There was an attempt to hijack a journal…

As our journal investigation team members work their way around the expanding universe of scholarly publications, one of the more brazen and egregious predatory publishing scams they encounter is the hijacked, or cloned, journal.  One recent case of this scheme uncovered by our team, while frustrating in its flagrance, also offered some levity by way of its ineptness. But make no mistake, hijacked journals are one of the more nefarious and injurious operations carried out by predatory publishers. They cause extensive damage not just to the legitimate journal that has had its name and brand stolen, but to research and society as a whole, as noted recently in this piece from Retraction Watch on the hundreds of papers from hijacked journals found in the WHO COVID-19 library.

There are a few different variations on the hijacked journal, but all include a counterfeit operation stealing the title, ISSN and/or domain name of a legitimate journal to create a duplicate, fraudulent version of the same. They do this to lure unsuspecting (or not) researchers into submitting their manuscripts (on any topic, not just those covered by the original, legitimate publication) for promises of rapid publication for a fee.

The most recent case of journal hijacking investigated by our team involved the hijacking of this legitimate journal, Tierärztliche Praxis, a veterinary journal out of Germany with two series, one for small and one for large animal practitioners:

The website for the legitimate journal, Tierärztliche Praxis

by this counterfeit operation, using the same name:

The website for the hijacked version of Tierärztliche Praxis

One of the more immediate problems caused by cloned journals is how difficult they make it for scholars to discover and engage with the legitimate journal, as shown in the image below of Google search results for “Tierärztliche Praxis.” The first several search results refer to the fake journal, including the top result which links to the fake journal homepage.

“Tierärztliche praxis” translates to “veterinary practice” in English, and the original journal is of course aimed at veterinary practitioners. Not so for the fake Tierärztliche Praxis “journal” which is aimed (sloppily) at anyone writing about anything who is willing to pay to have their article published:

The hijacked journal’s aim & scope: to sum up – they’ll accept any paper, on any topic

Aside from a few of the more obvious signs of deception found with the cloned journal: a poor website with duplicate text and poor grammar, an overly simple submission process, an incredibly wide range of topics covered, to name a few, this journal’s “archive” of (stolen) articles takes things to a new level.

The original article, stolen from Tuexenia vs. the hijacked version

A few things to note:

  • The stolen article shown in the pictures above is not even from the original journal that is being hijacked, but from a completely different journal, Tuexenia.
  • The white rectangle near the top left of the page to cover the original journal’s title and the poorly superimposed hijacked journal title and ISSN at the header of the pages, and the volume information and page number in the footer (without even bothering to redact the original article page numbers).
  • The FINGER at the bottom left of just about every other page of this stolen article.

Sadly, not all hijacked or otherwise predatory journals are this easy to spot. Scholars must be hyper-vigilant when it comes to selecting a publication to which they submit their work. Refer to Cabells Predatory Reports criteria to become familiar with the tactics used by predatory publishers. Look at journal websites with a critical eye and be mindful of some of the more obvious red flags such as promises of fast publication, no information on the peer review process, dead links or poor grammar on the website, or pictures (with or without fingers) of obviously altered articles in the journal archives.

Predatory Reports listing for the hijacked version of Tierärztliche Praxis

What lies beneath

The first set of data from Cabells’ collaboration with Inera’s Edifix shows that nearly 300 article checks included references to predatory journals. Simon Linacre looks behind the data to share more details about ‘citation contamination.’

A few months ago, Cabells announced a trial partnership with the Edifix service, an article checking tool from Wiley’s Inera division (watch the free webinar discussing the collaboration from SSP’s OnDemand Library). Subscribers to Edifix can check their article’s references against Cabells’ Predatory Reports database for free during an open beta phase, and the first results of this offer have been announced by Edifix on their latest blog. The results show that:

  • A total of 295 jobs have had at least one reference flagged as having been included in a journal that is currently listed by Cabells’ Predatory Reports since May 2021
  • When you look at all 295 of those jobs, there were 66 (22%) that also included multiple references from predatory journals
  • Over the same period, Edifix processed a total of 7102 jobs (containing 104,140 submitted references, of which Edifix was able to fully process 89,180), so overall around 4% of all live jobs included at least one reference flagged by Cabells’ Predatory Reports database.

To recap, it is in the interests of all stakeholders in scholarly communications – authors, universities, societies, funders, and society as a whole – that research is not lost to predatory publishing activities. The Edifix and Cabells collaboration is designed not only to offer access to a database such as Predatory Reports to help all these stakeholders, but to augment their capabilities to produce the best research.

In addition, the collaboration represents a step forward in preventing ‘citation contamination’, where articles published in predatory journals find their way into legitimate journals by being referenced by them directly. The new service allows users to vet references for citations to predatory journals, as identified by Predatory Reports, and reduce the contamination of the scholarly record.

It is important to underline that while checking references won’t remove the predatory journal publications in the first place, it will ensure that those articles are cited less, and also that the research they include is checked. Authors cite articles assuming what is included in them has been peer reviewed, which is the very thing that is most unlikely to happen with a predatory journal. If an author understands the work they are citing may not have had any peer review – or a sub-standard or superficial one – they can find other literature to support their case. The analogy of contamination is a strong one as not only does it conjure up the stench many feel predatory publishing practices represents, it also describes how the problem can ‘cross-contaminate’ other journals and research projects. By empowering authors to clean up their research, and highlighting the problem of contamination more widely, it is hoped that this early experiment can lead to more steps forward in the fight against predatory publishing.