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Understanding Predatory Publishers

Learn what they are, how to spot them, and ways to protect yourself.

Types of Predators:

There are four common types of of predatory publishers characterized by different behaviors:

Phisher

Lures you in with promises then charges large fees after your paper has been "accepted." Publication fees are usually not openly disclosed and after acceptance phishers may demand payment even though no paperwork has been signed.

Impostor/Hijacker

Poses as a well-established journal or as a publication associated with a well-known brand or society. Often these journals tack on an extra word to an existing journal name such as "Advances", "Review" or " Reports" or create websites that appear to be affiliated with another publication.

Trojan Horse

Has a legitimate looking website, often with impressive lists of publications, but upon closer inspection nothing is what it seems. The journals are empty shells or worse, populated by stolen or plagiarized articles.

Unicorn

Too good to be true! These publishers may in fact be legitimate businesses which are not providing good products or customer support/service. Common problems may include: no archiving policy (meaning your publication could disappear at any time); missing or ill defined peer-review criteria; and possible publishing ethics violations.

Identifying a predator

Deciding if a publisher is predatory is often a matter of evaluating publisher practices against expectations. While not fool-proof, the 13-warning signs below are evidence based and serve as a good starting point.

Warning Signs

Adapted from Shamseer et al. (2017). Potential predatory and legitimate biomedical journals: can you tell the difference? A cross-sectional comparison. BMC Medicine. 15:28. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-017-0785-9

  1. The journal's scope of interest includes unrelated subjects alongside legitimate topics.
  2. Website contains spelling and grammar errors
  3. Images or logos are distorted/fuzzy or misrepresented/unauthorized.
  4. Website targets authors, not readers (i.e. publisher prioritizes making money over product).
  5. The Index Copernicus Value (a bogus impact metric) is promoted.
  6. There is no clear description of how the manuscript is handled. 
  7. Manuscripts are submitted by email.
  8. Rapid publication is promoted, and promised.
  9. There is no article retraction policy.
  10. There is no digital preservation plan for content.
  11. The APC (article processing charge) is very low (e.g., <$150)
  12. A journal that claims to be open access either retains copyright of published research or fails to mention copyright.
  13. Contact email address is non-professional and non-journal/publisher affiliated (e.g., @gmail.com, or @yahoo.com)

Other Warning Signs:

Publishing costs and fees are not openly disclosed or easy to locate.

It's standard practice to let authors know the cost of publication before submission. This is part of the OASPA Code of Conduct.

The peer-review process is not clearly explained or is not to discipline standards.

Beware of promises of quick peer review as this can be the mark of a publisher who values profit over quality. There is concern that papers submitted to journals which advertise this type of service are not actually providing peer review.

Advertises a Journal Impact Factor but doesn't have one.

As a member of Iowa State University you have access to Journal Citation Reports from which you can look up the trademarked Journal Impact Factors as calculated by Thomson Reuters. It takes only a moment to check!

The publisher or journal's name is suspiciously similar to other well-known publications.

For example: Nature Advances kind of sounds like it's associated with Nature Publishing Group and the well-known journal Nature, but is it? If you are unsure it's a good idea to check the publisher's website and make sure both journals are published by the same group.

 

Resources to check for suspicious activity:

If all else fails...

You can try contacting a member of the editorial board of the journal, seek a second opinion from a peer with publishing experience, or ask a librarian for help.

About this guide

This guide is just that, a guide. Ultimately it is up to each author to make the final decision on where to publish and to decide what they expect from their publishers.

Megan N O'Donnell authored this guide. She would like to give special thanks to Eastern Michigan University Library's Guide on Predatory Publishers which served as a starting point. The graphic icons used on this guide are from icons8. Reuse of the icons requires a link back to icons8.

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