Have you ever wondered how to spot a so-called predatory journal? These type of journals are not really interested in your paper, – your research, or of high quality. They seem to be
We first came into touch with a predatory journal many years ago: In our
What we thought was just an editorial lapse in judgement turned out not to be the exception. In the years to come, we regularly received similar requests from international scientific and academic journals, completely off-topic! We still get them! Imagine, what would happen if we accepted the invitation to review – without any qualification to do so? This was our personal way of becoming aware of so-called predatory journals and their publishers’ business practices.
Nowadays, your inbox or your spam folder might be flooded with requests to submit your paper to any number of these journals. They can find you very easily. If you have published in a respected journal, if you attended a conference or your name and email address come up on projects or other research-related websites, you will be asked to submit, review papers or even to join their editorial boards.
We all should be aware of these
I. Define: What are predatory journals?
1. Predatory journals
The term ‘predatory journal’ was coined by Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado, who observed and systematically
Predatory journals (also called deceptive or scamming journals) are accused of applying poor academic standards and practices in their editorial and peer-review processes. They apply poor ethical procedures by claiming to live-up to the established quality control standards in peer-review, but do so only on a superficial level. They simply exploit the situation that researchers (in particular young and inexperienced ones), are under pressure to publish in journals. A newer and more recent form of predatory journals are the so-called hijacked journals, where predatory journals impersonate t established, legitimate journals and pretend to be the original journal and lure authors in to submit to them. Even more unethical!
2. A short history of the rise of predatory journal publishing
Predatory journals arose with the onset of the open-access movement. Suddenly, many new publishers came on the market and started their journals as online-only. Many of these initiatives had the best of intentions to capitalise on the possibility to share research papers on the Internet, but some unfortunately saw it as an opportunity to make financial profit at the expenses of the publishing system.
Towards the end of the first decade of the 2000s, people began to notice the increasing practices of predatory journals. Jeffrey Beall, the most renowned, started to set up a list of predatory journals in 2008. Quickly, the list grew to several thousand journals and publishers accused of unethical journal publication practices. In 2011, Beall’s list included 18 publishers. By 2016, that number had grown to 923 publishers. The problem had ballooned into a danger.
This journal blacklist, based on 52 criteria developed by Beall, was forced to shut down after almost a decade due to increasing threats and political issues. Selected publishers, journals but also members of the open-access community had objected against Beall’s understanding of predatory journals. Threats of legal cases by some of the publishers he had
The archived version of Beall’s list is available at Beall’s List of Predatory Journals and Publishers.
Since the closing down of Beall’s list, several successor initiatives have appeared ‘Cabell’s International’ offers ‘The Journal Blacklist’ on
For further details on the rise and development of predatory journals see the articles by Allen (2018), Butler (2013), Dadkhah & Borchardt (2016), Eriksson & Helgesson (2017), and Straumsheim (2017).
3. What do predatory journals in practice look like?
What are the exact practices that so-called predatory journals apply? Let’s get a quick overview of the potential issues of misconduct and unethical behaviour that you may find from predatory journals:
- do not apply a standardised peer-review process
- may not send your paper to peer-reviewers or may not apply any editing or improvement of them before publishing
- publish a high number of low-quality papers
- are more likely to publish fake or hoax papers, as they do not identify them as such due to their poor quality control
- send spam emails to thousands of researchers asking them to contribute to the journal
- list members on editorial boards without those people agreeing or knowing of it
- make up names of editorial board members or authors
- copy material, design and advertise as established and legitimate journals
- may even hijack established journals by setting up journals with identical names and similar websites
- inappropriately or fraudulently use ISSN
- make up or fake journal metrics such as impact factors and others
- state wrong or misleading information about the size and the location of the publisher
4. Why avoid predatory journals?
- You might get charged an exorbitant rate for publishing your paper.
- You might first be notified – after acceptance of your paper – that you have to pay a fee at all.
- Your paper eventually will no longer be accessible if the publisher doesn’t have a long-term storage policy.
- Your credibility as
youngscholar can be damaged by publishing in these journals.
- A publication record in predatory journals is anything but helpful in finding and attracting research grants or academic positions.
II. How to identify predatory journals?
Yes, you can get around predatory journals. We looked into the traps and obstacles for you and came up with a set of 25 criteria that can help you to identify unethical or deceptive behaviour in journal publications.
The list below is a selection of what we think are the most prominent and easy to spot indicators. We looked through the various available lists of criteria to identify predatory journals: One provided by Beall, Eriksson & Helgesson (2017), Rele et al. (2017), Shamseer et al. (2017), the ‘Think, Check, Submit’ initiative and the anonymous initiative Stop Predatory Journals. From the multitude of criteria (over 65 items) provided, we made a concise selection for you that should enable you to check yourself.
1. Selected criteria of predatory journals
#1: The journal asks for a submission rather than publication fee.
Even if your paper does not get accepted, you will still have to pay the fee. The fees are typically rather low compared to established, legitimate journals (e.g. < EUR 150).
#2: The journal promises a very fast publication process. Typically 72h to a very few weeks, which makes it rather unrealistic that a proper peer-review process is going to be applied.
#3: The journal defines no clear publication date. There is no regular publication activity visible. The journal does not state a fixed number of issues and volumes to be published per year.
#4: The journal claims or seems to be rather new. It has a very low number of published papers and issues so far.
#5: The aims and scope of the journal are not defined or rather vague.
#6: The journal publishes papers that are far outside the scope of the journal.
#7: The journal requests manuscripts to be submitted via email.
#8: The journal has a very high acceptance rate of papers. Papers are also accepted within very short time.
#9: The paper titles and abstracts contain errors.
#10: The journal claims to be very international but has no or very few papers from well-known or international authors.
#11: The journal has a very small editorial board or an editorial board that is still to be announced. The names mentioned are not well-known researchers.
#12: The journal does not list contact addresses of editors, editorial board members or the publisher. Contact addresses can also be incomplete.
#13: The Editor-in-Chief of this journal is also the Editor-in-Chief of (many) other journals with widely different subjects.
#14: The journal has a poor and unprofessional looking website. It is not very informative and contains factual mistakes and language errors.
#15: The journal sends open calls/unsolicited emails to many authors to invite them to submit papers to them.
#16: Communication from the journal includes poor language, spelling mistakes or grammar errors.
#17: The journal
#18: The journal claims to have an impact factor despite the fact it is a new journal in which case it cannot have an impact factor yet.
#19: The journal requires authors to transfer copyright despite claiming it is open access.
#20: The publisher of the journal is not a member of a recognised professional body that commits to best practices in publishing, e.g.
- Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)
- International Association of Scientific, Technical, & Medical Publishers (STM)
- Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA)
- European Association of Science Editors (EASE).
#21: The journal is not indexed in any of the established journal databases such as
#22: The journal’s contact email address is non-professional and non-journal affiliated (e.g. @gmail.com or @yahoo.com).
#23: The journal is listed on Beall’s list of predatory journals or any other journal blacklist.
#24: The journal (if it is open access) is not listed on the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). The DOAJ is a kind of whitelist for open access journals as certain criteria must be met in order to be listed.
#25: The journal is not read or known by your colleagues. They do not publish in nor read this journal.
2. Is the journal you want to submit to a predatory one?
The more criteria on the list above that are NOT met by the journal you are aiming for, the higher the likelihood that it does not fall into the category of so-called predatory journals. However, if a journal you want to submit your work to, does meet one or several of the
Take our Predatory Journal
Predatory journals and deceptive publishing practices are a pain! They make academic life more difficult. You don’t want your well-crafted paper based on many hours of hard work to end up abused by a corrupt publisher for their personal gain and thrown in the trash. Being aware of the practices of predatory journals is the first step. Take your envisioned journal through our Predatory Journal Test and make sure your paper, your money, and your career are in safe hands.
If you want more help with writing a great journal paper, join Paper Writing Academy.
- Checklist Predatory Journal Test
- Smart Academics Blog #122: How do you get published in a good journal?
- Smart Academics Blog #91: Find the right journal for your paper following these 8 steps
- Smart Academics Blog #90: Journal metrics—a quick guide!
- Smart Academics Blog #62: Twenty things you should know when writing a journal paper
- Allen, R. 2018. The rise and rise of predatory journals. University World News, 19 Oct 2018.
- Andersen, R. 2019. Cabell’s Predatory Journal Blacklist: An Updated Review. The Scholarly Kitchen Blog.
- Archived version of “Beall’s List of Predatory Journals and Publishers”
- Butler, D. 2013. Investigating journals: The dark side of publishing. Nature 495(7442): 433–435.
- Clark, J. 2015. How to avoid predatory journals—a
five pointplan. The BMJ Opinion Blog.
- Cobey, K. D., Lalu, M. M., Skidmore, B., Ahmadzai, N., Grudniewicz, A., & Moher, D. 2018. What is a predatory journal? A scoping review. F1000Research, 7, 1001.
- Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)
- Dadkhah, M., Borchardt, G. 2016. Hijacked Journals: An Emerging Challenge for Scholarly Publishing. Aesthetic Surgery Journal 36.
- Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)
- Eriksson, S., Helgesson, G. 2017. The false academy: predatory publishing in science and bioethics. Med Health Care and Philos 20: 163. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11019-016-9740-3
- European Association of Science Editors (EASE)
- International Association of Scientific, Technical, & Medical Publishers (STM).
- Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA)
- Rele, S., Kennedy, M., Blas, N. 2017. Journal Evaluation Tool. LMU Librarian Publications & Presentations. 40.
- Shamseer, L., Moher, D., Maduekwe, O., Turner, L., Barbour, V., Burch, R.,
Clarl, J., Galipeau, J., Roberts, J., Shea, B.J. 2017. Potential predatory and legitimate biomedical journals: can you tell the difference? A cross-sectional comparison. BMC Medicine 15:28.
- Shen, C., Björk, B.-C. 2015. ‘Predatory’ open access: A longitudinal study of article volumes and market characteristics. BMC Medicine 13: 230.
- Straumsheim, C. 2017. No more ‘Beall’s list’. Inside Higher Ed, January 18, 2017.
- ‘Think, Check, Submit’ initiative
- Web of Science
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