It is becoming evident in the scholarly community that predatory publishers are fraudulent and stealthy in their activities. Predatory publishers “exploit the gold (author-pays) model of scholarly publishing for rapid and easy profit” (Beall, 2015). They exist for the sole purpose of profit and not the dissemination of high-quality research (Berger and Cirasella, 2015). Predatory journals are stealthy in their approaches because they “masquerade as serious, legitimate scholarly periodicals but in reality are mostly financial scams” (McLeod et al., 2018). What is less-known and probably controversial is that poor quality publishing operations may also be perceived as fraudulent (Smart, 2017). The lines between actual predatory publications and low-quality research are blurred and not well-defined.
What are the implications of predatory publishing activities?
One ‘upside’ to predatory journals is that low or no-quality publications typically do not get cited much (Sing Chalwa, 2020; Shen and Bjork, 2015). What is concerning, though, is how these questionable, fake or inferior publications are being incorporated into legitimate research and how they undermine the integrity and legitimacy of the published academic record (Roberts, 2016; McLeod et al., 2018). Questionable publications damage and destroy the established “systems, practices, and traditions … that govern the conduct, reporting, and evaluation of scholarly research and communication” (Beall, 2015). Inferior and fraudulent research can, indeed, misdirect future scholarship and hurt science through citation pollution (Van Der Walt et al., 2020; Hinchliffe and Clarke, 2019).
What complicates the identification and avoidance of predatory activities?
Predatory journals and legitimate peer-reviewed journals share the same marketplace, and free academic search engines, often used by emerging scholars, do not distinguish between fraudulent, weak or legitimate research. This potentially creates confusion within disciplines and scholarly communications.
It is also not illegal for authors and publishers to participate in the ‘money-making enterprise’ of questionable science. There are no international conventions or laws governing quality control, peer review or editorial processes (Beninger et al., 2016; Manley, 2019). Historically the pursuit of good quality, integrity, and ethics in science was guided by a moral obligation. However, the emerging publish-or-perish publication culture is becoming problematic, driving authors’ towards wilful participation in fraudulent or weak research (Van Der Walt et al., 2020; Mills and Inouye, 2020; Smart, 2017; Fanelli et al., 2015; Rifai et al., 2019). More and more, the publication race over-shadows purpose.
“Science and scientists are becoming more and more detached from the pure curiosity that once drove them, and they are embracing this notion of profitable science, which means that an idea must first be sold in order to be explored. XXI century scientists need strong marketing skills, beside scientific capabilities, since for a scientist to be able to develop research in his field, he must first sell it to get funding. This, of course, comes with a price” (Prista, 2020).
Can we rely on so-called lists of ‘Blacklisted journals’ or ‘Predatory journal lists’?
The short answer is ‘No!’
‘Predatory-ness’ as a concept is problematic. A better analogy is not that of predator-versus-prey, but also one of symbiosis (Rifai et al., 2019). Many authors wilfully participate in predatory publishing. Journal Blacklists on the other hand, are perceived by some as politically motivated, biased and subjective. Criteria for compiling them are seen as vague or not stated in many cases (Teixeira da Silva and Tsigaris, 2018). Some see ‘blacklisting’ as unethical conduct (Kuhar, 2008) or academically invalid (Teixeira da Silva and Tsigaris, 2018). Questions should also be asked whether a blacklisted publisher could produce good titles. Our view is, that it is possible.
Many studies on predatory journals, rely on (a now quite outdated) Beall’s list of predatory journals and publishers. However, Beall’s list is limited, outdated, and anti-open access. Some of the most risky journals are the ones not yet flagged or listed, and therefore it is impossible to compile an always-up-to-date or complete blacklist.
What does the literature say about how predatory journals have penetrated legitimate science?
There is ample literature on how predatory journals have penetrated legitimate science through citation pollution. And while we know that there are issues with blacklists, we can with fair confidence assume that no journal list or citation index can claim to be ‘predatory journals free’.
See for example studies by Strinzel et al. (2019), Nelson and Huffman (2015), Chen (2019), Manca et al. (2017a), Manca et al. (2017b), and Macháček and Srholec (2019). More readings can be found at https://fidelior.com/resources/.
What to do?
A good start is to use a variety of journal sources to obtain a more complete understanding of journal quality, including, for example citation databases (e.g., Scopus, Clarivate’s Web of Science), accredited country lists (e.g., the Danish BFI lists for series and publishers, ERA Journal List), disciplinary lists like (e.g., EconLit, PubMed), and journal blacklists (e.g., Cabell’s blacklist, Beall’s list).
When a title consistently appears on several reputable journal lists, citation indices, and lists that rank or rate titles, one can with reasonable certainty assume that such a title can be trusted. Should a title appear only on a single journal list or citation index and no other available lists, one should ask questions about its standing and recognition in the field. One could also ask questions about list inclusion criteria in such cases.
This all points to the need for authors to always do proper due diligence assessment, even when using various journal sources. Therefore, in the next blogs in this series, we will introduce checklists and resources to help authors identify and avoid predatory activities. We will also introduce guidance to help authors with doing due diligence when using multiple journal lists.