Predatory journals are back in the firing line

Amy Williams

Since the sudden disappearance of his list of so-called predatory journals in January 2017, Jeffrey Beall has maintained silence on the subject for which he has become famous. In a recent webinar, a recording of which can be accessed here, this silence was broken. His emergence back into the public eye is part of a collaboration with PubsHub, which is working to compile a database that authors can consult before choosing which journal to submit their research to.

Beall’s blog aimed to compile a comprehensive list of predatory journals, which have grown steadily in number over the past few years. The blog was started in 2012 and is still available in internet archives.

So what exactly is a predatory journal?

Predatory journals typically have a number of the following features.

  • Low-quality or non-existent peer review (resulting in a journal that ‘will publish anything’)
  • Poor grammar on journal websites
  • Gold open access model
  • Very broad scope (e.g. ‘science, engineering and technology’)
  • Frequent spamming of authors from previous submissions
  • Unverifiable impact factor or use of an impact factor generated by a fake site
  • Incredibly short lead times: ‘peer review’ and publication within 5 days is not uncommon
  • Requirement by the journal to hold copyright of articles despite these being published open access

The rapid growth of predatory journals has caused untold damage by jeopardizing the perceived integrity of peer-reviewed articles.

  • Pseudo-scientific articles have been indexed on Google Scholar and PubMed
  • ‘Activist research’ is proliferating, and is particularly popular among conspiracy theorists and corrupt businesses (e.g. an asbestos plant owner in Russia has repeatedly published articles reporting on the safety of asbestos)
  • The titles of many predatory journals sound legitimate. As it may not be easy to identify these journals as predatory at a glance, this potentially gives authors who publish in such journals an unfair advantage over their peers

Predatory journals undermine trust in the legitimacy of journal publications and peer review among specialists and the general public alike. They also reinforce the dominance of impact factor as authors and researchers become increasingly wary of all but the most well known traditional journals. Constant vigilance is needed to meet the threat that such journals pose to modern science.