Predatory Journals

Don’t Be Tricked by Predatory Journals!

Your career (and wallet) will thank you…

Today I am going to explain:

What predatory journals are,
Why you want to avoid publishing in them,
Why you probably do not want to cite articles in them, and
How to identify them.

Graduate students and even researchers/academics without good mentors can fall into the traps of predatory publishers — which charge authors to publish their articles and do not follow academic ethics guidelines like peer review..

Since legitimate open-access journals do usually charge authors, the fact that predatory journals charge authors is not sufficient to identify them.

Let’s get started!

1. What is a predatory journal?

Definition: A predatory journal is one that presents itself as a legitimate academic journal, but does not follow standard scholarly practices, like peer review. They are also known as “fake scholarly journals,” “deceptive journals” and “scam journals.” Sometimes they use names that are very similar to well-known journals to confuse busy researchers who think they are submitting to a legitimate academic journal.

2. What is a predatory publisher?

Definition: A predatory publisher is a company that publishes one or more predatory journals.

3. Why do you want to avoid predatory journals?

Publishing an article in a predatory journal discredits you in the eyes of your academic peers. At best, they will think you are gullible, at worst they will think that you tried to publish your work in a legitimate journal but were unable to and resorted to paying a predatory journal in order to get published somewhere.

According to a study by Bjork et. al. (see references at end), over half of the articles published in predatory journals in the sample they studied had no citations at all, and those that did get cited were cited about 7 times less often. Basically, predatory journals are where research goes to be forgotten.

4. Why is it so hard to identify predatory journals?

An organization or company publishing a journal has to have money to pay staff, pay to print paper journals (if applicable), pay for marketing and IT services, and other costs. They can obtain this money in a few ways:

Many academic institutions (universities, foundations, etc.) spend part of their budget on publishing journals;
Some publishing companies sell their closed-access journals to libraries and individuals, or give members of an association free access to association journals;
Some publishing companies publish all content online so it can be freely accessed (open-access journals), but charge authors for the costs involved.

Predatory journals claim to be open-access journals, and also charge authors for publication. However, open-access journals have a proper peer-review process and reject many submissions. Predatory journals, on the other hand, will publish almost anything as long as the authors pay the fee.

There is an interesting case study in the article by Cordeiro and Lima (see references at the end) of an experienced researcher who was fooled by predatory journal with a title similar to that of a prestigious journal — until the bill came with a large fee!

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5. Are there lists of predatory journals and predatory publishers?

6. Are there lists of legitimate journals?

The short answer is… not exactly.

Directory of Open Access Journals

The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is a whitelist of open-access journals. However, some journals listed by it are also on blacklists, so I recommend you check both blacklists and and whitelists when doing a background check on a potential journal for your research. See the article by Strinzel in the references at the end for more information about the DOAJ.

Scimago

Scimago has a database of both closed-access and open-access journals, and you can filter by subject areas/categories and country. It also shows many different quality indicators, such as SJR, H Index and Citations per document.
Here is a brief description of these three quality indicators:

  • SJR indicator: average number of weighted citations received in the selected year by the documents published in the journal in the three previous years.
  • H-Index: the journal’s number of articles that have been cited at least h times. It attempts to quantify the impact of a journal.
  • Citations per document: average citations per document in a 2-year period.

Clarivate

Clarivate Journal Citation Reports is a paid service provided by the Web of Science. Check to see if your university has a subscription. It has its own journal quality metrics, including the Journal Impact Factor (JIF).

Qualis List of Journals

This is a list of journals with quality ratings, published by the Brazilian government. It is called the Qualis list on the Plataforma Sucupira. The search interface is in Portuguese, but the output is just journal names and rankings. The best journals are given A1 and A2 ratings. The worst are given C ratings (avoid those!). The Bs are fine, but are not as impressive as the As.

Caution!

The ratings are by subfield. A journal that publishes articles related to more than one subfield may have a good rating in one subfield and a poor rating in another. It is worthwhile to search on the journal title or ISSN itself to see if this is the case for a journal you find interesting. In figure 3 below, I searched on math journals and a journal on adolescent health is listed (why? Because some Brazilian professor of mathematics published an article there). I looked it up using the ISSN number, and it has ratings ranging from A2 through C for different fields, mostly B2 and B3 ratings.

Qualis was not intended to be used to rate journals, so it can be a bit quirky. Some journals with low ratings in fields they do not specialize in may be just fine, just categorized incorrectly. This list is being reworked and a new version should be out in 2021.

The interface is very simple, and it is easy to use even if you do not know a word of Portuguese. Let me walk you through it. See figure 1.

screenshot of Qualis search interface
Figure 1 – Qualis Search Screen
  1. Choose the year (the most recent is 2013-2016, so choose that!)
  1. Choose the subject area (Math and statistics is chosen in Figure 1). Use google translate to find your area.  There are four Engineering categories. Engineering I = Civil; II = Chemical; III = Mechanical; IV = Electrical.
  1. Click “consultar” to search. Next, a tiny little icon will appear in the bottom left corner (see figure 2). It is an excel file with the results for you to download.
screenshot of Qualis search interface
Figure 2 – Icon on screen to download search results

The file is an excel file, but my computer complained that the file was not really an excel file. Since the site is a reliable government site, I opened the file anyway (Excel could read it just fine!) and Figure 3 shows the listing of journals and their ratings (the Estrato column).

List of academic journals with quality ratings
Figure 3 – Results of search in Excel file

Since articles published in predatory journals tend to have fewer citations and thus lower quality indicators, you can avoid them by choosing only journals with higher quality indicators.

7. How can I identify predatory journals?

If you are a student, ask your advisor/supervisor. If you are an early-career researcher, ask a mentor, senior colleague or department chair.

Checklist for identifying predatory journals

Does it publish research you read and find interesting? Good!
Are the articles indexed in the indexes you use? Good!
Does the journal have good quality indicators (see above)? Good!
Is the journal NOT on a blacklist? Good!
Is the journal on a whitelist? Good!
Did the journal contact you directly, even though you had no prior contact with them? Bad!
Does a university or reputable organization publish the journal? Good!
Do you know the names or reputations of members of the editorial board? Good! (though some journals will use the names of professors who have nothing to do with them!)
Does the journal charge publication fees? Is it clear about how much they charge and when?
Giving a talk in English?

References and Further Information

The Think Check Submit site has a more detailed checklist for evaluating potential journals.

The Beall’s list site has links to more information on the home page.

Björk, Bo-Christer, Kanto-Karvonen, Sari, Harviainen, J. Tuomas. How Frequently are Articles in Predatory Open Access Journals Cited. DOI: 10.3390/publications8020017.

Cordeiro, Yraima, Lima, Luis Maurício T.R. Publish and Perish in the Hands of Predatory Journals. An. Acad. Bras. Ciência [online]. 2017, V.89, No.2.

Deora, H., Tripathi, M., Chaurasia, B. et al. Avoiding Predatory Publishing for Early Career Neurosurgeons: What Should You Know Before You Submit?. Acta Neurochirurgica (2020).

Elmore, Susan A., Weston, Eleanor H. Predatory Journals: What They Are and How to Avoid Them. Toxicologic Pathology. V.48(4). pp. 607-610 (2020).

Strinzel, Michaela et. al. Blacklists and Whitelists To Tackle Predatory Publishing: a Cross-Sectional Comparison and Thematic Analysis. mBio Jun 2019, 10 (3) e00411-19; DOI: 10.1128/mBio.00411-19

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