How to dodge predatory journals – choose carefully!

Scientific publishing has become increasingly contaminated by ‘noise’ resulting from the explosion in new journals eager to gain a market share. In 2014 alone 1,000 new journals were launched. With the rise in investigative reports in reputable journals such as Science and Nature highlighting this problem, it is becoming a daunting task just working out the unethical ones from the real ones.

In the first of a 2-part series on strategies to select journals that are appropriate for your work while avoiding predatory journals, I have listed a number of approaches (in no particular order of importance), that collectively will yield the best results.

  1. Read the journal policies and articles they publish
    1. Legitimate journals should have clear and transparent peer-review, editorial and fee policies that are accessible on their website.
    2. Publication fees are not uncommon for open access journals but should be paid only when the article is accepted for publication.
    3. You should not need to pay ‘submission’ or ‘handling’ fees.
    4. Check publication guidelines on whether the author or the journal retains copyright. Reputable open access journals tend to retain the copyright licence under the Creative Commons guidelines, but you should not be expected to transfer copyright before the article is accepted for publication.
    5. Look at the quality of articles published by the journal in question. If there are obvious typos, it is poorly written or the science does not stack up, avoid it like the plague! As a writer and editor, I have real problems with journals that publish poorly written/edited manuscripts. You should too.
  1. Verify the claimed journal impact factor. Some predatory journals have been known to use contrived impact factors on their websites or in emails to appear credible. Journal impact factors published by Thomson Reuters Web of Science are the most widely accepted journal metrics.  Most universities and research institutes make this available through their online library access.
  1. Check the journal’s membership with recognized best practice professional organisations. The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) was established in 1997 as a forum for editors and peer-reviewed journals to exchanging views and advise on how to deal with research and publication misconduct. Currently it has a membership of over 10,000 worldwide. Other professional organisations include the International Association of Scientific, Technical, & Medical Publishers (STM), or the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA). However no resource is completely error-free, so use this information judiciously.
  1. Check whether the journal is listed with the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). Although predatory journals have been found on their ‘whitelists’, DOAJ implemented a stringent review process two years ago and has delisted over a third of their journal listings in an effort to crack down on this scam. As with ‘blacklists’, a comprehensive approach including your own review of ‘whitelists’ will yield the best result, as these resources are dynamic in nature.
  1. Check online journal comparison tools and resources. These allow researchers to not only select the best journals for their research, but they also allow authors to filter on various criteria including performance and prestige, and report their publishing experiences. Many are free to use, while some require a small fee. A review of this can be found here. Another new resource is scheduled to be launched on 15th June 2017 that require a paid subscription to a ‘blacklist’ of 3,900 predatory journals, developed using 65 criteria that the curators say will be reviewed quarterly. The utility of this resource and how many institutions will sign up for it remains to be seen.
  1. Are the listed members of the editorial board contactable by phone or email? Cross-check claims regarding editorial board members with their own or affiliated institutional websites regarding their activities and involvement with the journal. A recent sting operation uncovered major retractions because of fabricated editors.

Many of us in academia are bombarded with emails almost daily from journals inviting us to submit manuscripts for publication, or submit abstracts for scientific conferences. These journal names are deceptively similar to those we are familiar with, and it is easy to fall prey to their invitations, particularly academics in developing countries where competition for research funding and pressures to publish can be very intense. Many legitimate start-up journals, including those focused on sub-specialties important to regional research in developing countries, can be unfairly tarnished by this trend. However, some common sense when reviewing journal policies and following the above guidelines will go a long way to allaying concerns of legitimacy.

As part of our publications management service at SugarApple Communications,  we provide advice to our clients on journal selection as well as submission management and follow-up. We understand that publishing in recognised credible journals is critical to your success. 

Regarding those pesky unsolicited email invitations to submit an article or sign up for their conferences, if a quick look reveals poor grammar, spelling mistakes, or overly flattering language about your research, then hit the ‘Delete’ button!!

Please feel free to contact us with additional thoughts on this topic. We welcome your comments and suggestions.

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