Preying on our minds - how predatory publishers ambush scholarly effort

The adage “publish or perish” resonates throughout the academy. Scholars and universities both rely on publication statistics to measure achievements and quantify contributions to knowledge.

At the same time, technological innovation has changed the way academics are able to publish their work. The open access publication model, in which the author pays to publish their research in publicly accessible online journals, has provided new opportunities for academics to convey research outcomes to the world.  It has also motivated some dubious publication practices and the proliferation of counterfeit journals and conferences.

Predatory publishers seek to attract submissions from researchers by imitating genuine journals or conferences, often by sending bulk emails promising publication of manuscripts or conference papers for a small upfront submission fee or no fee at all.

Ambush tactics used by predatory publishers may include:

  • An effusive email invitation to submit a manuscript for publication or presentation
  • A professionally presented website which appear legitimate and reflects the “hot topics” in your disciplinary area
  • A list of international researchers on the editorial board even though the journal is relatively new and specialist.

What could possibly go wrong?

The opportunity to publish, even with an upfront fee, is enticing. But your manuscript probably won’t benefit from traditional peer review or the usual editorial and publishing services provided by legitimate journals. The manuscript as submitted may simply end up in an obscure or bogus online journal, possibility without notice from the publisher or formal sign-off by you or your co-authors on a final proof. The publisher is unlikely to respond should you attempt to make contact, so you won’t be able to retract your article or paper.

Publishing in predatory or poor scholarly standard journals can cause a number of problems including:

  • Undermining the credibility of your research and professional reputation
  • Low exposure and citation of your research
  • Loss of copyright entitlements
  • Invoices for payment which include exorbitant or unexpected charges that were not made clear prior to publication
  • Reducing the integrity, reach, and impact of the University’s research endeavours set out in the University’s new Open Access Policy
  • Breaches of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research.

Even seasoned scholars can be ensnared by the ever-rising number and global reach of predatory journals operating under a veneer of legitimacy. But post-graduate and early career researchers may be more susceptible to the approaches of predatory publishers because they are less familiar with the reputable journals in their field or with legitimate academic publishing practices and have a powerful incentive to establish a publication tally.

Senior academics and supervisors can play a critical role in counselling early career researchers to be discerning about the motives and practices of unscrupulous publishers and direct them towards reputable options.

What to look out for

Excessive requests piling up in your inbox may be the first tell-tale sign that an unscrupulous publisher is stalking your disciplinary area. Be cautious and thorough in your efforts to establish the bona fides of the publisher. Here are some things that may give you a clue that the journal and its publisher is not trustworthy or reputable:

  • Short review timelines
  • Poor quality articles with obvious errors or that do not demonstrate ‘peer review’ processes or show ‘peer review’ of limited scholarly value
  • Low fee structure that looks too good to be true
  • New publishers or journal names that you or your colleagues are not familiar with, particularly with ‘international’ in the title
  • The publisher’s or chief editor’s name is not clearly displayed on the journal website.
Tagged in legal alerts, news & announcements, open access, research, research ethics & integrity