Predatory publishing, also called deceptive publishing, is a kind of academic publishing more geared toward making money than generating high quality publications.
Predatory journals have proliferated since the early 2000s. They typically apply a pay to publish model, work with an open access platform, and economize on editorial and peer review services (1). As a result, they tend to promise a very swift review process and fast publication.
Why is this important?
The pay to publish model has introduced a perverse conflict of interest into academic publishing. Rejecting papers does not yield any income and conflicts with the publisher’s financial interest. Because predatory journals do not usually apply rigorous peer review, the average quality of the published research is lower than that of adequately peer reviewed papers.
Avoiding, bypassing, or diminishing the quality assurance step of peer review can result in poor knowledge production. This results in bad research being freely accessible to the public, which is harmful to those who read it, corrupts the record of published scientific results, undermines evidence-based practice, misguides decision and policy makers, and risks erosion of public trust in academic science.
A number of studies have exposed predatory journal practices. For example, a writer for the journal Science submitted a very flawed manuscript to a number of open-access journals and experienced that 57% of the journals accepted the paper. He then published his results in a paper called, "Who's Afraid of Peer Review?" (2). A fictitious scientist named Anna O. Szust applied for an editor position to 360 scholarly journals without relevant qualifications and with a made-up CV. 40 of 120 predatory journals accepted Szust as editor without any background check and often very quickly (3).
Researchers, particularly those with less experience, are sometimes unaware of the predatory nature of a journal and can be tricked into submitting a manuscript. Publishing in a predatory journal means that the article is no longer original and cannot be published in a high quality, peer-reviewed journal. Another problem is, when a researcher learns of the predatory nature of the journal and requests a retraction, the journal will often either refuse to retract the article, or request another fee to take it down. To avoid reputational damage and wasting a good article in a worthless publication, it is important to be able to recognize and avoid predatory journals.
Stefan Eriksson and Gert Helgesson have identified 25 signs of predatory publishing (4), and argue that more points on the list that apply to the journal at hand, the more skeptical you should be."
The publisher is not a member of any recognized professional organization committed to best publishing practices (like COPE or EASE)
The journal is not indexed in well-established electronic databases (like MEDLINE or Web of Science)
The publisher claims to be a "leading publisher" even though it just got started
The journal and the publisher are unfamiliar to you and all your colleagues
The papers of the journal are of poor research quality, and may not be academic at all (for instance allowing for obvious pseudo-science)
There are fundamental errors in the titles and abstracts, or frequent and repeated typographical or factual errors throughout the published papers
The journal website is not professional
The journal website does not present an editorial board or gives insufficient detail on names and affiliations
The journal website does not reveal the journal's editorial office location or uses an incorrect address
The publishing schedule is not clearly stated
The journal title claims a national affiliation that does not match its location (such as "American Journal of ..." while being located on another continent) or includes "International" in its title while having a single-country editorial board
The journal mimics another journal title or the website of said journal
The journal provides an impact factor in spite of the fact that the journal is new (which means that the impact cannot yet be calculated)
The journal claims an unrealistically high impact based on spurious alternative impact factors (such as 7 for a bioethics journal, which is far beyond the top notation)
The journal website posts non-related or non-academic advertisements
The publisher of the journal has released an overwhelmingly large suite of new journals at one occasion or during a very short period of time
The editor in chief of the journal is editor in chief also for other journals with widely different focus
The journal includes articles (very far) outside its stated scope
The journal sends you an unsolicited invitation to submit an article for publication, while making it blatantly clear that the editor has absolutely no idea about your field of expertise
Emails from the journal editor are written in poor language, include exaggerated flattering (everyone is a leading profile in the field), and make contradictory claims (such as "You have to respond within 48 h" while later on saying "You may submit your manuscript whenever you find convenient")
The journal charges a submission or handling fee, instead of a publication fee (which means that you have to pay even if the paper is not accepted for publication)
The types of submission/publication fees and what they amount to are not clearly stated on the journal's website
The journal gives unrealistic promises regarding the speed of the peer review process (hinting that the journal's peer review process is minimal or non-existent)—or boasts an equally unrealistic track-record
The journal does not describe copyright agreements clearly or demands the copyright of the paper while claiming to be an open access journal
The journal displays no strategies for how to handle misconduct, conflicts of interest, or secure the archiving of articles when no longer in operation
A number of other initiatives have also put together criteria for journal selection:
Eriksson, Stefan; Helgesson, Gert (7 October 2016). "The false academy: predatory publishing in science and bioethics". Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy. 20 (2): 163–170. doi:10.1007/s11019-016-9740-3
Bert Gordijn, Bjørn Hofmann, Marin Viđak contributed to this theme.