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Predatory scientific journals are, fortunately, rare. How can you avoid inadvertently publishing to a predatory journal, and what is predatory publishing and why does it flourish in today’s information age? In this article, we’ll look at aspects of this phenomenon, including fake impact factor, and a predatory journal checklist, so you can stay far away from predatory journal publishers.
If you’ve ever published in a predatory journal, you’re not alone. In a recent study by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, many thousands of scientific researchers have inadvertently published in pseudo-scientific platforms, including academics from renowned universities, research institutions, and federal authorities. In fact, even a Nobel laureate!
Predatory Journals Definition
There’s really no one definition of what makes a journal predatory, and what defines the word “predatory” isn’t even agreed upon. But a basic definition, for the purposes of this article, would be if a journal charges publication fees, actively solicits research manuscripts and does not provide trustworthy peer review or quality editorial services.
Research manuscript authors essentially don’t receive the benefit of publishing to the journal, and often are misled about promises of a robust peer review, where sometimes the review process is actually non-existent. Additionally, authors are the victim of fake editors, fake impact factors, and highly (and deliberately) misleading names of journals that are strikingly similar to legitimate, highly-regarded journals.
Fake Impact Factor
An impact factor is a rating of how important a journal is, and is used by researchers to choose the right journal for their manuscript. However, there are other metrics that are deemed fake if they are designed to mislead the researcher and the reader, as well as journal publishers who are legitimate.
There are several things to look out for to determine if your journal of choice is using a fake impact factor. They include:
- The institution uses Google Scholar as the database for calculating the metric. Google Scholar does not screen journals and publications for quality, and is, therefore, an unreliable source for metrics.
- The company providing the fake impact metric charges journals for inclusion on its list.
- The actual words “impact factor” are used in the name of the metric.
- Most journal scores on their list increase year-by-year. This can often signal a contrived or artificial impact factor metric.
- The company exists solely to make money off of its impact factor scores, sometimes even acting as a front for a specific predatory scientific journal, or family of “journals.”
- There is little actual information about the company on its website, including a lack of information about its board, company leaders, etc.
Predatory Journal Checklist
In addition to looking for any potential fake impact metrics (see checklist above), you can also readily identify a predatory scientific journal by looking for the following:
- Read previous issues of the target journal. Look for articles that are “off-topic” of their stated purpose and focus, and for articles that remain unpublished, or are marked as “coming soon.” If articles have many errors, typos, and are of poor quality, that is also a red flag that you’re looking at a predatory scientific journal.
- Look into the journal’s “Editorial Board.” Often, fake journals will list scholars without their authorization. Take a look at those scholars’ LinkedIn, institutional, or other profiles to see if they list their position on the editorial board of the journal that you’re looking at. If not, proceed very carefully.
- Often predatory journals will brag about membership in reputable organizations like DOAJ (the Directory of Open Access Journals), COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics), and OASPA (Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association), among others. Like the editorial board, check their actual membership by contacting the named organization to confirm membership of the journal.
- Verify contact information. If the country-code for the phone number doesn’t match the stated location of the journal, or if time-stamps from emails aren’t during the working hours of the claimed country and location, be careful. Also look up any address that they provide. Is it legitimate?
- Investigate their peer review process. This is critical for legitimate scientific research publication. Predatory scientific journals often promise extremely rapid (and unrealistic) timelines for peer review processes. Read over their peer review policy, and look for any red flags.
- Review the journal’s website thoroughly. If there is the use of poor-quality grammar and spelling errors, that’s often the giveaway for a predatory journal. Look also at their fee structure. If fees are requested prior to the manuscript being accepted, this is also a sign of a predatory journal.
Although these efforts will take a bit of your time, your efforts are well worth it to avoid publishing in a predatory journal, which can harm your reputation as a researcher, and also cost you time and money, without the benefit of publishing in a legitimate journal.
Choosing the Right Journal
When you’re selecting the right journal for your article, there are many factors to look for.
The bottom line is that legitimate journals are committed to publishing research that is trustworthy, relevant and contributes to humanity’s knowledge. Predatory publishers show no interest in this noble mission, and are only interested in making money by taking advantage of researchers.
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