Researchers are under increasing pressure to produce publications. The expectation of an ever-growing publication list stems from university research strategies, external research assessment exercises, and the competition for promotion and, in the US, tenure. Over the past decade, there has been a significant concerning rise in the number of publishers capitalizing on this situation by attracting submissions to predatory journals. In 2018 a Guardian investigation reported that just five of the biggest predatory publishers had published over 175,000 articles and neglected their responsibilities for peer review, quality checking, dissemination and transparent pricing. The unfair pricing and lack of editorial quality was also highlighted by a report on predatory publishing in Germany, which declared over 5000 German researchers have fallen victim to predatory publishing practices.
What Does Predatory Really Mean?
We can see that this type of journal is on the rise – but what do we really mean by “predatory”? Collective labeling is tempting, especially when discussing controversial practices, but it can make it hard for people to understand what’s really at play. This labeling of journals came in to question when a widely used list of predatory journals, known as Beall’s List, was discontinued in 2017, following confusion around why journals were included, and concerns that the list was biased towards publishers in developing countries, and too lenient on western publishers.
Just a few months later, Cabells launched their Journal Blacklist – a subscription based product aiming to keep institutions up to date on which journals to avoid and which to trust. No doubt due to the lack of agreement over what makes a publisher predatory or not, Cabells decided to make their criteria for inclusion public, including any amendments they make as developments arise. There are currently 74 indicators listed, each with a rating of severe, moderate or minor. These are grouped into categories including peer review, integrity, indexing and metrics, business practices, and publication practices.
Reading through the criteria, it’s immediately clear that a major factor in labeling a journal as predatory is its ethical behavior – if a journal is deceiving its readers and authors about the level of quality, the cost of publication, or the way in which the content is processed and presented, then it is classed as predatory. Interestingly, there is criticism of the term“predatory” in this situation, and suggestions that these behaviors would be better classified as parasitic or damaging. After all, they’re taking advantage and feeding off the existing ecosystem which exists between researchers, funders and institutions, and ultimately aiming to make a commercial profit at the cost of an individual’s research and reputation. If an author has published in predatory journals, this association may negatively impact opportunities such as editorial board invitations and career advancement.
As well as damaging the reputations of researchers, these journals are also guilty of burying important research. Predatory journals often make no effort to disseminate research, or even make it discoverable, and they’re certainly not included in key literature indexes, aggregator services, and archiving platforms. This means that if an author publishes their work with a predatory journal, that research will not be discovered, used and cited as it would in a reputable journal.
How can researchers avoid the Predatory Journal Trap?
The increase in unethical publishing practices means that organizations are coming together to highlight and combat the situation. Alongside subscription-based products like Cabell’s Blacklist, there are community-led initiatives that researchers and others can make good use of. Think Check Submit was launched in 2015 by a collective including the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP), the International Association of STM Publishers (STM), the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), the ISSN International Centre, the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA), the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and UKSG. The idea is to bring together a range of tools and resources to help us learn how to spot unethical or predatory journals by thinking about publishing practices and recognizing red flags around peer review processes, editorial board organization, and industry body membership.
What are the consequences for Predatory Journals?
Considering the negative impact that predatory journals can have on an individual’s reputation as well as research discovery, not enough has been done to combat this unethical and damaging practice. That said, awareness is building, and the more the community discusses the topic and takes a stand, the more consequences predatory publishers will have to face. In March 2019 Judge Gloria Navarro of Nevada ruled that the OMICS international publishing group pay $50.1 million in damages following their deception of thousands of authors and conference attendees. Companies reaping profits from predatory publishing practices must be held accountable.
Whether you call these journals unethical, predatory or damaging, the facts remain the same – reputable publishers will be clear and consistent about their publishing practices, publication ethics, business models and content dissemination plans. If you come across a journal or publisher doing the opposite – protect your research and reputation, and steer clear.
About the AuthorMore Content by Susanne Gaertner