The problem of unethical, “predatory” publishers, those who seek to exploit authors and their research, has grown over the years. Although the problem has grown since the advent of online-only publishing, it is not a new one, nor is it limited to open access publishing. In fact, questionable publishers exist on both sides of the open-access/toll-access line.

It can be difficult to keep track of unethical publishers—publications may change names, sites or online identities, so it is not possible to keep a current list of “questionable publishers" and their journals.There are efforts to classify ethical, established journals such as the Committee on Publishing Ethics and the Directory of Open Access Journals Seal. The Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association, International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, and the World Association of Medical Editors are scholarly organizations that are also grappling with this topic. 

It is hard to assess the quality a journal or publisher, but important to do so. The time spent can prevent legal, copyright, financial, or career issues. The following tips may help you to make an assessment of an unfamiliar publisher. Note, however, that there are no hard and fast rules, and no single criteria can determine if a publication is reputable or not.

Tips for Assessing Publisher Quality

  • Be wary of emails inviting you to submit to journals you’ve never previously heard of. Check the email address and name attached to the invitation. Determine if it is part of a mass email soliciting submissions. However, note that mass emails are often used by reputable journals or conferences for calls for submissions/proposals.)
  • Check the journal title against a whitelist of reputable publications.  Is the title listed in the DOAJ? Is it a member of COPE, etc.? It is not uncommon for relatively new or small independent journals to not be listed, but any publication more than a couple years old that isn’t a member should raise concerns.
  • Check the publication schedule. It’s not uncommon for truly independent (and legitimate) journals to publish irregularly, but if the journal is part of a larger suite of publications, and has a publishing organization supporting the work, irregular schedules can be an indicator of poor quality.
  • Be wary of offers promising of quick review. This is often an indicator of questionable practices. Any offer of expedited review for a higher fee should be looked at with extreme wariness.
  • Consider the quality of previous issues. Check the writing quality. If you have the disciplinary background, skim some tables of contents to check articles for currency, interest, worth. If you do not, recruit a friend (or a librarian who specializes in the discipline) for help with such assessments.
  • If there is advertising, consider whether it is high-quality, reputable, and relevant to the journal.
  • Identify the editors of the journal. Not listing editors at all is a sign that the publication may be may not be reputable. Similarly, a list of editors that you do not recognize (in a discipline in which you have experience), can be cause for concern. Also note, however, that some fake publishers actually list real people as editors without asking them. If you know any of the editors listed, check with them about their involvement.
  • Consider where the journal is indexed. Will the content be findable via various databases, especially those commonly used in your field?

For more on what to ask before submitting to a journal, check out Think, Check, Submit.  Some of the tips above were adapted from here.

Tips for Assessing Conferences

There have been an increasing number reports of “fake conferences.”  These are conferences that purport to be scholarly meetings, but do not deliver on their promises.  If you receive an offer to attend a conference, or a request to submit a paper to a conference you are unfamiliar with, consider the following questions.

  • Are the conferences held in vacation hotspots?
  • Are there multiple, unrelated conferences being held at the same location at the same time?
  • How do the fees compare to other similar conferences?
  • Do they publish proceedings? If so, where are the proceedings published? What is the quality of writing and copyediting?
  • Do the conferences actually happen?
  • Who is hosting or sponsoring the conference? Are there well-known research centers, institutions, or government agencies affiliated with the event?
  • Is this an annual conference or a one-off event? If it’s an annual conference, see who has previously attended or presented, and, if possible, ask their impressions.

For first-hand accounts of fake conference invitations see:

Ruben, A. (2016). Dubious conferences put the ‘pose’ in ‘symposium’. Science Magazine.

Carey, K. (2016). A peek inside the strange world of fake academia. The New York Times.

Heard, Stephen. A month of “spamvitations”. Scientist Sees Squirrel blog, May 16, 2017

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