Every morning I wake up to an inbox full of messages. Along with the blogs that I subscribe to, the special offers, and the occasional actual personal message from a colleague overseas, there are those like these (this is an actual message from this morning, I just took out the name of the journal):
"Special Greetings! We would like to request you to submit a 2-5 pages short communication/ Research / Review/ Case Report to the upcoming issue.
Journal of _____is a peer reviewed open access journal, aims to publish high quality basic and clinical research in all the disciplines of Nutrition Science.
Kindly submit your valuable contribution on or before 30 March, 2017. If you are interested, kindly respond to this invitation within 48 hours.
Sincerely, Editor in Chief"
It used to be so easy to spot the fake, predatory journals that advertise in these emails. They used to be full of bad spellings, weird grammar, flowery language and were sent from odd places or were on topics unrelated to my area of work.
Things have changed.
Predatory journals, defined as - open access publishing that involves charging publication fees to authors without providing the editorial and publishing services associated with legitimate journals (open access or not)- are becoming more sophisticated and can fool even experienced published scientists.
As you well know, if you're a scientist then you experience pressure to publish. The "publish or perish" mantra has sparked this new industry of sky-promising publishing companies looking to scam you out of your time, your money, and your research. The proliferation in the number and sophistication of these scams has increased to the point that it is sometimes hard to tell whether a journal is predatory or not. The sudden disappearance of the famous “Beall’s List” an online roster of journals suspected of predatory practices, has made it more difficult to identify which journals are fake.
Here are some tips to help you spot a predatory journal and avoid getting scammed. Although none of these, by themselves, are foolproof, at least they will help you take a second look and evaluate your journal choices.
- Read some of their published papers. Are they good? Assess the quality and legitimacy of their published papers, does the journal have high-caliber publication content?Low-quality or dubious content from unknown or seemingly non-existent authors could potentially be a red flag. Check to see who publishes in this journal or whether the journal has just copied papers previously published elsewhere. Plagiarism checking software can help you with that
- Check out who's who on the editorial board? If the editorial board lists people you've never heard of in your field, or they seem like an A team that wouldn't be associated with such a journal. Once you have been working in a research field for a while you tend to start getting an understanding of who is who in this topic of research. If you've never heard of their editorial review board, it may not necessarily mean you're dealing with a predatory journal. Some of the newer journals' boards may be composed of less-known academics across various disciplines you may not be immediately familiar with. However, if you try searching for their names online and can't find information about them or if you can't confirm their academic affiliations, then that should be a good indicator that you should question whether this journal is legit.
- There are no submission requirements, or the requirements seem way too easy. Predatory journals often have an outrageously high acceptance rate with little to no peer-review. They may only require a simple web form for submission of the paper. If the submission process is as easy as ordering a pizza, you are likely dealing with a predatory journal.
- Spelling and grammatical errors in the publication. We're all capable of committing grammatical errors. However, if the journal's papers look and read like they were written by a 3rd grader, missing key information, chronic misspellings, and presenting clear signs of sloppy editing (excess of commas, periods, unfinished sentences or sentences that don't really hit the point and are rather vague, formatting of the article, etc.) then laugh a little (at their poor attempt to fool you) and then exit their site promptly.
- The costs. Be VERY careful of this one. Some predatory journals will ask for a "submission or review fee" upfront, where they will ask you to pay for them to "review" your paper. This is a major red flag that indicates the journal is predatory. A charge that IS legitimate nowadays is the fee for open access. This is a fee that journals collect from authors for allowing their papers to be free and accessible to the public without having to have a journal subscription. Some legitimate journals follow a totally open access model while others allow authors to choose between open access or not. The information about any charges should be well defined in legitimate journals and should not be something that the journal sneaks in on you after you have submitted the paper.
- Check the Indexes. Check research databases for indexed scientific journals, conference papers, and published materials on the web, such as PUBMED. You can always check if the journal you're dealing with is listed or indexed in any of the well-known databases according to the field in question. If it is not listed, this may be an indication that the journal is either very new or not credible.
- The journal only works via email and doesn't have an online submission platform. Reputable journals will have all their full contact information listed on their site, usually on a dedicated "contact us" page that will list the publishing company information (including location, phone number, email, or support team) and ways to contact them. Also, many journals published by legitimate publishing companies will share a common website where you can upload your manuscript using a password-protected site.
- Journals that send you unsolicited invitations to submit a paper. Stop right there if you get a submission invitation from an email like the one I copied above from an email address such as:"email@example.com". Not only will that be an indication it's a predatory email, the email will probably not be from an actual person. It'll come from an "editorial support team" or "editorial office" (sometimes insistently) inviting you to submit your paper to them. It's important to mention that not all predatory emails will look like the example above, some will actually seem sophisticated and legitimate in order to fool you, so proceed with caution. Just keep in mind that most legitimate journals receive plenty of submissions and will not be sending you unexpected invitations to submit your papers.
- Journals that promise really quick "review" and publication time. As I mentioned in my last post, when dealing with legitimate and reputable journals, publication time can be a very long wait. There are many factors beyond the journal's control, such as finding appropriate reviewers and having the reviewers send their critiques on time. Therefore, no journal can promise such quick review and publication. It just doesn't happen that way. If you're being promised "fast publication" then expect low-quality, little to no peer-reviews and an overall disappointing publishing process. These journals know that inexperienced scientists are desperate to get published, and they take every opportunity to lure them into parting with their hard-earned research and money. Don't let impatience become your downfall, if your research is high-quality, it's definitely worth the wait with a reputable, legitimate journal that will take your work seriously.
- Trust your instinct. Sometimes it's the graphics or the lack of organization in the website or other small details that make you suspect of the journal's legitimacy. Make sure you listen to your gut and investigate further. Remember, most times, if it looks like a duck and acts like a duck....it is probably a predatory journal.
Dr. Luz Claudio is the author of the book: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide, a workbook that teaches you precisely what to do and when to do it when writing scientific papers. She is a tenured professor of preventive medicine and has mentored hundreds of students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty. She blogs about life in academic research.
1) Identifying and avoiding predatory publishers: a primer for researchers
2) How to identify a predatory publisher:
3) Identifying predatory or pseudo-journals:
4) Understanding predatory publishers:
5) Spotting a predatory publisher in 10 easy steps:
6) PUBMED Fact Sheet:
7) GEOREF Information Services:
8) Discriminating between legitimate and predatory open access journals:
9) Dangerous predatory publishers threaten medical research:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5017830/
10) Predatory journals: Ban predators from the scientific record:http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v534/n7607/full/534326a.html