Predatory publishing and vetting scholarly journals

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The Open Access movement has the potential to increase public access to research, create more diverse conversations about new ideas, and completely change the scholarly publishing industry — but that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges to be addressed. Among them is the growth of “predatory publishing,” or the practice of profit-driven or unethical journals preying on scholarly work. Fortunately, there are a number of tools and techniques to help identify these publishers prior to submitting to them.

Relying on article processing charges (or APCs) paid by authors is a common practice for many legitimate Open Access publishers. After all, scholarly publishing isn’t free and if the end user isn’t paying the bill those costs must be made up somewhere. But some journals use these fees to generate profits rather than pay the costs of producing quality work. Red flags include aggressively soliciting submissions, charging high and sometimes hidden fees, engaging in sloppy or nonexistent peer-review processes, and even misrepresenting the reputation and qualifications of the journal or editorial board.

Getting caught in this kind of trap can be upsetting to say the least. Take, for instance, Aamir Raoof Memon’s experience (as shared with AuthorAid):

I learnt about predatory journals the hard way … Although my paper had previously been rejected by several other reputable journals, it was accepted without any revisions within two weeks, after a pseudo-peer review. Soon after the paper was accepted, I received an invoice of $1219 for publishing the article.

Should you publish there? Here’s how to check.

The good news is falling victim to predatory publishing schemes is avoidable — and the checking process mirrors many familiar information evaluation techniques. Consider these steps:

1. Use existing resources.

How did you learn about this journal? What do your colleagues or librarians know about it? These are good starting points when assessing the quality of a journal, but there are also established tools to help identify legitimate publishing venues. See if the publication you are researching is listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals or UlrichsWeb, or if the publisher is a member of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association. If you find the answer is yes, consider that a positive sign.

2. Seek transparency.

Spend some time researching the journal itself. Does it have a clearly defined scope and audience? Do the articles meet your discipline’s standards? What information is provided about peer review process and fees?

Consider it a negative sign if this information is not available, unclear, or difficult to find. Other items to look for are associations with reputable societies or organizations, information about rights of use after articles are published, and contact information for editorial board members. (Pro tip: Getting in touch with editorial board members to make sure they’re actually affiliated with the journal is not a bad idea.)

3. Trust your gut.

There may not be a single, definitive sign that a journal is predatory or not. If you still have a bad feeling after gathering information in the previous steps, try a different route. Ask colleagues or librarians if they know of reliable Open Access journals in your field, or consider including your work in an Open Access repository instead.

Additional resources and credits.

For more information on the University of Washington’s new Open Access policy for faculty and how to include your work in UW’s institutional repositories, check out our recording of this recent faculty training session.

Parts of this post were adapted from Grand Valley State University Libraries excellent list of Open Access Journal Quality Indicators (CC-BY-NC 4.0).

For more information on predatory publishing and these indicators, see Beaubien, S., Eckard, M. (2014). Addressing Faculty Publishing Concerns with Open Access Journal Quality Indicators. Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication 2(2):eP1133. 

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