Journals that pose as gold open access but have little to no review or editing process and publish at the author’s expense are known as predatory. While the term “predatory” may be most accurately applied to journals intentionally scamming authors and funders out of APC payments, this only represents a small portion of the group being labelled as “predatory journals.” A far more prevalent issue is publishers whose editorial and review standards are not as strenuous as their legitimate counterparts, resulting in poor quality and often inaccurate research being published. These journals can often be difficult to identify as by its nature the peer review and editorial process is not readily transparent to authors.
One way to minimize the risk of publishing in a predatory or low quality journal is to publish where you cite. Authors are also subject experts, and can use this knowledge to determine if the articles previously published in journals under consideration present information effectively and accurately. Peers are another valuable resource in learning about journals that may be a good fit for a certain area of study. The Cushing/Whitney Medical Library strongly encourages authors to consider journals indexed in trusted services such as MEDLINE (PubMed), Embase, Scopus, and Web of Science.
Luckily, there are some tools and directories you can use so that it’s easier to distinguish between trustworthy and untrustworthy publishers/journals:
Cabell’s Predatory Reports (subscription tool, paid for by the library) - A part of the Cabell’s Journalytics Medicine suite of tools, Predatory Reports uses 60+ behavioral indicators to examine journals’ practices, so that users are alerted to deceptive behaviors and steer clear of exploitative operations.
Directory of Open Access Journals (free OA tool) - Indexes quality open access journals and includes information on articles processing charges and editorial policies. It does take some time for review and indexing process to be complete, thus new journals may not appear in these services until a year or more after launch. You should use your best discretion when interacting with new publications.
Think Check Submit (free OA tool) - Use one of their thorough checklists to ensure that you are submitting your research to a trusted journal before you submit.
Factors to review when assessing the quality of a journal include:
Aim & ScopeIs the research area specific to one discipline, or does it cover many potentially non-related disciplines? Predatory journals may try to be overly broad in their aim to attract more authors.
Name & PublisherIs the name similar or easily confused with a well-established journal? Is the publisher clearly indicated? Is the journal’s URL easy to find? Predatory publishers will often make it difficult to trace the journal back to its origins.
Location & Contact InfoIs the country name in the journal title different from the country of publication? Does the contact use a non-professional email service? (Gmail, Yahoo, etc.) Is the Editor-in-Chief the only contact listed (no paper submission or general contact email exists)?
Look and feelHow common are grammar/spelling errors on the journal’s website or in the text? Are images poor resolution/distorted? Is the text of the website directed at potential authors rather than readers? Predatory journals typically have no editors and publish content exactly as submitted without any editorial review, and most are in English even if that is not the native language of the country of origin. Because of this, you’ll often find that they’re rife with errors.
Impact factor & indexingMost predatory journals will not have an impact factor or be indexed in major databases such as PubMed and other services, but some of the more cleverly disguised ones will (and publishers of predatory journals are continually trying to get their titles indexed in these services). The Cushing/Whitney Medical Library strongly encourages authors to consider journals indexed in trusted services such as MEDLINE (PubMed), Embase, Scopus, and Web of Science. While it is not impossible for low quality journals to slip through the safeguards of these services, or for journal quality to decline after indexing, the stringent review processes these indices employ helps to create a trustworthy list of potential publication venues.
Editors & StaffIs an editorial board named? Are they legitimate professionals/real people? Some predatory journals will actually name professionals to their editorial boards who have no connection to the journal and without telling them. Do members of the editorial board list that appointment on their CVs? If you see a colleague listed on the editorial board of a journal that looks suspicious, ask them if they know that the journal is claiming a relationship with them.
Peer ReviewDoes the journal list a manuscript handling policy and clearly explain the review process? Is there a submission portal or are you asked to email the manuscript to a contact? How long is process between submission and publication? Predatory journals may advertise “rapid” or “expedited” publication, which is a good indication that the manuscript is not being subjected to a thorough review.
Publication PoliciesAre any policies on publication ethics, plagiarism, research integrity, or others available?
Publication Model and CopyrightAre APCs suspiciously low? Most medical OA journal APCs are $1500+, with some journals topping $5000. A journal advertising APCs under $100 may be suspicious, and some predatory journals have been reported as advertising low APCs then repeatedly charging the author’s credit card once they’ve submitted. Does the author retain copyright or must they transfer it to the journal? This one is tricky, as most traditional subscription journals require the author to transfer copyright ownership to the journal. However, legitimate OA journals usually allow the author to retain copyright, whereas a significant number of predatory journals will require the author to sign over copyright.
Factors adapted from Shamseer, L.; Moher, D.; Meduekwe, O., et al. (2017). Potential predatory and legitimate biomedical journals: can you tell the difference? A cross-sectional comparison. BMC Medicine, 15(28). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-017-0785-9. Published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).