What is predatory publishing?
Predatory publishing is characterised by fake or fraudulent publishing practices, with the primary goal of extorting publication fees from authors without confirming academic rigour and veracity (for example, ethical approval and plagiarism checks). Predatory publishers are known for having peer-review policies on journal websites, which they do not fulfil after receiving publication fees.
Predatory publishers take advantage of the commercialisation of access to knowledge (i.e., there is a cost to publish research). Journals are often seen to be more prestigious and are perceived as having scholarly quality if there is a fee attached to publishing and distributing scholarship.
This fee-based model has tarnished and discredited open access publishing by shifting the focus from the actual predatory publishing practice, which is unethical and deceptive, to casting aspersions on the scholarly content in open access journals.
Key factors that paved the way for the practice of predatory publishing include:
- Increased pressure for researchers to publish scholarship rapidly and continually for career advancement
- It is relatively easy to create a website to disseminate scholarship
- Paying a publication fee to publish research has become a norm in academic publishing.
Identifying predatory publishers
In summary, the characteristics of predatory publishers are:
- Their primary goal is to make a profit (i.e., there will be publication costs).
- Their intention is to deceive authors, hence no or little reviewing of subject content occurs.
- They make false claims or promises (e.g., fake impact factors or false claims of indexing).
- They engage in aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation of submissions, via email.
Steps to consider when choosing where to publish
When searching for a journal in which to publish, always start with the Department of Higher Education and Training of South Africa (DHET)’s accredited/approved journals list found on the Libraries website.
The sources for these approved journals are:
- ISI journals
- International Bibliography of Social Sciences (IBSS) journals
- Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and
- South African journals
Some points to consider when accessing the DHET list
- Identify journals in your subject area
- All journals on the DHET list are credible and trustworthy; and
- Some accredited journals may not have a Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
- Some publishers (university, research institute or association) may not have a subscription to CrossRef, an international DOI registration agency that charges fees for its services.
Unfair bias against global south scholarship
Scholarly content from the global south has frequently been unfairly discriminated against due to being compared with journal publishing standards from the global north. For example, if a journal does not have a DOI or ISSN, this does not suggest that the journal should be labelled as “predatory”; nor is this necessarily the case if the journal’s board members consist of researchers from the global south only.
Further, if the journal does not adhere to a peer review process, it should not immediately be seen as suspicious, as there are many excellent student journals that are published by leading research universities that do not follow a peer-review process. Articles in niche local journals may not follow a peer review process either; rather, the editor, as an expert in that distinct area of research, provides feedback to authors on how to revise their research before publishing it.
In a blog written on the negative impact of predatory publishing on research emanating from the global south, Raju (2018) asserts that predatory accusations “have cast doubt on the authenticity of excellent research produced in the global south”. Raju further maintains that “if a journal is judged to be low quality, this does not mean that it is predatory or that it defrauds authors”. These journals could very likely be under-resourced, with no intention to mislead authors.
How to evaluate journals with possible unethical publishing practises
If you would like to consider publishing in a journal that is not listed in the DHET list, review the possible signs of fraudulent publishing practises below.
Scenario 1: Solicitation for submissions of journal articles via email
Start by evaluating the email, then evaluate the journal from its website using the URL emailed to you.
Questions to ask
- Is the journal in your field or subject area? If not, the sender could be speculatively emailing all academics at UCT.
- If the journal is in your field, check if the journal is on the DHET and Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) lists. Note: the DOAJ keeps a public log of journals that are added to and removed from the Directory, and in the latter case, provides reasons as to why a journal has been removed (second tab of the file). DOAJ continuously checks for compliance with best publishing practice.
- Do you and/ or your colleagues know the journal title that has been emailed to you?
- Do you and/or your colleagues recognise the names of the journal’s editorial board members? If so, contact the listed editors of the journal to confirm that they are involved with its publishing activities.
- Is the email message from an address that is non-professional or non-journal/publisher affiliated (e.g., a Gmail or Yahoo email address)? If so, it may be predatory unless you have clear evidence to the contrary. Mark the email as spam.
- Does the journal URL represent an academic institution, a research institute, association or a known, reputable and/or acclaimed publisher?
- If you are satisfied that the subject area of the journal is relevant to you, visit a variety of different pages of the journal’s website.
- If it is unclear who the publisher of the journal is, evaluate the journal’s website further using Think, Check, Submit.
- Check whether the scope of the journal is sound and consider whether it links to the title of the journal (i.e., determine if its publications are subject specific, and whether concepts considered relevant to the subject are reflecting in the title).
- Evaluate the scope of the journal against its published papers to ensure that it reflects or achieves what the scope stipulates.
- Read the journal’s policies on its website. For example, the copyright policy and open licensing policy. If the journal is open access, copyright should be retained by the author(s).
- Does the journal request article processing charges (APCs) and explicitly state the amount of the fees on its website? Journals that charge APCs should clearly stipulated the correct amount on the journal website.
- Be mindful of journals that claim to be open access and charge APCs, but the publisher still holds copyright to restrict the authors from re-using content, which is a fraudulent practice.
- Does the journal use similarity checking software such as Turnitin or iThenticate to avoid reviewing papers that have plagiarised other works?
- Some journals do not conduct peer review, and they explicitly state this in their mission and purpose for the journal. Not every journal is peer reviewed, but whatever the journal’s peer review status and process are, it should be explained on its website. This includes being transparent in the case of journals that focus on niche research areas and use editors (rather than peer reviewers) to evaluate their articles.
- If the journal claims to be indexed in citation databases like Scopus and Web of Science, and provides its impact factor, verify these claims by checking the stated databases.
Scenario 2: There is doubt about the quality of work in a journal
Look at how the journal is reviewed/commented on in blogs, social media such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or in the comments sections on its own website, if applicable. You will see more reviews if you briefly follow the journal on its own social media feeds.
- Comments or reviews may reflect on the predatory nature of a journal if an author has been scammed.
- Social media users may also comment about the reviewers feedback they received, as well as the shortcomings, if any, of a journal or the politics of a journal.
A journal might publish good science even though authors may not write “perfect” English, especially if English is not the author or editor’s first language.
Scenario 3: There is uncertainty about the names of the journal’s editorial team
Evaluate the editorial board by making further checks on the members of the editorial board.
Questions to ask
- Is the editorial board, including the editor-in-chief, made up of known experts in their field?
- Are the credentials of the board members provided, including their level of education, and the department and institution they are affiliated to?
- Is the email address for the editor-in-chief (as well as their institution, department, and research area) provided? Check the editor’s profile on Google Scholar and look at where they are publishing.
- Are contact details of the journal’s editorial board members provided to enable you to consult with them about the journal? You can also check editorial board members’ profiles on Google Scholar.
Supervisors and senior academics in your department should know some of the board members if they are prominent in the field.
Scenario 4: You are sent an email invitation to become an editorial board member or reviewer
Determine if the journal manager or editor writes to researchers who are not in the research field(s) that the journal covers to ask them to become reviewers.
- A journal exercising good practice should identify experts in the relevant field and should invite people with considerable experience and senior qualifications to serve as reviewers or editorial board members.
- Journal teams should not give authors titles they have not acquired (Dear Dr … or Dear Professor … when you do not currently have this qualification or title, for example). They should also not imply that you have vast experience in a subject that you may not have at the time.
Journals to avoid
Check the DOAJ list of journals that have been removed from their list after a re-evaluation. Here are the journals that are no longer included in the DOAJ with reasons for the removal on the second tab in the spreadsheet.
The threat of predatory publishing is unlikely to disappear while universities continue to use the number of publications a researcher has published as criterion for career promotion and graduation. In addition to using journals as the primary communication and reward system for researchers, the lack of awareness of predatory publishing and the difficulty in distinguishing legitimate from illegitimate publications cultivates an environment where fake publishing exists. However, it is our responsibility to be as knowledgeable as possible with regard to evaluating fake predatory publishers who masquerade as legitimate ones.
It is important to keep the bigger picture of the scholarly publishing landscape in mind, in which the “big five” global north, corporate publishers (Elsevier, Sage, Springer, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley) have a profit of approximately US$25 billion per year. These privately owned, multi-million-dollar corporations control the publishing ecosystem, so that access to information is restricted by more and more institutions, who cannot afford the exorbitant cost to pay to read and publish current scholarship.
By restricting access to scholarly content that these publishers did not create, with the aim of profiting from the research, is behaviour that should be seen as unethical and deceptive.
For further clarity, contact the Scholarly Communication & Publishing unit at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grudniewicz, A., Moher, D., Cobey, K., Bryson, G., Cukier, S., Allen, K., Ardern, C., Balcom, L. et al. 2019. Predatory journals: no definition, no defence. Nature. 576(7786):210–212. DOI: 10.1038/d41586-019-03759-y.
Olijhoek, T. & Tennant, J. 2018. The “problem” of predatory publishing remains a relatively small one and should not be allowed to defame open access [Blog, 25 September]. Available: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2018/09/25/the-problem-of-predatory-publishing-remains-a-relatively-small-one-and-should-not-be-allowed-to-defame-open-access/ [2022, November 16].
Raju, R. 2018. Predatory publishing from a global south perspective [Blog, 7 February]. https://librarypublishing.org/predatory-publishing-global-south-perspective/ [2022, November 15].