No laughing matter

The latest meme to sweep Twitter in the last week has been a satirical look at typical journal articles. Simon Linacre introduces Cabells’ own take on the theme and reflects on the impact they can have on our shared conscience.


We all like memes, right? Those social media nuggets that we can all relate to and laugh at, a form of in-joke without having to be with a group of people, which under current circumstances has meant a kind of gold rush for this form of humor. Whether it is the boyfriend looking over his shoulder at another woman or the excerpt from the film Downfall with Hitler going berserk, the number of situations and news items that lend themselves to this form of parody is literally endless.

So, when the meme spotlight fell on our own corner of the scholarly publishing world, we couldn’t help but join in and adapt the scientific paper meme to predatory journals (see image). To be honest, it wasn’t too difficult to think of 12 journal titles that highlighted the problems predatory publishing causes, and a whole series of memes could easily be created to underscore the joke that is the predatory journal phenomenon.

It’s easy to spot the themes we chose to lampoon, although however much we become familiar with the predatory journal tropes, publications and new journals are emerging all the time, as the total number of journals listed in Cabells’ Predatory Reports hitting 14,500 this week testifies. Among the issues we put under the spotlight in the graphic are both the unethical and unaware authors publishing in predatory titles, how poor research or plagiarized content can easily be published, and some of the poor excuses those who end up publishing in dodgy journals have provided.

However, underneath the tomfoolery there is a serious point to be made. A recent op-ed in The Atlantic took the opportunity of highlighting not just the shared joy and geekiness of the scientific paper meme, but also the existential dread it spotlighted. As the article expertly points out, while academics recognize the hamster-in-a-wheel absurdity the meme represents, they cannot help but see themselves in the wheel, unable to stop running. For some, they will just shrug their shoulders and find the next piece of clickbait; for others, there is little consolation in the humor and plenty of angst to try and control to preserve their sanity.

When it comes to predatory journals, from a pure eyeballs perspective we can see that articles and social media posts about the often bizarre world of predatory publishing get the most traction, such as the fact that one predatory journal lists Yosemite Sam on the editorial board. And yet there is always a serious point behind these fun stories, which is that predatory journals can make an unholy mess of scientific research, causing millions of funding dollars to be wasted and allowing either junk or rank bad science to contaminate legitimate published research. This is the real punchline and it rings pretty hollowly sometimes.

No more grist to the mill

Numerous recent reports have highlighted the problems caused by published articles that originated from paper mills. Simon Linacre asks what these 21st Century mills do and what other dangers could lurk in the future.


For those of us who remember life before the internet, and have witnessed its all-encompassing influence rise over the years, there is a certain irony in the idea of recommending a Wikipedia page as a trusted source of information on academic research. In the early days of Jimmy Wales’ huge project, whilst it was praised for its utility and breadth, there was always a knowing nod when referring someone there as if to say ‘obviously, don’t believe everything you read on there.’ Stories about fake deaths and hijacked pages cemented its reputation as a useful, but flawed source of information.

However, in recent years those knowing winks seem to have subsided, and in a way, it has become rather boring and reliable. We no longer hear about Dave Grohl dying prematurely and for most of us, such is our level of scepticism we can probably suss out if anything on the site fails to pass the smell test. As a result, it has become perhaps what it always wanted to be – the first port of call for quick information.

That said, one would hesitate to recommend it to one’s children as a sole source of information, and any researcher would think twice before citing it in their work. Hence the irony in recommending the following Wikipedia page as a first step towards understanding the dangers posed by paper mills: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Research_paper_mill. It is the perfect post, describing briefly what paper mills are and citing updated sources from Nature and COPE on the impact they have had on scholarly publishing and how to deal with them.

For the uninitiated, paper mills are third party organisations set up to create articles that individuals can submit to journals to gain a publication without having to do much or even any of the original research. Linked to their cousin the essay mill which services undergraduates, paper mills could have generated thousands of articles that have subsequently been published in legitimate research journals.

What the reports and guidance from Nature and COPE seem to suggest is that while many of the paper mills have sprung up in China and are used by Chinese authors, recent changes in Chinese government policy moving away from strict publication-counting as performance measurement could mitigate the problem. In addition, high-profile cases shared by publishers such as Wiley and Sage point to some success in identifying transgressions, leading to multiple retractions (albeit rather slowly). The problems such articles present is clear – they present junk or fake science that could lead to numerous problems if taken at face value by other researchers or the general public. What’s more, there are the worrying possibilities of paper mills increasing their sophistication to evade detection, ultimately eroding the faith people have always had in peer-reviewed academic research. If Wikipedia can turn round its reputation so effectively, then perhaps it’s not too late for the scholarly publishing industry to act in concert to head off a similar problem.

Rewriting the scholarly* record books

Are predatory journals to academic publishing what PEDs are to Major League Baseball?


The 2021 Major League Baseball season is underway and for fans everywhere, the crack of the bat and pop of the mitt have come not a moment too soon. America’s ‘National Pastime’ is back and for at least a few weeks, players and fans for all 30 teams have reason to be optimistic (even if your team’s slugging first baseman is already out indefinitely with a partial meniscus tear…).

In baseball, what is known as the “Steroid Era” is thought to have run from the late ‘80s through the early 2000s. During this period, many players (some for certain, some suspected) used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) which resulted in an offensive explosion across baseball. As a result, homerun records revered by generations of fans were smashed and rendered meaningless.

It wasn’t just star players looking to become superstars that were using PEDs, it was also the fringe players, the ones struggling to win or keep jobs as big league ball players. They saw other players around them playing better, more often, and with fewer injuries. This resulted in promotions, from the minor leagues to the major leagues or from bench player to starter, and job security, in the form of multi-year contracts.

So, there now existed a professional ecosystem in baseball where those who were willing to skirt the rules could take a relatively quick and easy route to the level of production necessary to succeed and advance in their industry. Shortcuts that would enhance their track record and improve their chances of winning and keeping jobs and help build their professional profiles to ‘superstar’ levels, greatly increasing compensation as a result.

Is this much different than the situation for researchers in today’s academic publishing ecosystem?

Where some authors – called “parasite authors” by Dr. Serihy Kozmenko in a guest post for The Source – deliberately “seek symbiosis with predatory journals” in order to boost publication records, essentially amassing publication statistics on steroids. Other authors, those not willing to use predatory journals as a simple path to publication, must operate in the same system, but under a different set of rules that make it more difficult to generate the same levels of production. In this situation, how many authors who would normally avoid predatory journals would be drawn to them, just to keep up with those who use them to publish easily and frequently?

Is it time for asterisks on CVs?

At academic conferences, on message boards, and other forums for discussing issues in scholarly communication, a familiar refrain is that predatory journals are easy to identify and avoid, so predatory publishing, in general, is not a big problem for academic publishing. While there is some level of truth to the fact that many, though not all, predatory journals are relatively easy to spot and steer clear of, this idea denies the existence of parasite authors. These researchers are unconcerned about the quality of the journal as they are simply attempting to publish enough papers for promotion or tenure purposes.

Parasite authors are also likely to be undeterred by the fact that although many predatory journals are indexed in platforms such as Google Scholar, articles published in these journals have low visibility due to the algorithms used to rank research results in these engines. Research published in predatory journals is not easily discovered, not widely read, and not heavily cited, if at all. The work is marginalized and ultimately, the reputation of the researcher is damaged.

There are myriad reasons why an author might consider publishing in a predatory journal, some born out of desperation. The ‘publish or perish’ system places pressure on researchers in all career stages – how much blame for this should be placed on universities? In addition, researchers from the Global South are fighting an uphill battle when dealing with Western publishing institutions. Lacking the same resources, training, language skills, and overall opportunities as their Western counterparts, researchers from the developing world often see no other choice but to use predatory journals (the majority located in their part of the world) to keep pace with their fellow academics’ publishing activity.

To a large degree, Major League Baseball has been able to remove PEDs from the game, mostly due to increased random testing and more severe penalties for those testing positive. Stemming the flow of predatory publishing activity in academia will not be so straightforward. At the very least, to begin with, the scholarly community must increase monitoring and screening for predatory publishing activity (with the help of resources like Cabells’ Predatory Reports) and institute penalties for those found to have used predatory journals as publishing outlets. As in baseball, there will always be those looking to take shortcuts to success, having a system in place to protect those who do want to play by the rules should be of paramount importance.

Opening up the SDGs

While the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offer a framework for global communities to tackle the world’s biggest challenges, there are still huge barriers to overcome in ensuring research follows the desired path. This week, Simon Linacre reflects on the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ effects in publishing and one organization trying to refine a fragmented infrastructure.

Recently, Cabells has been able to further its commitment to pursuing the UN SDGs by signing up to the SDG Publishers Compact and sharing details of its pilot journal rating system with the Haub School of Business at Saint Joseph’s University that assesses journals in terms of their relevance to the SDGs. Part of the reason Cabells is working with the SDGs – aside from a simple belief that they are a force for good – is that they represent an opportunity to offer reward and recognition for researchers who are using their talents to in some small way make the world a better place.

The scholarly communications industry, like many others, relies on push and pull dynamics to maintain its growth trajectory. The push elements include the availability of citations and other metrics to judge performance, recognition for publishing in certain journals, and various community rewards for well-received research. On the flip side, pull elements include opportunities shared by academic publishers, a facility to record research achievements, and an opportunity to share findings globally. This is how the publishing world turns round.

This dynamic also helps to explain why potentially disruptive developments – such as Open Access or non-peer-reviewed journals and platforms – may fail to gain initial traction, and why they may require additional support in order to become embedded with academics and their mode of operations. Going back to the SDGs, we can see how their emergence could similarly be stymied by the existing power play in scholarly publishing – where are the push and pull factors guiding researchers to focus on SDG-related subjects?

I recently spoke to Stephanie Dawson, CEO at ScienceOpen, which is a discovery platform that seeks to enable academics to enhance their research in an open access environment and offer publishers ‘context building services’ to improve the impact of their outputs. ScienceOpen is very much involved with the UN SDGs, recently creating a number of content containers for SDG-related articles. By offering curative opportunities, post-publication enhancements, and article-level data services, ScienceOpen is most definitely doing its part to support a pull strategy in the industry.

Stephanie says, “We began this project working with the University College London (UCL) Library to showcase their outputs around the UN SDGs. Because we believe there needs to be broad community buy-in, we also wanted to encourage researchers globally to highlight their contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals by adding keywords and author summaries on ScienceOpen, regardless of the journal they published in and demanding publisher engagement for new works.”

And this is what Cabells is also trying to achieve – by offering new metrics that can be used to guide authors to the optimal publishing option (push) and highlighting traditionally overlooked journals with low citations as destination publications (pull), we hope we can change the conversation from ‘Is this a good journal?’ to ‘Does this research matter?’. And we think reframing the context like ScienceOpen is doing is an important first step.

Beware the known unknowns

Following a recent study showing an alarming lack of knowledge and understanding of predatory journals in China, Simon Linacre looks at the potential impact of the world’s biggest producer of research succumbing to the threat of deceptive publications.

That China has achieved something remarkable in its continued growth in research publications is surely one of the most important developments in modern research and scholarly communications. It passed the US in 2018 and all indications suggest it has increased its lead since then, propelled by huge investment in research by the Chinese government.

Cabells sought to reflect on this success when it published the list of top Chinese-language management journals in December 2020 following a collaboration with AMBA. However, research on that project also highlighted the significant risk for Chinese scholars in publishing in the wrong journals. Until last year, academics tended to be pushed towards – and recognised for – publishing in Impact Factor journals. This policy has, however, now changed, with more of a focus on Chinese-language journals as well as other international titles. The concern then arises, that some scholars may be lured into publishing in predatory journals with the shift in policy.

This thought has been fortified by the publication of the article ‘Chinese PhD Students’ Perceptions of Predatory Journals’ (2021) by Jiayun Wang, Jie Xu and DIanyou Chen in the Journal of Scholarly Publishing. Their study looks at the attitudes of over 300 Chinese doctoral students towards predatory journals, making three key findings:

  1. In STEM subjects, students regularly confused predatory journals with Open Access (OA) journals
  2. In Humanities and Social Science subjects, students tended to only identify predatory journals in the Chinese language, but not in English
  3. While the majority of respondents said they had no intention of submitting to predatory journals (mainly due to the potential harm it could do to their reputation), the few that would do so cited quick publication times and easy acceptance as motivating factors.

While there are limitations to the Wang et al article due to its relatively small sample and restricted scope, it is clear there is at least the potential for widespread use and abuse of the predatory publishing model in China, in parallel to what has been observed to a greater or lesser degree around the rest of the world. In conclusion, the authors state:

“PhD candidates in China generally have insufficient knowledge about predatory journals, and also generally disapprove of publishing in them.” (2021, pp. 102)

This lack of knowledge is referred to time and time again in articles about predatory publishing, of which there is now a small library to choose from. While there is considerable debate on how to define predatory journals, how to identify them and even score them, there is a gap where a better understanding of how to prevent publication in them can be engendered, particularly in the PhD and early career scholar (ECR) communities. Some studies on this aspect of predatory publishing would be very welcome indeed.

Predatory journals vs. preprints: What’s the difference?

While working towards publication in a legitimate journal, however circuitous the route, is of course a much better path than publishing in an illegitimate journal, Simon Linacre examines why this is a useful question to consider.

A blog post this week in The Geyser pointed out the problems surrounding version control of the same article on multiple preprint servers and on the F1000 platform.

TL;DR? It isn’t pretty.

The article used as an example is unquestionably a legitimate study relating to the coronavirus pandemic, and as such is a small but important piece in the jigsaw being built around science’s pandemic response. That this article has yet to be validated – and as such enabled as a piece that fits the COVID-19 jigsaw – is something that will presumably be achieved once it is published in a recognized peer-reviewed journal.

However, this does raise the following rather thorny question: how is the article any better served fragmented on different preprint servers and publishing platforms than it would be having been published as a single entity in a predatory journal?

I am being facetious here – working towards a legitimate publication, however circuitous the route, is far better than publishing in an illegitimate journal. However, comparing the two options is not as strange as one might think, and perhaps offers some guidance for authors uncertain about where to publish their research in the first place.

Firstly, early career researchers (ECRs), while often offered very little direction when it comes to publication ethics and decision-making, are understandably worried about sharing their data and findings on preprint servers for fear of being ‘scooped’ by other researchers who copy their results and get published first. This is a legitimate fear, and is one explanation why a researcher, although unfamiliar with a journal, might submit their research for a low fee and quick turnaround.

Secondly, ECRs or more experienced researchers may be incentivised by their institutions to simply achieve a publication without any checks on the type of journal they publish in. As such, they need a journal to validate their publication – even if the journal itself has not been validated – which is something preprints or non-journal platforms are unable to provide.

Finally, while recent research has shown that just over half of articles published in predatory journals do not receive any citations, just less than 50% did receive citations, and authors may prefer one sole accessible source for their research than multiple sources across different preprints. This is not to say that preprints can’t receive citations – indeed Google Scholar reveals 22 citations to the article above from its original posting on Arxiv – but the perception may be that only journals can deliver citations, and will therefore be the aim for some authors.

Of course, authors should know the very real difference between a predatory journal and a preprint, but the evidence of 14,000+ journals on Cabells Predatory Reports database and the millions of spam emails received daily from illegitimate journals points to at least some researchers falling for the same tricks and continue to line the pockets of predatory publishers. While research publishing options remain as varied and as complex as they are – and while higher education institutions and funders simply assume every researcher has an effective publishing strategy – then as many will fall into the predatory trap as they have always done.

Book review – Gaming the Metrics: Misconduct and Manipulation in Academic Research

The issues of gaming metrics and predatory publishing undoubtedly go hand-in-hand, outputs from the same system that requires academic researchers the world over to sing for their supper in some form or other. However, the two practices are often treated separately, almost as if there was no link at all, so editors Biagioli and Lippman are to be congratulated in bringing them together under the same roof in the shape of their book Gaming the Metrics: Misconduct and Manipulation in Academic Research (MIT Press, 2020).

The book is a collection of chapters that cover the whole gamut of wrongheaded – or just plain wrong – publication decisions on behalf of authors the word over on where to publish the fruits of their research. This ‘submission decision’ is unenviable, as it inevitably shapes academic careers to a greater or lesser degree. The main reason why authors make poor decisions is laid firmly at the doors of a variety of ‘publish or perish’ systems which seek to quantify the outputs from authors with a view to… well, the reason why outputs are quantified is never really explained. However, the reason why such quantification should be a non-starter is well-argued by Michael Power in Chapter 3, as well as Barbara M. Kehm (Ch. 6) in terms of the ever-popular university rankings. Even peer review comes under attack from Paul Wouters (Ch. 4), but as with the other areas any solutions are either absent, or in the case of Wouters proffered with minimal detail or real-world context.

Once into the book, any author would quickly realize that their decision to publish is fraught with difficulty with worrying about predatory publishers lurking on the internet to entice their articles and APCs from them. As such, any would be author would be well advised to heed the call ‘Caveat scriptor’ and read this book in advance of sending off their manuscript to any journals.

That said, there is also a case for advising ‘caveat lector’ before would-be authors read the book, as there are other areas where additional context would greatly help in addressing the problems of gaming metrics and academic misconduct. When it comes to predatory journals, there is a good deal of useful information included in several of the later chapters, especially the case studies in Chapters 7 and 15 which detail a suspiciously prolific Czech author and sting operation, respectively.

Indeed, these cases provide the context that is perhaps the single biggest failing of the book, which through its narrow academic lens doesn’t quite capture the wider picture of why gaming metrics and the scholarly communications system as a whole is ethically wrong, both for those who perpetrate it and arguably the architects of the systems. As with many academic texts that seek to tackle societal problems, the unwillingness to get dirt under the fingernails in the pursuit of understanding what’s really going on simply distances the reader from the problem at hand.

As a result, after reading Gaming the Metrics, one is like to simply shrug one’s shoulders in apathy about the plight of authors and their institutions, whereas a great deal more impact might have been achieved if the approach had been less academic and included more case studies and insights into the negative impact resulting from predatory publishing practices. After all, the problem with gaming the system is that, for those who suffer, it is anything but a game.

Gaming the Metrics: Misconduct and Manipulation in Academic Research, edited by Mario Biagioli and Alexandra Lippman (published Feb. 21 2020, MIT Press USA) ISBN: 978-0262537933.

Cabells and scite partner to bring Smart Citations to Journalytics

Cabells, a provider of key intelligence on academic journals for research professionals, and scite, a platform for discovering and evaluating scientific articles, are excited to announce the addition of scite’s Smart Citations to Cabells Journalytics publication summaries.

Journalytics summary card with scite Smart Citations data

Journalytics is a curated database of over 11,000 verified academic journals spanning 18 disciplines, developed to help researchers and institutions optimize decision-making around the publication of research. Journalytics summaries provide publication and submission information and citation-backed data and analytics for comprehensive evaluations.

scite’s Smart Citations allow researchers to see how articles have been cited by providing the context of the citation and a classification describing whether it provides supporting or disputing evidence for the cited claim.

The inclusion of Smart Citations adds a layer of perspective to Journalytics metrics and gives users a deeper understanding of journal activity by transforming citations from a mere number into contextual data.

Lacey Earle, executive director of Cabells, says, “Cabells is thrilled to partner with scite in order to help researchers evaluate scientific articles through an innovative, comparative-based metric system that encourages rigorous and in-depth research.”

Josh Nicholson, co-founder and CEO of scite says of the partnership, “We’re excited to be working with Cabells to embed our Smart Citations into their Journalytics summaries. Smart Citations help you assess the quantity of citations a journal has received as well as the quality of these citations, with a focus on identifying supporting and disputing citations in the literature.”


about cabells

Cabells generates actionable intelligence on academic journals for research professionals.  On the Journalytics platform, an independent, curated database of more than 11,000 verified scholarly journals, researchers draw from the intersection of expertise, data, and analytics to make confident decisions to better administer research. In Predatory Reports, Cabells has undertaken the most comprehensive and detailed campaign against predatory journals, currently reporting on deceptive behaviors of over 14,000 publications. By combining its efforts with those of researchers, academic publishers, industry organizations, and other service providers, Cabells works to create a safe, transparent and equitable publishing ecosystem that can nurture generations of knowledge and innovation. For more information please visit Cabells or follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

about scite

scite is a Brooklyn-based startup that helps researchers better discover and evaluate scientific articles through Smart Citations–citations that display the context of the citation and describe whether the article provides supporting or disputing evidence. scite is used by researchers from dozens of countries and is funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health. For more information, please visit scite, follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, and download our Chrome or Firefox plugin. For careers, please see our jobs page.

The impact of blockchain tech on academic publishing

As blockchain technology continues to branch out well beyond the cryptocurrency world that initially brought it into being, it’s becoming clear it has many potential applications in education. In all likelihood we’re still in the early stages of the technology’s emergence in this field, and the applications will only continue to expand. Even now though, there are some interesting examples.

Perhaps most notable is that student records are becoming easier to keep track of and maintain securely because of blockchain technology. From basic information, to academic transcripts, to notes on course and extracurricular activity participation, there is a lot of information that educational institutions need to maintain and monitor. This can all be made a great deal easier if the information is entered into an incorruptible digital ledger — particularly when the time comes that the information needs to be transferred from one administrator or school to another.

Another important use is in the distribution of degrees. This is a process pioneered via digital diplomas from multiple universities, and has clear benefits for graduates, recruiters, and prospective employers alike. Turning a degree into a digital document turns it into a component of what we might almost refer to as an electronic résumé, making it easier for recruiters and employers to access and verify. The same practice may also become particularly useful with regard to online degrees where there is no in-person component to education. Business education in particular has developed very quickly online, with both online bachelors in business administration and MBAs leading candidates into fields growing far more quickly than other job markets.

These examples — keeping student records and turning degrees into digital documents — cover much of blockchain’s expansion into the realm of academia. Our primary focus here, however, is on another application that tends not to generate as much attention – or at least hasn’t yet. It has become clear that there are also various ways in which blockchain tech can significantly impact the world of academic publishing:

Mitigating Market Issues

While most people probably see academic publishing as a straightforward business or a by-the-book process, there are certain issues and inefficiencies that can come into play. These might include plagiarized materials, predatory journals, or any number of other problems. But in a world in which academic publishing occurs via the blockchain it could become easier for the agencies involved to ensure document integrity and spot these kinds of inefficiencies.

Storing Research Data

There’s a great deal of talk in general about data storage on the blockchain. To sum it up, the idea is essentially that blockchain solutions may rapidly supplant both in-house data storage and cloud storage options. It can make data harder to hack yet faster to access, and in theory it can provide virtually limitless storage. This is typically discussed with regard to healthcare and larger industries, but it could affect academic publishing as well.

Enhancing Effectiveness & Quality

The perks just described ultimately amount to a more accountable and higher-quality academic publishing environment. By extension, it could well be that in time, academic journals and other resources that are not published within a blockchain environment are representative of lower quality or less official status. This may not happen in the short term, however, a degree of exclusivity based on practices that could gradually become an industry standard can be a positive step. The blockchain would begin to serve almost as a filter for quality academic practices and publications.

Peer Review Application

Some academic publishers are already experimenting with the idea of utilizing blockchain technology to help peer review processes. Two of the problems of peer review are the sharing of multiple versions of documents to different people and the security required for double blind peer review. Blockchain systems could enable secure sharing with the benefit of certifying the results of peer review for all those involved.

Leveraging Blockchain for Distribution

Finally, academic journal authors may also find that the blockchain can be useful as a means of controlling distribution. Particularly in the modern world where people find so many ways of bypassing paywalls, downloading material freely and so on, it’s easy enough for valuable research and published material to essentially lose its value. Blockchain distribution for published material has the potential to swiftly address this problem, in that said material has to be obtained as the author and/or publisher determine it should be.

In all of these ways and more, blockchain technology is poised to be every bit as important in academic publishing as in other aspects of academia. And it’s likely that the full range of benefits still has yet to be determined.

The fake factor

On the day that the US says goodbye to its controversial President, we cannot bid farewell to one of his lasting achievements, which is to highlight issues of fake news and misinformation. Simon Linacre looks at how putting the issue in the spotlight could at least increase people’s awareness… and asks for readers’ help to do so.

Cabells completed around a dozen webinars with Indian universities towards the end of 2020 in order to share some of our knowledge of predatory publishing, and also learn from librarians, faculty members and students what their experiences were. Studies have shown that India has both the highest number of predatory journals based there and most authors publishing in them, as well as a government as committed as any to dealing with the problem, so any insight from the region is extremely valuable.

Q&A sessions following the webinars were especially rich, with a huge range of queries and concerns raised. One specific query raised a number of issues: how can researchers know if the index a journal says it is listed in is legitimate or not? As some people will be aware, one of the tricks of the trade for predatory publishers is to promote indices their journals are listed in, which can come in several types:

  • Pure lies: These are journals that say they have an ‘Impact Factor’, but are not listed by Clarivate Analytics in its Master Journal List of titles indexed on Web of Science (and therefore have an Impact Factor unless only recently accepted)
  • Creative lies: These journals say they are listed by an index, which is true, but the index is little more than a list of journals which say they are listed by the index, with the addition of the words ‘Impact Factor’ to make it sound better (eg. ‘Global Impact Factor’ , ‘Scholarly Article Impact Factor’)
  • Nonsensical lies: These are links (or usually just images) to seemingly random words or universities that try to import some semblance of recognition, but mean nothing. For example, it may be a name of a list, service or institution, but a quick search elicits nothing relating those names with the journal
  • White lies: One of the most common, many predatory journals say they are ‘listed’ or ‘indexed’ by Google Scholar. While it is true to say these journals can be discovered by Google Scholar, they are not listed or indexed for the simple reason that GS is not a list or an index

When Jeffrey Beall was active, he included a list of ‘Misleading Metrics’ on his blog that highlighted some of these issues. A version or versions of this can still be found today, but are not linked to here because (a) they are out of date by at least four years, and (b) the term ‘misleading’ is, well, misleading as few of the indexes include metrics in the first place, and the metrics may not be the major problem with the index. However, this information is very valuable, and as such Cabells has begun its own research program to create an objective, independently verifiable and freely available list of fake indexes in 2021. And, what’s more, we need your help – if anyone would like to suggest we look into a suspicious looking journal index, please write to me at simon.linacre@cabells.com and we will review the site for inclusion.