishers are behind the predatory conferences.
The following tips will help you spot them:
WASET: 2020 Conference Schedule - example of a predatory Conference organiser
How to select which conference - blog post by Eva Lantsoght
Inside a "Fake" Conference: a Journey into Predatory Science - Technology News, July 11 2019
DEF CON 26 - Inside the Fake Science Factory. Findings from a team of investigative journalists, hackers and data scientists who delved into the parallel universe of fraudulent pseudo-academic conferences and journals. The findings highlight the prevalence of the pseudo-academic conferences, journals and publications and the damage they can and are doing to society.