Predatory publishers constitute a real threat both to researchers and to the open access movement: while their journals and books are typically open access, they lack professional rigour and quality. Although they try to maintain a veneer of scientific respectability, they do not in fact ensure quality control: peer review is either absent or superficial. Predatory journals take advantage of the spread of open access and also of the need for researchers to publish, and their only purpose is to maximize income through the collection of publication charges.
If a researcher publishes their paper in a predatory journal, this represents a wasted opportunity, since that piece of research cannot be republished in a reputable journal. Also, publishing in predatory journals reflects very badly on the reputation of a researcher. Because of this, it is essential that researchers do their due diligence and make sure that the journal they plan to submit a manuscript to is not predatory.
There are many signs that indicate that a publisher is probably predatory. However, these should be evaluated in the whole, since any one signal in itself is not necessarily proof of a publisher or journal being predatory. In case there are any red flags, researchers are advised to consult fellow researchers or librarians, and until their doubts are fully addressed, they should refrain from submitting any research to the publisher or journal concerned.
Typical signs of predatory journals:
Contact and access:
- The journal contacts the author (without any prompting) asking the author to send a manuscript to the paper.
- The contact data of the journal are limited to an email address: no physical address or phone number is provided.
- Both the journal and the publisher are unknown for a researcher knowledgeable about the field.
- The website of the journal looks unprofessional: the texts contain typos and sound awkward, links do not work. The website carries advertisements which are unrelated to research and science.
Name, mission, research field:
- It is always suspicious if a publisher launches several new journals at the same time, often with almost identical titles (“The New Journal of …”), since it is practically impossible to field so many editorial boards populated with serious scholars
- There is a contradiction between the geographical location indicated in the title of the journal and the actual physical address of the editorial office.
- While the title of the journal is “International Journal of …”, the makeup of the editorial board is decidedly local.
- The content and focus of the papers published do not correspond to the research field indicated by the title and the mission statement of the journal.
- The title of the journal indicates a focus that is too broad and general, or indeed pulls together research fields which are in fact unrelated.
Scientific rank, professionalism, institutional background:
- The journal is not included in the reputable journal rankings and databases, and it is not indexed by the major index providers.
- The editors of the journal lack proper scientific credentials (they are unaffiliated or affiliated with institutions of dubious standing).
- The board of editors is small, it lacks an editor-in-chief, or it is still in the process of being set up.
- There is no peer review and quality control: any papers are published as long as the publication charge is paid.
- Due to the lack of peer review, papers are published unusually quickly.
Financial and legal:
- Authors are requested to pay a fee upon the submission of the manuscript (independently of whether it will published or not). This is different from the practice of genuine open access journals, where author publication charges (APC) are only charged after a manuscript has been accepted for publication.
- The publisher insists on retaining all authorship rights.
Where can one check the credentials of journals?
One can check whether the journal is a member of Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association.
One can also check whether the publisher is a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics, a forum of publishers committed to ethical publishing.
This is a database which keeps track of the open access / archiving policies of publishers. One can check a journal’s publisher, ISSN and its open access / archiving policy in this database.
One can check whether the journal is listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals, which only contains respectable journals.
The quality of the journal can be verified by looking at scientometric indicators in the Scimago Journal & Country Rank database.
Finally, one can also check whether the title is listed in the journal database of MTMT (MTMT is a database of publications by scientists affiliated in Hungary, maintained by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences).