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Predatory journals: What they are and how to avoid them

Dr Zoran Dinev

If you have completed your research and written your paper, then congratulations to you! At this point, you would be super excited to get your research results published. After all, you have worked hard on it, and thus, your paper deserves to get greater visibility within the scientific community and among the public.

The good news is that it is easier than ever to get scientific research published in today's era of open access publishing. The open-access journals primarily operate on the author-pays business model where the author can get their study published online by paying a small amount of fee.  Moreover, it allows authors to skip the print barrier while ensuring that their work is readily available to a broader audience. Many reputable publishers are setting up new open access journals to providing researchers platforms to submit and publish their studies.

However, what is crucial to understand is that not all journals are authentic. How and where you publish your research is vital to your success. The increasing popularity of open access journals has also given rise to less respectable and questionable predatory journals. These journals not only abuse the author's pay model but also risk the published research's integrity.

Predatory Journals—What are They?

Also known as fraudulent, pseudo, hijacked, or deceptive journals, predatory journals are journals that claim to be legitimate scholarly journals, but they are fraud in reality. These scam journals misrepresent their publishing practices to attract authors. They are only interested in collecting fees upfront and don't provide the services that they promise. Most of these journals will take payments from the authors and never publish their work. Those who publish articles apply poor academic standards and practices in their peer-review and editorial processes. Sometimes they go to the extent to:

  • Falsely claiming to offer peer-review
  • Hide article processing charging information
  • Misrepresenting the journal's editorial board members
  • Violate scholarly ethics and copyrights

Thus, with all this into consideration, researchers need to do the legwork and find a trusted and reputed publication before submitting their research to any journal.

As the name suggests, predatory journals are only in the business to exploit researchers' situations under pressure to get their research papers published.

What's even more unethical is that some new and more recent predatory journals impersonate the renowned ones attracting authors to submit their work. As their websites are professional looking and they also advertise their memberships to professional bodies that promote good practices, it becomes hard for new and inexperienced researchers to tell the difference or identify predatory journals.

Before we share with you the best tips on how to avoid hijacked or deceptive journals, here is a quick overview of its history and why you need to avoid them.

Predatory Journals History—Their Beginning

The term 'Predatory Journal' was first coined by Jeffrey Beall— The University of Colorado's librarian who observed the exponential growth of these journals and noticed that they continue to charge author fees without complying with proper quality checking standards for paper submission or publishing. Their purpose was to make a profit and not ensure or promote the career progression of the researcher. He described them as counterfeit journals that exploit the open-access model. He said that they were dishonest and lacked transparency.

The practice of predatory journals began to rise in the first decade of the twenty-first century. To make it easy for new and inexperienced researchers to stay informed about which publication is ethical and not, Jeffrey Beall started making a list of unethical, predatory journals in 2008. Soon enough, the list included several thousand journals and publishers. In 2011, the list that Beall created included 18 predatory journals, but in 2018 that number grew to 923 publishers.

However, Beall was later forced to take it down due to political issues and a growing number of threats. Many journals, publishers, and the open-access community objected against Beall for his profound understanding of the deceptive/predatory journals.

However, now several successors have created their predatory journal blacklist and are available to viewers upon a subscription basis. A research carried by Shen and Bjork in the year 2015 talked about mentioned that the number of these journals had risen from 1800 in 2010 to nearly 8000 in 2016. And according to the blacklist published by Cabell, there were approximately 12,000 journals listed in 2019. It is a soaring increase which has further made it difficult to avoid them. 

Predatory Publishers—Reasons to avoid submission with them

If it is your first research paper, you are likely to fall for the scam of predatory journals that attract authors stating that they will get their articles published quickly. This may sound exciting, but in actual, it's a trap. By submitting your paper to predatory journals, you can experience severe consequences. Some of them are:

You don't get the benefit of peer feedback

Although these fraudulent journals claim true peer reviews, in reality, they don't. This becomes a source of misinformation in the broader research community and hinders scientific progress.  When flawed articles with low-quality and inaccurate information are published, not only do they impact the progress of a researcher, but they also slow down researchers from more legitimate investigation lines.

Make it hard to find your research, and thus it is not likely to be used by other researchers.

As predatory journals are fraudulent, those who know how to identify them thus avoid them too. Therefore, more experienced researchers in the field less likely to browse or read those journals. And do you know what that means? Your significant research findings may never reach or may be passed by the broader scientific community. Also, sometimes popular citation databases don't index journals of low quality, so researchers may not find your work by searching by topic.

You can lose your work

Some fraudulent journals may only take the money from the authors and never publish their work. They may go offline anytime, putting you in a risky situation. And some may even publish your work before you sign a publishing agreement.  For instance, if you find out that the journal you are in the process of agreeing with is a fraud and decide not to follow through, they may post your article on their website if you have provided them. Furthermore, if they publish your paper regardless of the agreement, then there are high chances that your work may never get accepted by legitimate publishers. This is because most of the journals don't accept articles that have been published already.

What do predatory journals look like in practice? 

Here is an overview of some unethical behavior and misconduct that predatory journals are known for:

  • Don't follow a standardized peer-review process
  • Don't send the paper to reviewers, edit it or improve it before they publish it
  • Publish low-quality papers
  • Often publish fake articles too because they can't identify them due to inadequate or zero quality control practices
  • Vigorously send spam and phishing emails to researchers asking them to submit their work
  • Create a fake list of editorial board members without those people knowing or agreeing with it
  • Advertise as legitimate and established journals

Best Tips to Identify and Avoid Predatory Journals

As mentioned above, with an exponential increase in the number of predatory journals, you are most likely to come across these journals at some point in time. However, the last thing that you want is to submit your work to them and get scammed. After all, completing research involves months of hard work, and you don't want it to get wasted.

Here are some of the best and proven ways to spot predatory journals and avoid falling prey:

Check Their Website Thoroughly

Once you shortlist the journals you want to submit your paper to, make sure to go to their website and review it carefully. One of the surefire signs of a predatory journal is grammar and spellings mistakes on their site. The poor use of the language is indicative of low-quality standard.

Also, another thing to observe is the fee. Authentic journals state the fee on their sites clearly and request it after the publication accepts the paper. But that's the opposite with predatory journals. They will ask you to pay first before the article is accepted.  So, if that is the case, then you know what to do—avoid it!

Find out if the journal is a DOAJ, OASPA, STM or COPE member

Before you submit your paper to a journal, make sure that it is associated with any of the following reputable organizations. These are:

  • Directory of Open Access Journal (DOAJ)
  • Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)
  • Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA)
  • International Association of Scientific
  • Technical and Medical Publishers (STM)

Don't rely on what they say on their website; go to these bodies' official website, and check the journal's membership. These are well-reputed organizations that vet their membership for complying with the highest publishing standards. However, in case you still have any doubt, try sending an email to the organization. They will confirm the membership of the journal that you wish to submit your article to.

Verify Contact Information

Make sure that the contact information of the publication selected matches the advertised journal's nationality. Therefore, if you find a journal with a difference in their office location and contact details, then you should do some more legwork about the journal before submission. For example:

  • Check the time-stamps of the email communication. Look if they were sent during the working hours of the country that they are located in
  • Find out if the phone number listed has the correct country code
  • If they have mentioned their address, search for it to find out if it exists

If none of this is in synergy, then avoid the journal instead of taking a risk.

Research about the Members of the Editorial Board

Often fraudulent journals create a fake list of editorial board members. A good way to identify a scam journal is to check the online profiles of the members listed on the board. Search for them on websites like Research Gate and LinkedIn. If they don't mention the journal in their profiles, then it's best to skip it and continue your research on finding a trusted publication.

Read the Previous Issues of the Journal

This will help you assess and identify the quality of work posted in these journals. Since most of the predatory journals don't follow the peer-review process and have poor practices, it will be easier for you to evaluate the journal's authenticity in question. Errors, low quality, and quick submissions are also indicative that the journal is a scam. It is only interested in minting money with no focus on the quality of work.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, we can say that new and inexperienced researchers should always spend some time doing the legwork on publication journals before they choose one. Your hard work can be wasted if you fall for the trap of predatory journals who only work to make profits. By publishing in a scam journal, you can damage your reputation, career as a researcher, and more importantly, your work may never be found by other researchers. So, use the tips shared above carefully to navigate through and find a trusted publication for submission. Good luck! Good luck! For more information or assistance, contact us.

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