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Recognizing Predatory Publishers

What is "predatory publishing"?

Gold Open Access, one of the models of open access (OA) publishing, involves the charge of a one-time publication fee to the author (or the author's institution) to cover the costs of peer review, editing, and making the article permanently available on an organization's servers. This can be a legitimate business model, and researchers, who may be able to pay the fee from grant funding, often find the value of having their work visible and citable to be worth the publication fee.

However, this model also presents a tempting opportunity for those who see a means of profiting from researchers' desire to have their work widely available. Knowing how important publication is to scholars for career advancement and the personal satisfaction of contributing to their fields, as well as how difficult it can be to get an article accepted for publication, they take advantage of the urgency that researchers can feel when under pressure to "publish or perish."

As a result, the past years have seen the development and explosive growth of what have come to be called "predatory publishers": organizations with no interest in open access scholarship as a concept, but that exist to make money from publication fees. These organizations charge the author a fee and will, technically, make an article freely available, but because they have no interest in the content they offer little if any legitimate peer review (though they may claim to), and the journals they run have little or no credibility in the research community.

Researchers should be aware that it can actually hurt your career to associate with or be published in predatory journals, since even if your research is sound, the weakness of the journal's peer review process means that readers can never be sure of this. Similarly, if your good work appears in a journal known for publishing shoddy material, it casts doubt on yours by association.

Tips for Spotting Predatory Publishers

Impact Factor

Researchers often think to check a journal's Impact Factor. This is a good start, but many predatory journals will list an impressive Impact Factor, either by simply lying, or by getting some obscure organization to 'calculate' one for them. The Impact Factors that are formally recognized in the scholarly community are calculated by one firm, Thomson Reuters.

You can check an Impact Factor in the Journal Citation Reports (JCR) in the Web of Science database. If a journal claims an Impact Factor but you can't find it in the JCR, it was probably calculated by another firm that exists only to provide IFs to journals Thomson Reuters won't look at, which should be a warning sign.

NOTE: There are legitimate journals that do not have IFs because they are too new or too small or otherwise not yet on Thomson Reuters' rader, so if a journal doesn't claim to have one, that's not necessarily a concern. However, if they do claim to have one, and you can't find it in the JCR, this is a definite red flag: at best they are attempting to seem more widely cited than they are by pretending an association with a well-known ranking system.

Evaluating Solicitation Letters

Researchers regularly receive invitations, both legitimate and not, to submit their work to conferences or journals. (Students and recent graduates may receive offers to publish their theses or dissertations as articles or even as standalone volumes.) Some things to ask:

Evaluating Publisher, Journal or Conference Websites

If you're still unsure after reading an initial communication, you can learn a lot by checking out an organization's website. Things to consider:

Recommended Resources

Further Reading