Introduction

The term predatory publishing was coined by Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado, to describe deceitful publishing practices that capitalize on the existing market for open access publishing. Predatory publishers are motivated primarily by large profits, rather than a commitment to the best ethical practices of research publication, and prey on the professional motivation of researchers to publish.

While even legitimate journals may charge fees in order to make content available as open access, predatory publishers are deceitful or unethical in their business by:

  • publishing articles as quickly as possible and without a thorough review
  • soliciting articles through misleading, mass emails
  • being misleading about their peer-review process
  • making false claims about their journals' impact or about the prestige of their editorial board

Predatory publishing not only has a high financial cost to authors and institutions, it also has the potential to flood the research environment with poorly conducted research or falsified data.

This page will help you identify some characteristics of predatory publishers and offer some resources and tips for investigating publishers to determine whether they are reputable or potentially predatory. By being vigilant when you enter the publication process and when you are conducting a literature search, you will protect not only yourself, but you will help reduce the presence of invalid research that can proliferate on the internet.

Warning Signs of Potential Predatory Publishers

Solicitation

Everyone likes to think their research is important and of high quality, so an email praising your research and asking you to submit your work can be tempting. However, most reputable journals receive more than enough quality submissions to publish on their schedule. Predatory publishers seek out submissions in order to charge the fees from which they profit. Often these emails will:

  • be highly flattering
  • offer to publish with a low initial fee
  • contain poor or unusual grammar
  • offer a lightning-fast publication schedule

Opaque Fee Structures

Ethical publication practices dictate that any publication fees be clearly communicated to the author. This includes:

  • a clear list of all fees to be paid
  • when in the process each will be levied
  • what each fee covers

Most reputable publishers will lay these out clearly on the website or in a letter of intent..

*Note that many legitimate and reputable open access publishers charge fees (article publication charges or APCs) to offset the free delivery of content to the user. This alone is not an indicator of predatory practice. An ethical publisher may still require substantial article publishing charges (APCs), but they will convey them honestly and transparently.

Poorly Conducted or Vague Peer Review Process

Nearly all predatory publishers short-cut the peer review process in some way. An ethical publisher will clearly state their review process, and adhere to best practices. If not overtly outlined on the website, a publisher will lay out the peer review process in initial emails.

Predatory journals may offer:

  • ultra-fast publication time
  • improbably fast turnaround for peer review
  • immediate publication upon receipt of a fee

Take a look at previous articles in a journal to see if research appears valid and well-argued, or use some of the resources on the "Online Resources" page to investigate the peer review process of any journal you are considering.

Wide-Ranging Scope

Predatory publishers often try to publish quickly and in large volume to maximize profits. In an effort to maximize their intake, a journal may include:

  • articles of very wide-ranging scope
  • articles that have little to do with journal's focus
  • a seemingly random gathering of topics

Have a look at earlier journal issues to see if they seem to adhere to the mission and scope of the journal as stated.

Poor Design and Editing

Predatory publishers usually invest very little time or effort in website design. Therefore, the website for a predatory journal may:

  • appear simplistic or outdated
  • contain extensive grammar or spelling errors
  • utlize distorted or unauthorized images

Falsification of Credentials

Predatory publishers often list false affiliations or are misleading as to suggest an affiliation. They may:

  • list prestigious researchers as members of their editorial board
  • falsely state an affiliation with a prestigious institution
  • be vague about the physical location of the business
  • make false or misleading claims about impact statistics

Dig deeper and verify claims wherever possible. Check the online bios of researchers or institution websites for some indication of their association with the journal. Physical addresses can be verified by searching Google Maps.

History

While reputable journals often have established histories reaching back decades, predatory journals are may be set up quickly and disappear. 

  • Check for available back issues.
  • Look up a journal's ISSN, the standardized number assigned to a journal.
  • Verify the journal's listing in a reputable source, like those listed in the "Online Resources" section of this guide.

 

Checklist for Evaluation of Potential Predatory Journals

✓ Were you solicited to submit your work to the journal? Was the solicitation email flattering of your research? Does the email fail to include full contact information, especially a physical address?

✓ Do the website, published articles, or any solicitation emails have obvious grammatical or spelling mistakes?

✓ Does the publisher promise rapid publication or faster than usual peer-review?

✓ Is the peer-review process transparent and laid out on the site?

✓ Do you or your colleagues know the journal as a reputable publication?

✓ Is the journal very new, or does it have very few back issues available for viewing?

✓ Is the physical address of the publisher clearly indicated, and can you verify its accuracy using Google Maps or another resource? 

✓ Are any and all fees clearly laid out, including what costs they support and when in the process they will be charged?

✓ Have you heard of the editorial board members in the context of your field?

✓ Do the named editors mention their service on their own website or CV?

✓ Do the articles published seem to be of inappropriate content or wider scope than the journal title would suggest?

Beall’s List of Predatory Publishers was begun by Jeffrey Beall and provided a blacklist of potential, possible probable predatory publishers. The site was taken down in 2017, but an archived version is still available. While no longer fully up to date, it is still a great resource for established predatory publishers. “Beall’s Criteria for Determining Predatory Open-Access Publishers” (2015), also archived, remains a very valid and useful source. Similar information was included in his “Best Practices for Scholarly Authors in the Age of Predatory Journals” (2018), published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

MEDLINE, the National Library of Medicine’s journal citation database of biomedical literature, requires a rigorous screening of journal quality and standards of publication. Approval for inclusion requires assessment of journal content, originality, and peer review practices. If a journal is listed here, it has been found to be a highly trusted source by both medical librarians and researchers.

DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals) is a worldwide community of open access journals. Journals must be approved to be listed, and criteria include quality and transparency of the editorial process. The DOAJ also offers the DOAJ Seal for superior adherence to best practices, including accessibility, openness, reuse and author rights, but the seal should not be considered an indicator of scholarly quality.

OASPA (Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association) is an international community of publishers committed to ethical practice in scholarly publication. The association’s “Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing” serves both as criteria for publisher membership in the OASPA and as a model for evaluation of ethical open access publishing. The site also maintains a member list of recognized publishers who have passed through the rigorous review process.

COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics) is an organization devoted to education in ethical publishing practice. The committee assisted in the development of the association’s “Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing” above and has published a very straightforward “Core Practices” document with links to additional information. The committee also maintains a database of interesting and noteworthy case studies in publishing ethics.

JANE (Journal/Author Name Estimator) offers a searchable interface where researchers can enter title, abstracts, or keywords, and be given a list of potential journals identified from PubMed listings which may be appropriate to publish your work. The list will also indicate open access policies (Green/Gold). Do not assume that these are not predatory, though, as predatory journals can creep into PubMed. Be sure you double check any journal titles for indexing in MEDLINE or approval from the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).

Think Check Submit offers a short, simple checklist for researchers to review when evaluating a publisher for legitimacy. As an international initiative, the checklist is available in multiple languages.

 

Journal Reviewer is an independent site that aggregates the experiences of individual researchers to rate publishers on a wide range of criteria, including the quality of peer review feedback, turnaround time, and editorial knowledge. While not rigidly controlled for submission integrity, obviously false submissions are regularly removed. Journal Reviewer is a new, but growing resource within the scholarly community.

Further Reading from Scholarly Sources

Bartholomew, R. E. (2014). Science for sale: the rise of predatory journals. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 107(10), 384–385. https://doi.org/10.1177/0141076814548526

Beall, J. (2016.) Best practices for scholarly authors in the age of predatory journalsThe Annals of The Royal College of Surgeons of England98(2), 77-79. https://doi.org/10.1308/rcsann.2016.0056

Beall, J. (2017). What I learned from predatory publishers. Biochemia Medica27(2), 273-278. https://doi.org/10.11613/BM.2017.029

Berger, M. (2017). Everything you ever wanted to know about predatory publishing but were afraid to ask. In ACRL 2017, Baltimore, Maryland, March 22 - 25, 2017. [Conference paper]

Bohannon, J. (2013). Who’s afraid of peer reviewScience342(6154). https://doi.org/10.1126/science.342.6154.60

Harvey, H. B., & Weinstein, D. F. (2017). Predatory publishing: an emerging threat to the medical literatureAcademic Medicine, 92(2), 150-151. https://doi.org/10.1097/ACM.0000000000001521

Laine C, Winker M. A. (February 15, 2017). Identifying predatory or pseudo-journals. World Association of Medical Editors. Retrieved from http://www.wame.org/identifying-predatory-or-pseudo-journals

Manca, A., Martinez, G., Cugusi, L., Dragone, D., Mercuro, G., & Deriu, F. (2017). Predatory open access in rehabilitation. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 98(5), 1051–1056. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apmr.2017.01.002

Shamseer, L., Moher, D., Maduekwe, O., Turner, L., Barbour, V., Burch, R., . . . Shea, B. J. (2017). Potential predatory and legitimate biomedical journals: Can you tell the difference? A cross-sectional comparison. BMC Medicine, 15(1), 28. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-017-0785-9

Understanding Predatory Publishing