How do you know you can trust a journal?

As many readers know, this week is Peer Review Week, the annual opportunity for those involved in scholarly communication and research to celebrate and learn about all aspects of peer review. As part of this conversation, Simon Linacre reflects on this year’s theme of ‘Trust in Peer Review’ in terms of the important role of peer review in the validation of scholarship, and dangers of predatory behaviour in its absence.


I was asked to deliver a webinar recently to a community of scholars in Eastern Europe and, as always with webinars, I was very worried about the Q&A section at the end. When you deliver a talk in person, you can tell by looking at the crowd what is likely to happen at the end of the presentation and can prepare yourself. A quiet group of people means you may have to ask yourself some pretty tough questions, as no one will put their hand up at the end to ask you anything; a rowdy crowd is likely to throw anything and everything at you. With a webinar, there are no cues, and as such, it can be particularly nerve-shredding.

With the webinar in question, I waited a while for a question and was starting to prepare my quiet crowd response, when a single question popped up in the chat box:

How do you know you can trust a journal?

As with all the best questions, this floored me for a while. How do you know? The usual things flashed across my mind: reputation, whether it’s published known scholars in its field, whether it is indexed by Cabells or other databases, etc. But suddenly the word trust felt a lot more personal than simply a tick box exercise to confirm a journal’s standing. That may confirm it is trustworthy but is that the same as the feeling an individual has when they really trust something or someone?

The issue of trust is often the unsaid part of the global debates that are raging currently, whether it is responses to the coronavirus epidemic, climate change or democracy. Politicians, as always, want the people to trust them; but increasingly their actions seem to be making that trust harder and harder. As I write, the UK put its two top scientists in front of the cameras to give a grave warning about COVID-19 and a second wave of cases. The fact there was no senior politician to join them was highly symbolic.

It is with this background that the choice of the theme Trust in Peer Review is an appropriate one for Peer Review Week (full disclosure: I have recently joined one of the PRW committees to support the initiative). There is a huge groundswell of support by publishers, editors and academics to support both the effectiveness of peer review and the unsung heroes who do the job for little recognition or reward. The absence of which would have profound implications for research and society as a whole.

Which brings me to the answer to the question posed above, which is to ask the opposite: how do you know when you cannot trust a journal? This is easier to answer as you can point to all those characteristics and behaviours that you would want in a journal. We see on a daily basis with our work on Predatory Reports how the absence of crucial aspects of a journal’s workings can cause huge problems for authors. No listed editor, a fake editorial board, a borrowed ISSN, a hijacked journal identity, a made-up impact factor, and – above all – false promises of a robust peer review process. Trust in peer review may require some research on the part of the author in terms of checking the background of the journal, its publisher and its editors, and it may require you to contact the editor, editorial board members or published authors to get personal advice on publishing in that journal. But doing that work in the first place and receiving personal recommendations will build trust in peer review for any authors who have doubts – and collectively for all members of the academic community.

Special report: Assessing journal quality and legitimacy

Earlier this year Cabells engaged CIBER Research (http://ciber-research.eu/) to support its product and marketing development work. Today, in collaboration with CIBER, Simon Linacre looks at the findings and implications for scholarly communications globally.


In recent months the UK-based publishing research body CIBER has been working with Cabells to better understand the academic publishing environment both specifically in terms of Medical research publications, and more broadly with regard to the continuing problems posed by predatory journals. While the research was commissioned privately by Cabells, it was always with the understanding that much of the findings could be shared openly to enable a better understanding of these two key areas.

The report — Assessing Journal Quality and Legitimacy: An Investigation into the Experience and Views of Researchers and Intermediaries – with special reference to the Health Sector and Predatory Publishinghas been shared today on CIBER’s website and the following briefly summarizes the key findings following six months’ worth of research:

  • The team at CIBER Research was asked to investigate how researchers in the health domain went about selecting journals to publish their papers, what tools they used to help them, and what their perceptions of new scholarly communications trends were, especially in regard to predatory journals. Through a mixture of questionnaire surveys and qualitative interviews with over 500 researchers and ‘intermediaries’ (i.e. librarians and research managers), research pointed to a high degree of self-sufficiency among researchers regarding journal selection
  • While researchers tended to use tools such as information databases to aid their decision-making, intermediaries focused on sharing their own experiences and providing education and training solutions to researchers. Overall, it was notable how much of a mismatch there was between what researchers said and what intermediaries did or believed
  • The existence of so-called ‘whitelists’ were common on a national and institutional level, as were the emergence of ‘greylists’ of journals to be wary of, however, there seemed to be no list of recommended journals in Medical research areas
  • In China, alongside its huge growth in research and publication output are concerns that predatory publishing could have an impact, with one participant stating that, “More attention is being paid to the potential for predatory publishing and this includes the emergence of Blacklists and Whitelists, which are government-sponsored. However, there is not just one there are many 10 or 20 or 50 different (white)lists in place”
  • In India, the explosion of predatory publishing is perhaps the consequence of educational and research expansion and the absence of infrastructure capacity to deal with it. An additional factor could be a lack of significant impetus at a local level to establish new journals, unlike in countries such as Brazil, however, universities are not legally able to establish new titles themselves. As a result, an immature market has attempted to develop new journals to satisfy scholars’ needs which in turn has led to the rise of predatory publishing in the country
  • Predatory publishing practices seemed to be having an increased impact on mainstream publishing activities globally, with grave risk of “potentially polluting repositories and citation indexes but there seems to have been little follow through by anyone.” National bodies, publishers and funders have failed to follow through on the threat and how it may have diverted funds away from legitimate publications to those engaged in illicit activities
  • Overall, predatory publishing is being driven by publish-or-perish scenarios, particularly with early career researchers (ECRs) where authors are unaware of predatory publishers in general, or of the identity of a specific journal. However, a cynical manipulation of such journals as outlets for publications is also suspected.

 

blog image 2
‘Why do you think researchers publish in predatory journals’

 


CIBER Research is an independent group of senior academic researchers from around the world, who specialize in scholarly communications and publish widely on the topic. Their most recent projects have included studies of early career researchers, digital libraries, academic reputation and trustworthiness.

 

A case study of how bad science spreads

Fake news has been the go-to criticism of the media for some politicians, which in turn has been rejected as propaganda and fear-mongering by journalists. However, as former journalist Simon Linacre argues, the fourth estate needs to have its own house is in order first, and ensure they are not tripped up by predatory journals.


I class myself as a ‘runner’, but only in the very loosest sense. Inspired by my wife taking up running a few years ago, I decided I should exercise consistently instead of the numerous half-hearted, unsuccessful attempts I had made over the years. Three years later I have done a couple of half-marathons, run every other day, and track my performance obsessively on Strava. I have also recently started to read articles on running online, and have subscribed to the magazine Runners World. So yes, I think I may actually be a runner now.

But I’m also an experienced journalist, a huge cynic, and have a bulls*** radar the size of the Grand Canyon, so even while relaxing with my magazine I like to think I can spot fakery a mile off. And so it proved earlier this summer while reading a piece on how hill running can improve your fitness. This was music to my ears as someone who lives half-way up a valley side, but my interest was then piqued when I saw a reference to the study that formed the basis for the piece, which was to an article in the International Journal of Scientific Research. Immediately, I smelt a rat. “There is no way that is the name of a reputable, peer-reviewed journal,” I thought. And I was right.

But that wasn’t even half of the problem.

After checking Cabells’ Predatory Reports database, I found not one but TWO journals are listed on the database with that name, both with long lists of breaches of the Cabells’ criteria that facilitate the identification of predatory journals. I was still curious as to the nature of the research, as it could have been legitimate research in an illegitimate journal, or just bad research, full stop. As it turned out, neither journal had ever published any research on hill running and the benefits of increasing VO2 max. So where was the story from?

After some more digging, an article matching the details in the Runners World piece could be found in a third similarly-named journal, the International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications. The article, far from the recent breakthrough suggested in the August 2020 issue of Runners World, was actually published in August 2017 by two authors from Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. While the science of the article seems OK, the experiment that produced the results was on just 32 people over 12 weeks, which means it really needs further validation across greater subjects to confirm its findings. Furthermore, while the journal itself was not included in Cabells’ Predatory Reports database, a review found significant failings, including unusually quick peer review processes and, more seriously, that the “owner/Editor of the journal or publisher falsely claims academic positions or qualifications”. The journal has subsequently been added to Predatory Reports, and the article itself has never been cited in the three years since publication.

Yet one question remains: how did a relatively obscure article, published in a predatory journal and that has never been cited, find its way into a news story in a leading consumer magazine? Interestingly, similar research was also quoted on MSN.com in May 2020 which also quoted the International Journal of Scientific Research, while other sites have also quoted the same research but from the International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications. It appears likely that, having been quoted online once, the same story has been doing the rounds for three years like a game of ‘Telephone,’ all based on uncited research that may not have been peer reviewed in the first place, that used a small sample size and was published in a predatory journal.

While no damage has been done here – underlying all this, it does make sense that hill running can aid overall performance – one need only need to think about the string of recent health news stories around the coronavirus to see how one unverified article could sweep like wildfire through news outlets and online. This is the danger that predatory journals pose.

They’re not doctors, but they play them on TV

Recently, while conducting investigations of suspected predatory journals, our team came across a lively candidate. At first, as is often the case, the journal in question seemed to look the part of a legitimate publication. However, after taking a closer look and reading through one of the journal’s articles (“Structural and functional brain differences in key opinion journal leaders“) it became clear that all was not as it seemed.

Neurology and Neurological Sciences: Open Access, from MedDocs Publishers, avoids a few of the more obvious red flags that indicate deceitful practices, even to neophyte researchers, but lurking just below the surface are several clear behavioral indicators common to predatory publications.

1a

With a submission date of August 22, 2018, and a publication date November 13, 2018, the timeline suggests that some sort of peer review of this article may have been carried out. A closer examination of the content makes it evident that little to no peer review actually took place. The first tip-off was the double-take inducing line in the “Material and methods” section, “To avoid gender bias, we recruited only males.” Wait, what? That’s not how that works.

It soon became clear to our team that even a rudimentary peer review process (or perhaps two minutes on Google) would have led to this article’s immediate rejection. While predatory journals are no laughing matter, especially when it comes to medical research in the time of a worldwide pandemic, it is hard not to get a chuckle from some of the “easter eggs” found within articles intended to expose predatory journals. Some of our favorites from this article:

  • Frasier Crane, a listed author, is the name of the psychiatrist from the popular sitcoms Cheers and Frasier
  • Another author, Alfred Bellow, is the name of the NASA psychiatrist from the TV show I Dream of Jeannie
  • Marvin Monroe is the counselor from The Simpsons
  • Katrina Cornwell is a therapist turned Starfleet officer on Star Trek: Discovery
  • Faber University is the name of the school in Animal House (Faber College in the film)
  • Orbison University, which also doesn’t exist, is likely a tribute to the late, great musician Roy Orbison

And, perhaps our favorite find and one we almost missed:

  • In the “Acknowledgments” section the authors thank “Prof Joseph Davola for his advice and assistance.” This is quite likely an homage to the Seinfeld character “Crazy Joe Davola.”

Though our team had a few laughs with this investigation, they were not long-lived as this is yet another illustration of the thousands (Predatory Reports currently lists well over 13,000 titles) of journals such as this one in operation. Outlets that publish almost (or literally) anything, usually for a fee, with no peer review or other oversight in place and with no consideration of the detrimental effect it may have on science and research.

MedDocs PR card
Predatory Reports listing for Neurology and Neurological Sciences: Open Access

A more nuanced issue that deceptive publications create involves citations. If this was legitimate research, the included citations would not ‘count’ or be picked up anywhere since this journal is not indexed in any citation databases. Furthermore, any citation in a predatory journal that cites a legitimate journal is ‘wasted’ as the legitimate journal cannot count or use that citation appropriately as a foundation for its legitimacy. However, these citations could be counted via Google Scholar, although (thankfully) this journal has zero. Citation ‘leakage’ can also occur, where a legitimate journal’s articles cite predatory journals, effectively ‘leaking’ those citations out of the illegitimate scholarly publishing sphere into legitimate areas. These practices can have the effect of skewing citation metrics which are measures often relied upon (sometimes exclusively, often too heavily) to gauge the legitimacy and impact of academic journals.

When all is said and done, as this “study” concludes, “the importance of carefully selecting journals when considering the submission of manuscripts,” cannot be overstated. While there is some debate around the use of “sting” articles such as this one to expose predatory publications, not having them exposed at all is far more dangerous.

Right path, wrong journey

In his latest post, Simon Linacre reviews the book, The Business of Scholarly Publishing: Managing in Turbulent Timesby Albert N. Greco, Professor of Marketing at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business, recently published by Oxford University Press.


Given the current backdrop for all industries, one might say that scholarly communications is in more turmoil than most. With the threat to the commercial model of subscriptions posed by increasing use of Open Access options by authors, as well as the depressed book market and recent closures of university presses, the last thing anyone needs in this particular industry is the increased uncertainty brought about by the coronavirus epidemic.

As such, a book looking back at where the scholarly communications industry has come from and an appraisal of where it is now and how it should pivot to remain relevant in the future would seem like a worthwhile enterprise. Just such a book, The Business of Scholarly Publishing: Managing in Turbulent Times, has recently been written by Albert N. Greco, a U.S. professor of marketing who aims to “turn a critical eye to the product, price, placement, promotion, and costs of scholarly books and journals with a primary emphasis on the trajectory over the last ten years.”

However, in addition to this critical eye, the book needs a more practical look at how the industry has been shaken up in the last 25 years or so. It is difficult to imagine either an experienced academic librarian or industry professional advised on the direction of the book, as it has a real blind spot when it comes to some of the major issues impacting the industry today.

The first of these historical misses is a failure to mention Robert Maxwell and his acquisition of Pergamon Press in the early 1950s. Over the next two decades the books and journals publisher saw huge increases in revenues and volumes of titles, establishing a business model of rapid growth using high year-on-year price increases for must-have titles that many argue persists to this day.

The second blind spot is around Open Access (OA). This subject is covered, although not in the detail one would like given its importance to the journal publishing industry in 2020. While one cannot blame the author for missing the evolving story around Plan S, Big Deal cancellations and other OA-related stories, one might expect more background on exactly how OA started life, what the first OA journals were, the variety of declarations around the turn of the Millennium, and how technology enabled OA to become the dominant paradigm in subject areas.

This misstep may be due to the overall slight bias towards books we find in the text, and indeed the emerging issues around OA books are well covered. There are also extremely comprehensive deep dives into publishing finances and trends since 200 that mean that the book does provide a worthy companion to any academic study of publishing from 2000 to 2016.

And this brings us to the third missing element, which is the lack of appreciation of new entrants and new forms in scholarly publishing. For example, there is no mention of F1000 and post-publication peer review, little on the establishment of preprint servers or institutional repositories, and nothing on OA-only publishers such as Frontiers and Hindawi.

As a result, the book is simply a (very) academic study of some publishing trends in the 2000s and 2010s, and like much academic research is both redundant and irrelevant for those practicing in the industry. This is typified in a promising final chapter that seeks to offer “new business strategies in scholarly publishing” by suggesting that short scholarly books, and data and library publishing programs should be examined, without acknowledging that all of these already exist.


The Business of Scholarly Publishing: Managing in Turbulent Times, by Albert N. Greco  (published April 28, 2020, OUP USA) ISBN: 978-0190626235.

Reversal of fortune

One of the most common questions Cabells is asked about its Predatory Reports database of journals is whether it has ever “changed its mind” about listing a journal. As Simon Linacre reports, it is less a question of changing the outcome of a decision, but more of a leopard changing its spots.


This week saw the annual release of Journal Impact Factors from Clarivate Analytics, and along with it the rather less august list of journals whose Impact Factors have been suppressed in Web of Science. This year there were 33 journals suspended, all of which for “anomalous citation patterns found in the 2019 citation data” which pertained to high levels of self-citation. Such a result is the worst nightmare for a publisher, as while they can be due to gaming citation levels, they can also sometimes reflect the niche nature of a subject area, or other anomalies about a journal.

Sometimes the decision can be changed, although it is often a year or two before the data can prove a journal has changed its ways. Similarly, Cabells offers a review process for every journal it lists in its Predatory Reports database, and when I arrived at the company in 2018, like many people one of the first things I asked was: has Cabells ever had a successful review to delist a journal?

Open for debate

The answer is yes, but the details of those cases are quite instructive as to why journals are included on the database in the first place, and perhaps more importantly whey they are not. Firstly, however, some context. It is three years since the Predatory Reports database was first launched, and in that time almost 13,500 journals have been included. Each journal has a link next to the violations on its report for anyone associated with that journal to view the policy and appeal the decision:

1a

This policy clearly states:

The Cabells Review Board will consider Predatory Journal appeals with a frequency of one appeal request per year, per journal. Publications in Predatory Reports, those with unacceptable practices, are encouraged to amend their procedures to comply with accepted industry standards.

Since 2017, there have been just 20 appeals against decisions to list journals in Predatory Reports (0.15% of all listed journals), and only three have been successful (0.02%). In the first case (Journal A), the journal’s peer review processes were checked and it was determined that some peer reviews were being completed, albeit very lightly. In addition, Cabells’ investigators found a previous example of dual publication. However, following the listing, the journal dealt with the problems and retracted the article it had published as it seemed the author had submitted two identical articles simultaneously. This in turn led to Cabells revising its evaluations so that particular violation does not penalize journals for something where an author was to blame.

In the second review (Journal B), Cabells evaluated the journal’s peer review process and found that it was also not completing full peer reviews and had a number of other issues. It displayed metrics in a misleading way, lacked editorial policies on its website and did not have a process for plagiarism screening. After its listing in PR, the journal’s publisher fixed the misleading elements on its website and demonstrated improvements to its editorial processes. In this second case, it was clear that the journal’s practices were misleading and deceptive, but they chose to change and improve their practices.”

Finally, a third journal (Journal C) has just had a successful appeal completed. In this case, there were several problems that the journal was able to correct by being more transparent on its website. It added or cleared up confusion about the necessary policies and made information about its author fees available. Cabells was also able to evaluate its peer review process after it submitted peer review notes on a few articles and it was evident the journal editor was managing a good quality peer review, hence it has now been removed from the Predatory Reports database (it should be noted that, as with the other two successful appeals, journals removed from Predatory Reports are not then automatically included in the Cabells Journalytics database).

Learning curve

Cabells’ takeaway from all of these successful reviews was they were indeed successful – they showed that the original identification was correct, and they enabled improvements that identified them as better, and certainly non-predatory, journals. They also fed into the continuing improvement Cabells seeks in refining its Predatory Reports criteria, with a further update due to be published later this summer.

There are also things to learn from unsuccessful reviews. In one case a publisher appealed a number of its journals that were included on Predatory Reports. However, their appeal only highlighted how bad the journals actually were. Indeed, an in-depth review of each journal not only uncovered new violations that were subsequently added to the journals, but also led to the addition of a brand new violation that is to be included in the upcoming revision of the Predatory Reports criteria.

The scientific predator has evolved – here’s how you can fight back

Today’s post was written by Simon Linacre, Director of International Marketing and Development at Cabells, and Irfan Syed, Senior Writer and Editor at Editage Insights.


How do you identify a predatory journal? Easy, look up your spam folder – say seasoned researchers.

Actually, this ‘initial indicator’ is often the key to identifying a predatory journal. Predatory publishers send researchers frequent emails soliciting manuscripts and promising acceptance – messages that, thanks to the email service provider’s parameters, usually go straight to junk mail. Some cleverly disguised ones do make it to the inbox though, and sometimes, unwary researchers click one of these mails, unleashing the predator and an all-too-familiar sequence of events: Researcher sends manuscript. Receives quick acceptance often without a peer review. Signs off copyright. Receives a staggeringly large invoice. Is unable to pay. Asks to withdraw. Receives equally heavy withdrawal invoice – and threats. The cycle continues, the publisher getting incrementally coercive, the researcher increasingly frustrated.

What makes a predator

The term predatory journal was coined by Jeffrey Beall, former Scholarly Initiatives Librarian at the University of Denver, Colorado, in 2010, when he launched his eponymous list (now archived) of fake scientific journals, with an aim to educate the scientific community. The term was supposed to mirror the guile of carnivores in the wild: targeting the weak, launching a surprise ambush, and effecting a merciless finish.

A more academic definition might be: “Entities that prioritize self-interest at the expense of scholarship and are characterized by false or misleading information, deviation from best editorial and publication practices, a lack of transparency, and/or the use of aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation practices.” In other words, journals that put commerce before science.

Dubious scientific journals have existed since the 1980s. They were born to lend an easy passage out of the arduous road to acceptance laid by top-rung journals. Recently, they have received a boost from the rise of the open access (OA) movement, which seeks to shift the balance of power towards the researcher. However, with revenues now accruing from the author side, new researchers pressured by a ‘publish or perish’ culture have proved easy targets for predatory publishers that exploit the OA publishing model.

The new face of predation

Today, academia faces another threat, a new predator in scientific communications – predatory author services. The dangers of using predatory author services can be just as acute as those of predatory journals. Authors who pay for such services are risking the abuse of any funding they have received by in turn funding potentially criminal activity. Such predatory author services may not be equipped to make quality edits to an author’s paper – incorrect edits, changes in the author’s intended meaning, and unidentified errors may adversely affect the author’s manuscript. Many authors choose such services to improve their articles and increase their chances of acceptance in high-quality journals, but they are very likely to be disappointed in light of the quality of services they receive.

So, the issue of predatory author services is just as problematic as it is with predatory journals. Despite the efforts of industry bodies such as COPE, it seems there are new players entering the market and even advertising on social media platforms such as Facebook. More worryingly, examples of these predatory services seem to include a veneer of sophistication hitherto not seen before, including well-designed websites, live online chat features, and direct calling.

Spotting a predatory author service

The good news is that these services bear many of the traits of predatory journals, and can be identified with a little background research. Here are some tips on how to separate predatory author services from professional operations such as Cactus’ Editage:

  • Check the English: For a legitimate journal to have spelling or grammar errors on its site or published articles would be a heinous crime, but this should go double for an author services provider. So, beyond the slick graphics and smiling model faces, check if everything is as it should appear by a thorough check of the English
  • Click the links: Dead links, links that loop back to the homepage, or links that don’t match the text should further raise your suspicion
  • Research the partnerships: If a provider genuinely works with Web of Science, Scopus, and The Lancet, there should be evidence of that rather mere logos copied and pasted onto the homepage. Search online for these publicized partnerships to know if they are genuine
  • Look up the provenance: Many predatory operators leave no address at all. Some though will choose to include a fake address (which turns out to be a long-abandoned dry-cleaning store on a deserted high street or a legitimate address that’s also home to 1,847 other registered companies). A quick search on Google Maps will show whether the address does map
  • Run if you spot a ghost: The surest giveaway of a predatory author service is the offering of ghostwriting as a service. Ghost authorship, the act of someone else authoring your entire manuscript, is a violation of research integrity. And when even ghostwriting doesn’t suffice, these services are happy to plagiarize another author’s work and pass it off as the client’s own
  • Ask your peers: Before deciding to use a service, double-check any testimonials on the provider’s homepage or ask around in your peer network.

Taking on the predator – collectively and individually

The scientific predator will no doubt continue to evolve, getting more sophisticated with time. Ultimately, all anyone can do to eradicate predatory author services or journals is to increase awareness among authors and provide resources to help them identify such predators. Cabells, Cactus, and many other industry players continually work to provide this guidance, but a good deal of the burden of responsibility has to be shared by academic researchers themselves. As the Romans might have said, caveat scriptor – author beware!

For any authoring service ad or mail you come across, look it up. Search on the net, ask your fellow researchers, pose a query in a researcher forum, go through recommended journal indices of quality and predatory publications such as those of Cabells. If it’s genuine, it will show up in several searches – and you will live to publish another day.

For further help and support in choosing the right journal or author services, go to: www.cabells.com or www.editage.com.

Five dos and don’ts for avoiding predatory journals

HAVE YOUR SAY

Publication ethics is at the core of everything that Cabells does, and it continually promotes all scholarly communication bodies which seek to uphold the highest standard of publishing practices. As such, we would like to express our support for Simon Linacre (Cabells’ Director of International Marketing and Development) in his candidacy to become a COPE Trustee. COPE plays an essential role in ensuring scholarly publishing maintains the highest standards, and if you are a COPE member is it important you use your vote to support the organization’s progress.

Simon has been with Cabells two years, and involved in academic publishing for almost 20 years. In that time he has gained wide experience of all aspects of journal publishing, and in particular Open Access issues which this role focuses on.

If you would like to vote in the election, please go to the COPE website, log in and cast your vote for your favored candidate.

Thanks, The Cabells Team

It is three years since Cabells first launched its database on predatory journals, and a good deal has happened in that time in the world of scholarly publishing. In his latest post, Simon Linacre reflects on these changes and offers some ‘dos and don’ts’ on the latest version of the database.


In June 2017 – which seems a lifetime ago now for all sorts of reasons – Cabells launched a new database that included details on over 4,000 predatory journals. It was the first time that a resource of that size had been made available to researchers who wanted to check the legitimacy or otherwise of journals they may be considering as a destination for their articles. In the intervening years, it is to be hoped many authors have been alerted to the dangers of publishing their research in such journals and benefited from worthwhile publishing experiences in good journals.

At the time, Cabells chose to name the database the ‘Blacklist’ as the most straightforward description of the intent of the database. As some may have seen, we brought forward the decision to change its name to ‘Predatory Reports’ last week in the first of a number of changes Cabells intends to introduce in 2020 and beyond.

5.5 x 8.5 – PR - front

The new name includes the word ‘Reports’ for an important reason. The database has been designed as more than a simple list of predatory, fake or questionable journals – it has also been put together so that researchers can use the information that has been collated on all 13,400 journals to inform their understanding of scholarly communications, and as a result, make better decisions about their research publications and career into the future. In this spirit, here are FIVE DOS AND DON’TS of how to use the Cabells Predatory Reports database:

  1. DO check all violations listed for each journal on Predatory Reports to fully understand what the journal is NOT doing properly, as this can to help identify predatory behavior in future
  2. DON’T trust a journal because it has an ISSN on its website – over 40% of journals listed on Predatory Reports include one, with many copied from legitimate journals or simply invented
  3. DO check the publisher’s name in the ‘Advanced Search’ option if a journal is not included on the database, as the same publisher could have created a new journal with the same predatory behaviors
  4. DON’T visit a predatory journal website unnecessarily as they could contain malware – hover the cursor over the website to view the full URL to see if it corresponds to that of the journal being checked out
  5. DO send Cabells updates or information on potential new predatory journals by sending an email to ‘journals@cabells.com’

And as a final ‘DO’, do click the link to our 70+ criteria that we use to identify predatory journals – these will be updated soon to streamline and clarify the process of reviewing journals for inclusion in Predatory Reports, and offer a much more robust checklist than currently exists to help researchers avoid falling into the predatory journal trap.

No time for rest

This week The Economist published an article on predatory publishing following collaboration with Cabells. Simon Linacre looks into the findings and points to how a focus on education can avert a disaster for Covid-19 and other important research.


One of the consequences of the all-consuming global interest in the coronavirus pandemic is that it has catapulted science and scientists right onto the front pages and into the public’s range of vision. For the most part, this should be a good thing, as there quite rightly has to be a respect and focus on what the facts say about one of the most widespread viruses there has ever been. However, there have been some moments where science itself has been undermined by some of the rather complex structures that support it. And like it or not, scholarly communication is one of them.

Let’s take the perspective of, say, a mother who is worried about the safety of her kids when they go back to school. Understandably, she starts to look online and in the media for what the science says, as many governments have sought to quell fears people have by saying they are ‘following the science’. But once online, they are faced with a tangled forest of articles, journals, jargon, paywalls and small print, with the media seemingly supporting contradictory statements depending on the newspaper or website you read. For example, this week’s UK newspapers have led on how the reduction of social distancing from 2m to 1m can double the infection rate, or be many times better than having no social distancing – both factually accurate and from the same peer reviewed study in The Lancet.

Another area that has seen a good deal of coverage has been preprints, and how they can speed up the dissemination of science… or have the capability of disseminating false data and findings due to lack of peer review, again depending on where you cast your eye. The concerns represented by media bias, the complexity of information and lack of peer review all combine into one huge problem that could be coming down the line very soon, and that is the prospect of predatory journals publishing erroneous, untested information as research in one of the thousands of predatory journals currently active.

This week Cabells collaborated with The Economist to focus some of these issues, highlighting that:

  • Around a third of journals on both the Cabells Journal Whitelist and Blacklist focus on health, with predatory journals in subjects such as maths and physics number more than legitimate journals
  • Geography plays a significant role, with many more English language predatory journals based in India and Nigeria than reliable ones
  • The average output of a predatory journal is 50 articles a year, although 60% of these will never be cited (compared to 10% for legitimate journals)
  • Despite the like of peer review or any of the usual publishing checks, an estimated 250,000 articles each year are cited in other journals
  • Most common severe behaviors (which are liable to lead to inclusion in the Blacklist) are articles missing from issues or archives, lack of editor or editorial board on the website, and journals claiming misleading metrics or inclusion in well-known indexes.

Understandably, The Economist makes the link between so much fake or unchecked science being published and the current coronavirus threat, concluding: “Cabells’ guidelines will only start to catch dodgy studies on COVID-19 once they appear in predatory journals. But the fact that so many “scholars” use such outlets means that working papers on the disease should face extra-thorough scrutiny.” We have been warned.

Gray area

While Cabells spends much of its time assessing journals for inclusion in its Verified or Predatory lists, probably the greater number of titles reside outside the parameters of those two containers. In his latest blog, Simon Linacre opens up a discussion on what might be termed ‘gray journals’ and what their profiles could look like.


 

The concept of ‘gray literature’ to describe a variety of information produced outside traditional publishing channels has been around since at least the 1970s, and has been defined as “information produced on all levels of government, academia, business and industry in electronic and print formats not controlled by commercial publishing (ie. where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body*” (1997; 2004). The definition plays an important role in both characterizing and categorizing information outside the usual forms of academic content, and in a way is the opposite of the chaos and murkiness the term ‘gray’ perhaps suggests.

The same could not be said, however, if we were to apply the same term to those journals that inhabit worlds outside the two main databases Cabells curates. Its Journal Whitelist indexes over 11,000 journals that satisfy its criteria to assess whether a journal is a reputable outlet for publication. As such, it is a list of recommended journals for any academic to entrust their research to. The same cannot be said, however, for the Journal Blacklist, which is a list of over 13,000 journals that NO ONE should recommend publication in, given that they have ‘met’ several of Cabells’ criteria.

So, after these two cohorts of journals, what’s left over? This has always been an intriguing question and one which was alluded to most intelligently recently by Kyle Siler in a piece for the LSE Impact Blog. There is no accurate data available on just how many journals there are in existence, as like grains of sand they are created and disappear before they can all be counted. Scopus currently indexes well over 30,000 journals, so a conservative estimate might be that there are over 50,000 journals currently active, with 10,000 titles or more not indexed in any recognized database. Using Cabells experience of assessing these journals for both Whitelist and Blacklist inclusion, here are some profiles that might help researchers spot which option might be best for them:

  • The Not-for-Academics Academic Journal: Practitioner journals often fall foul of indexers as they are not designed to be used and cited in the same way as academic journals, despite the fact they look like them. As a result, journals that have quite useful content are often overlooked due to lack of citations or a non-academic style, but can include some good quality content
  • The So-Bad-it’s-Bad Journal: Just awful in every way – poor editing, poor language, uninteresting research and research replicated from elsewhere. However, it is honest and peer reviewed, so provides a legitimate outlet of sorts
  • The Niche-of-a-Niche Journal: Probably focusing on a scientific area you have never heard of, this journal drills down into a subject area and keeps on drilling so that only a handful of people in the world have the foggiest what it’s about. But if you are one of the lucky ones, it’s awesome. Just don’t expect citation awards any time soon
  • The Up-and-Coming Journal: Many indexers prefer to wait a year or two before including a journal in their databases, as citations and other metrics can start to be used to assess quality and consistent publication. In the early years, quality can vary widely, but reading the output so far is at least feasible to aid the publishing decision
  • The Worthy Amateur Journal: Often based in a non-research institution or little-known association, these journals have the right idea but publish haphazardly, have small editorial boards and little financial support, producing unattractive-looking journals that may nevertheless hide some worthy articles.

Of course, when you arrive at the publication decision and happen upon a candidate journal that is not indexed, as we said last week simply ‘research your research’: check against the Blacklist and its criteria to detect any predatory characteristics, research the Editor and the journal’s advisory board for their publishing records and seek out the opinion of others before sending your precious article off into the gray ether.


*Third International Conference on Grey Literature in 1997 (ICGL Luxembourg definition, 1997 – Expanded in New York, 2004


***LAST CHANCE!***

If you haven’t already completed our survey, there is still time to provide your feedback. Cabells is undertaking a review of the current branding for ‘The Journal Whitelist’ and ‘The Journal Blacklist’. As part of this process, we’d like to gather feedback from the research community to understand how you view these products, and which of the proposed brand names you prefer.

Our short survey should take no more than ten minutes to complete, and can be taken here.

As thanks for your time, you’ll have the option to enter into a draw to win one of four Amazon gift vouchers worth $25 (or your local equivalent). More information is available in the survey.

Many thanks in advance for your valuable feedback!