How to recognize the predatory publisher


What is a predatory publisher?

The pressure to publish can be overwhelming, especially for early career researchers who need a solid profile to access jobs and grants. However, your credibility and the legitimacy of your institution can be impacted if you make the wrong choice when publishing your book, journal or research article.

Forms of exploitative publishing have been operating for many years; according to Nature, the term ‘predatory publisher’ was first coined in 2010. Bo-Christer Björk, Sari Kanto-Karvonen, J. Tuomas Harviainen in a recent paper entitled How Frequently Are Articles in Predatory Open Access Journals Cited analysed citation statistics in Open Access scientific journals and found a very low number of citations (2.6%), while 56% of articles had no citations at all. This compared to an average of 18 citations in a peer-reviewed journal included in the Scopus index, with only 9% of papers receiving no citations.

How to identify predatory publishers

According to the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), “Predatory publishing generally refers to the systematic for profit publication of purportedly scholarly content (in journals and articles, monographs, books, or conference proceedings) in a deceptive or fraudulent way and without any regard for quality assurance”.

A predatory publisher acts unethically by charging high publication fees without checking the submitted papers or books for quality, often pretending to use peer review methods and not providing any of the editorial or publishing services legitimate academic publishers offer.

Experts agree that some publishers set up as predators, others might fall in this category due to mismanagement and not following best editorial practices. Predatory publishers share these characteristics:

  • The main aim is to make money by charging high fees, not to advance knowledge by sharing scientific findings.

  • They spam and flatter potential contributors, appealing to their ego and exploiting their inexperience.

  • They promise a high Impact Factor and a high number of citations, claiming their journals and/or book series are influential and field leaders.

  • The journal or publishing team is not managed by a credible academic or, worse still, the same individual is managing many journals covering different disciplines. There are instances of identity theft, when academics are appointed to boards without their knowledge.

  • The quality of the paper submitted is not assessed; little or no editing is applied to it and there might be a low standard or no peer review process. Poor grammar and spelling appear in published articles.

  • They do not advertise, market or distribute their journals or books in a professional manner. Their website might not be stable and articles might disappear after a certain period. A paper might be kept online only for a short period and the publisher might even decide to stop operating with no notice.

  • The website lacks information on ethics policies, conflicts of interest and study funding. It might also not indicate business ownership while the location of the editor’s office is hidden.

Predatory publishers and Open Access

Some disreputable companies exploit the Open Access model, especially Gold Open Access. Under this model, a publication charges an author, so his/her paper is not behind a paywall and thus accessible to all scholars. This is a legitimate publishing model, but the predatory publisher focuses on the fees and neglects the ethical standards and best practices of scholarly publishing.

Reputation is crucial in academia and publishing a paper or book with a predatory publisher can harm credibility and career prospects. This harm cannot be solved by withdrawal or retraction because predatory publishers are known for their refusal to withdraw or retract anything. To add insult to injury, an article appearing in a predatory journal cannot be submitted for publication in a legitimate one, as it is considered as an attempted redundant/duplicate publication.

Researchers who have been exposed to predatory, Open Access publishers shared these experiences:

  • Articles are accepted quickly, with little or no peer review or quality control.

  • High fees are communicated only after papers have been accepted; they are hidden or unclear on the publisher’s website.

  • Academics are spammed aggressively to persuade them to submit articles or be on editorial boards.

  • Some academics are even listed as members of editorial boards without their consent and/or are not allowed to resign from them.

  • The name of the publisher or journal is very similar to a well-respected publisher and/or journal.

  • ISSNs is used improperly; fake or non-existent impact factors are mentioned; false claims are made about the journal being indexed by reputable bibliographic databases.

  • The publisher is not a member of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA), a non-profit trade organisation representing Open Access journal publishers.

What can institutions and academics do to avoid the threat of predatory publishers?

To safeguard research diffusion and increase the discoverability of Open Access journals and books, two directories were launched in 2003 and 2012 respectively: the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB). These online directories include quality Open Access, peer-reviewed journals and books, covering most scientific disciplines. Journals and books in these directories are peer-reviewed and meet academic standards.

COPE agrees that more efforts should be made to create and update journal safelists, mentioning the example of the ‘Directory of nursing journals’, which is maintained by Nurse Author & Editor and the International Academy of Nursing Editors. It also shares these tips on how to make a safe choice:

  • Consider invitations to submit manuscripts made by email, text message or telephone call very carefully.

  • Check that journal names, ISSN codes, URLs and metrics are authentic.

  • Verify editorial team members using university and LinkedIn profiles.

  • Read archived articles to assess the quality of the journal.

  • For Open Access journals, author fees should be clearly communicated.

  • Combat identity theft by performing regular Google searches – this would reveal if your name has been used to legitimise predatory publishing businesses.