How to Protect Yourself From Predatory Journals

We all know that you can’t trust everything you see on the internet. Scammers often find creative ways to take advantage of those who don’t know any better. And so, we need to develop a discerning eye to figure out what’s real, what’s fake, and what’s too good to be true.

One way that scammers try to rip off researchers and academics is by publishing predatory journals, a term coined in 2012 by Jeffrey Beall in an article for Nature. Basically, they prey on the ‘publish or perish’ mindset that requires scholars to publish their works in order to further their careers. By taking advantage of the Open Access model, which often requires authors to pay a fee in order to provide free access to readers, these bad actors exploit academics and offer little in return.

Megan O’Donnell from Iowa State University Library reminds us: “It’s important to realize that Open Access does not make a publisher predatory, their bad behavior does. Predatory publishers do authors a disservice by claiming to be a full-service publisher.”

What Are Predatory Journals?

While we still don’t have a hard and fast definition of a predatory journal, most share certain characteristics. The primary goal for each of them is to make money, and so everything else stems from that impetus.

Foremost, most predatory journals don’t care about the quality of the work they publish. They often conduct little or no editing, and traditional peer-review is generally non-existent. Plus, they often make false claims or promises, such as indexing or low fees, that authors later find to be inaccurate.

Simply put, predatory journals engage in unethical business practices. They do not follow accepted standards or best practices of scholarly publishing, and they usually prey on novice faculty members who simply need/want to get published.

Moreover, “the number of predatory journals, and the numbers of articles these journals publish, continues to increase rapidly,” writes Cobey, Lalu, et al. for F1000 Research. It’s easy for these scammers to set up a bogus website, find publicly available email addresses, and make themselves seem credible. As predatory journals proliferate, it’s becoming more important than ever to sort the wheat from the chaff.

The Damages Caused by Predatory Journals

Though it’s much easier and quicker to get published by one of these journals, it’s not worth it because of the potential damages they can cause. The risks far outweigh the rewards.

First, your work might not be subject to peer-review. Going through a peer-review process is crucial to improving your work and establishing your academic clout. Foregoing this process is a disservice to you, the organization you work for, and – most importantly – the reader.

Second, your work might just disappear. Many predatory journals are known to publish papers on current or hot topics only to take them down shortly after the buzz on that topic has faded. Remember, all they care about is making a quick dollar by getting content for current headlines. There’s no guarantee your paper will still be available tomorrow, much less in two years.

Third, it’ll be difficult for others to find your work. Most research databases like Medline and the DOAJ don’t index predatory journals. Though your colleagues might still find your work on Google, you’ll get less exposure and citations if your work isn’t included in other major indices.

Lastly, your reputation could take a hit. It’s always embarrassing to realize you’ve been scammed, and it doesn’t look good when your work shows up in these shady journals. Falling victim to a predatory journal can be the difference between getting tenure or not.

How to Spot Predatory Journals

Though there isn’t any single hallmark of a predatory journal, you can always do a bit of detective work to figure out if your potential publisher is credible. First, take a look at their website and communications. If there are poor language, typos, or awkward style, then the journal might be predatory. A lack of contact information or broken links is also a big giveaway.

You also want to be skeptical of anything that seems too good to be true – it probably is. If their fees are much lower than other journals, or if they offer a much quicker turnaround, you might want to do a bit more research before submitting your paper.

Another tactic is to search Cabell’s Blacklist or Beall’s List of Predatory Journals and Publishers. These lists contain hundreds of known predatory journals and provide an easy way to rule out suspicious candidates.

If you’re still not sure whether you’re dealing with a predatory journal, ask a librarian. They are professionally trained to spot predatory publications, and they’re always happy to give you a second opinion.

Some Final Thoughts

Most of this comes down to gut instinct and due diligence. If something smells fishy, it probably is. Either way, you should always take time to verify your publisher’s credibility before sending any papers or payments. You don’t want to be the next victim of a predatory journal.

There is, however, one counterpoint that we should also bear in mind. As Cobey, Lalu, et al. write, “There is a conundrum that some journals hailing from the global south may not have the knowledge, resources, or infrastructure to meet best practices in publishing although some of them have ‘international’ or ‘global’ in their title. Devaluing or black-listing such journals may be problematic as they serve an important function in ensuring the dissemination of research on topics of regional significance.”

With this in mind, the onus falls on academics and publishers alike to create a more robust framework for identifying and categorizing predatory journals. The authors from the previous study recommend inviting “a broad spectrum of stakeholders to a summit,” where interested parties could meet to discuss and define predatory journals.

That said, the most important takeaway, for now, is that you need to protect yourself from genuine scammers. Look at their website or emails with a critical eye, do some research, and don’t hesitate to ask for a second opinion. Taking the time to find a reputable journal with a thorough peer-review process can make all the difference to your career.