Be sure to join the next #AASChat happening on Tuesday, September 24th at 8 pm Eastern – the discussion topic will be Predatory Journals, and our moderator will be Dr. Abbey Fingeret [@DrFingeret].
If you have ever published a paper that has your email address on it, these solicitations are nearly impossible to escape: “Showcase your research,” “You are invited to submit…,” “Invitation to Join Editorial Board,” “We will offer you novel services.” Email solicitations for articles or editorial board positions now fill our inboxes and compete for our time and attention. The bulk of these come from predatory journals – entities which use the open access financial system (author pays, rather than library subscribes) to lure authors, readers and funding agencies by promising reputable services but in reality, deliver far less. Learning to identify a predatory journal and understanding how they can harm you and what you need to do to protect yourself is imperative in this era of open access publishing.
What are predatory journals?
Over the past two decades, the concept of “open access” has changed the way academia finances scholarly publishing. Rather than the traditional model of library or personal subscriptions covering the costs of publishing scholarly journals, the “open access” model shifts the cost of publication to the author of the article. Perceived advantages include faster publication and greater access to research. But while many open access journals provide high quality peer review and dissemination, this model has also spawned the evil twin of predatory journals. The term ‘predatory journal’ was coined less than a decade ago by Jeffrey Beall. Early definitions by Beall describe predatory publishers as outlets “which publish counterfeit journals to exploit the open-access model in which the author pays” and are “dishonest and lack transparency.”1 While this problem was largely unknown a decade ago, there are now an estimated 8,000 predatory titles that collectively ‘publish’ more than 400,000 articles a year.2 The fundamental issue with predatory journals is that they collect publishing fees from authors without providing important publishing services in return. These important, and otherwise standard, services include peer review, quality control, licensing, indexing, content preservation and potentially even open access. Predatory journals tend to solicit manuscripts directly from authors through repeated and persistent email invitations with promises of open access, peer review and speedy turnaround time.
Why are predatory journals bad?
Assume you have just wrapped up a fantastic research project. You have worked hard on your manuscript and you want to share your work with others in your field. You decide to publish in a journal that you perceive as reputable but is actually predatory. Instead of having your article reviewed by peers in your field, published in perpetuity and indexed at a site like PubMed or Scopus, you find your work published on a webpage, searchable only on GoogleScholar, and your chief is asking you what happened to the four figure sum you requested for manuscript publication.
Predatory journals threaten science, scientists and the effective communication of science. Beyond the damage to you as a researcher, predatory journals have a wider effect on the way we conduct and fund research. Publishing in predatory journals is widely perceived as unethical. Individuals who are enrolled in clinical trials expect that their participation could benefit future patients. Use of animals in biomedical research is rationalized on the assumption that experiments will contribute valuable information. Contrary to the wide dispersal of knowledge that predatory journals promise, they instead take valuable information and bury it.
How do you identify predatory journals and protect yourself from them?
It can be hard to tell whether a journal that you are considering publishing in is simply inept or disdaining research integrity and scientific robustness to pursue profit. Shamseer et al compared 93 identified predatory journals with 199 established open access and subscription journals. They identified 13 characteristics of predatory journals3:
- Low article-processing fees (less than US$150)
- Spelling and grammar errors on the website
- Overly broad scope
- Language that targets authors rather than reader
- Promises of rapid publication
- Lack of information about retraction policies
- Lack of information about manuscript handling
- Lack of information about digital preservation.
- Manuscript submissions by e-mail
- Inclusion of distorted images in the solicitation
There are several steps to take to protect yourself and others from predatory journals. In considering a journal for publication, you should conduct due diligence. Think about publishing in journals that you read on a regular basis. Is the journal indexed in PubMed? Read through the table of contents. Do you recognize any of the authors? Are the articles similar in content or methodology to yours? You can cross reference the journal on websites designed to protect against predatory journals (https://predatoryjournals.com/). Talk with your mentors about journal selection and heed their advice. Finally, you should use the old adage that “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”
Mentors also need to play a part in protecting trainees from predatory journals. Part of training to be an academic surgeon should be selection of journals, including how to identify predatory journals. Senior mentors also should advocate for ethics committees and ask researchers to declare their willingness to work with their institutional resources, such as librarians, to ensure they do not submit to any journals without reviewing evidence-based criteria for avoiding these titles. Funders and research institutions should establish explicit policies to safeguard work they support from being submitted to and published in predatory journals. Depending on guidelines at your institution, publications in predatory journals may not contribute to your review for Promotion and Tenure. Finally, should investigate ways to make email addresses more difficult for predatory journals to access.
While “open access” journals have provided a useful alternative to traditional subscription-based journals, the movement also has spawned predatory journals that degrade the pursuit of science. Their recognition and avoidance are paramount for both the junior and senior researcher.
Questions to be discussed on next week’s #AASChat:
- How do you identify a legitimate open access journal versus a predatory journal?
- Should you ever consider joining the editorial board of an open access journal?
- What are the risks of publishing in a predatory journal?
- At your institution, does publication in a predatory journal contribute to P+T?
- Can you prevent being solicited by predatory journals?
- Beall, J. Predatory publishers are corrupting open access. Nature 489, 179, doi:10.1038/489179a (2012).
- Shen, C. & Bjork, B. C. ‘Predatory’ open access: a longitudinal study of article volumes and market characteristics. BMC Med 13, 230, doi:10.1186/s12916-015-0469-2 (2015).
- Shamseer, L. et al. Potential predatory and legitimate biomedical journals: can you tell the difference? A cross-sectional comparison. BMC Med 15, 28, doi:10.1186/s12916-017-0785-9 (2017).