The top nine questions on predatory journals – answered!

In the course of researching a book on predatory publishing, Simon Linacre wanted to find some answers to common questions on the subject. In his latest blog post, he shares why straightforward is never easy when it comes to this controversial topic.


Have you ever wondered where those questions come from near the top of a Google search? Headlined ‘People Also Ask’ (PAA), the feature was introduced by Google in 2015 to aid search activities, and, according to SearchEngineWatch.com, the feature now appears in around half of all searches. The algorithms that trigger the feature seem to work more with searches based on questions and that include multiple keywords, and now form part of the standard toolbox of any digital marketer, as it opens up a wider range of sites than the top three hits at the top of a Google search engine results page (SERP).

For academic researchers, the feature is probably both a benefit and an irrelevance. While it may help some to gain a wider understanding of what kinds of questions are being asked about a topic – and it certainly helped me in this regard – it will also annoy others with much more sophisticated skills and needs for their search activities, where being sent down a potential blind alley is something to be avoided.

But do the questions posed by the algorithm any use? To put it to the test, here are the top nine results to the question, ‘What is a predatory journal?’, which was posed on Wednesday 23rd June 2021. The initial question reveals four results (see Figure A), clicking on the first answer reveals a further two (Figure B), and clicking on the second question reveals a total of nine questions (Figure C). These questions will differ depending on which question is clicked, as the algorithm seeks to provide further related questions to the initial one that was clicked on.

Figure A

Figure B

Figure C

Each question provides a summary answer and link through to the original web page, which will inevitably vary greatly in how useful they actually are. Some sources are blogs, some university library guides, and others Wikipedia. What is perhaps concerning is the direction the questions take, in that it is not the sources per se that provide worrying information, but the questions that are posed in the first place, presumably from an algorithm based on usage data and relevance to the questions being asked. So, to try and set the record straight in our own small way, here are some short and more realistic answers to the nine questions Google puts forward as most relevant to the predatory journal question:

Q. What is meant be predatory Journal?

Wikipedia supplies as good a short description as any, with the addition that there is rarely if any peer review at all: “Predatory publishing is an exploitative academic publishing business model that involves charging publication fees to authors without checking articles for quality and legitimacy, and without providing editorial and publishing services that legitimate academic journals provide, whether open access or not.”

Q. How do you know if a journal is predatory?

Common indicators include fake claims of an Impact Factor, lack of information/lies about the Editorial Board, and unrealistic promises of a fast turnaround.

Q. What happens if you publish in a predatory journal?

It stays published – retraction is highly unlikely, and to try and republish the article in a legitimate journal will only compound the problem by breaching publication ethics guidelines.

Q. What is a predatory journal a journal published over Internet?

Predatory journals began life by taking advantage of online publication as well as the Open Access model – both things were simply combined to create the right circumstances for predatory journals to evolve.

Q. Why are predatory journals bad?

Predatory journals do not check the validity or accuracy of submitted research but present it as if they have. As a result junk science, propaganda, and faked research can appear and be accessed by other academics and the general public alike, causing confusion and potential harm to anyone adopting that research for another purpose.

Q. Is PLOS ONE a predatory journal?

No, not at all. PLOS ONE like many so-called ‘mega-journals’ publish large numbers of articles based on a light-touch peer review that nevertheless checks the validity and accuracy of the research articles submitted.

Q. How can you detect and avoid predatory journals?

Research the topic and use the many guidelines provided by university libraries around the world. You can also use Cabells’ own criteria it uses to identify them for inclusion in its Predatory Reports database.

Q How many predatory journals are there?

There are currently 14,647 journals listed on Cabells’ Predatory Reports database.

Q. What is the warning sign that a journal or publisher is predatory?

In addition to the common indicators listed above, other more superficial signs can include poor grammar/spelling, very broad coverage of a topic, or solicitation of article submissions with excessive flattery in spam emails.

The rise and rise of predatory journals and conferences

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Tracey Elliott, Ph.D. Dr. Elliott is the Project Director at InterAcademy Partnership (IAP), currently overseeing Combatting Predatory Academic Journals and Conferences.


Predatory academic journals and, even more so, predatory conferences have been given surprisingly little attention in academic circles, despite their rapid growth and sophistication in recent years.  Juxtaposed with the pervasive “publish or perish” research assessment culture, where quantity trumps quality, the research community risks sleepwalking into a perfect storm.  Predatory academic practices are one manifestation of a surge in online scams and deceit that are deluging many sectors, fuelled further by changes in (post-) pandemic lifestyles, but their impact on the knowledge economy, research enterprise, and public policy is potentially profound. 

The InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) – the global network of over 140 academies of science, engineering and medicine – is leading an international project “Combatting predatory journals and conferences” which seeks to better understand the growing menace of these practices, gauge their extent and impact, what drives them and what actions are required to curb them.  With the number of predatory journals now estimated to be at least 14,500 (Cabells) and predatory conferences believed to outnumber legitimate ones (THES), this project is imperative and our recent survey of researchers all over the world is illuminating.

Conducted in November-December 2020, the survey gives concerning insight into the extent and impact of predatory practices across the world.  Based on the 1800+ respondents, two headlines are particularly striking:

1. Over 80% of respondents perceived predatory practices to be a serious problem or on the rise in their country.
2. At least a quarter of respondents had either published in a predatory journal, participated in a predatory conference, or did not know if they had.  Reasons cited for this included a lack of awareness of such scams and encouragement by their peers. Indeed, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that the use of predatory journals and conferences is embedded, or at least tolerated, in some institutions/networks.

Contrary to some studies citing that early career researchers are especially vulnerable, we found no correlation between a researcher’s career stage, or their discipline, with their likelihood to publish in a predatory journal or participate in a predatory conference.  However, there is a small correlation with the economic status of the country in which they work, with those in lower- and middle-income countries more likely to participate or publish than those in high-income countries. If left unchecked, the research gap between higher- and lower-income countries risks widening. Putting definitive guidance on predatory journals behind paywalls, whilst sometimes unavoidable, risks exacerbating this further.

A challenge for such essential services, whether paywalled or not, is how to distinguish fraudulent, deceitful journals from low quality but well-intentioned and legitimate ones. Whilst bringing the clarity researchers crave, journal safelists and watchlists force an in or out binary decision that is increasingly inadequate and unfair.  In reality, there is a spectrum of fast-evolving and highly nuanced publishing practices that makes Cabell’s and its counterparts’ work very difficult. IAP is currently exploring a subset of Cabell’s-listed predatory journals using internet scraping and spidering techniques for data on predatory publishing.

Our project report, anticipated by early 2022, will include recommendations for all key stakeholder communities – researchers, research funders, publishers, academies and universities, libraries, and indexing services. With IAP as a conduit to academies and research communities throughout the world, we will focus on awareness-raising, training, and mentoring resources, and mobilising governments, multilateral and intergovernmental organisations.

Industrial disease

It’s almost four years since Cabells launched its Predatory Reports database, but the battle to overcome predatory journals shows no signs of abating. As a result, Cabells is constantly developing new ways to support authors and their institutions in dealing with the problem, and this week Simon Linacre reports from the virtual SSP Annual Meeting on a new collaboration with Edifix from Inera, which helps identify articles and authors published in predatory journals.

A common retort heard or read on social media whenever there is a discussion on predatory journals can go something like this: “is there really any harm done?”, “some research is only good enough for those kind of journals,” or “everyone knows those journals are fake.” For the latter rejoinders, there is some justification for taking those perspectives, and if recent global events have taught us anything it is that we need a sense of proportion when dealing with scientific breakthroughs and analysis. But the former point really doesn’t hold water because, when you think it through, there is a good deal of harm done to a number of different stakeholders as a result of one article appearing in a predatory journal.

Predatory journals do researchers and their institutions a huge disservice by claiming to be a reputable outlet for publication. Legitimate journals provide valuable services to both promote and protect authors’ work, which simply doesn’t happen with predatory journals. Essentially, there are three key reasons why authors and their employers can suffer harm from publishing in the wrong journals:

  • Their work may be subject to sub-par peer review, or more likely no peer review at all. The peer review system isn’t perfect, but papers that undergo peer review are better for it. Researchers want to make sure they are publishing in a place that values their work and is willing to devote time and resources to improving it.
  • Versions of record could disappear. One of the advantages of publishing with a reputable journal is that they make commitments to preserve authors’ work. Opportunists looking to make a quick buck are not going to care if your paper is still available in five years – or even five weeks.
  • Published articles will be hard to find. Some predatory journals advertise that they are included in well-known databases like Web of Science, Scopus, or Cabells when they are not. Predatory journals invest nothing in SEO or work to include journals in research databases, so research won’t be easily discoverable.

So, it is in the interests of authors, universities, societies, funders and society itself that research is not lost to predatory publishing activities. Checking against a database such as Predatory Reports will help those stakeholders, but to augment their capabilities Cabells is collaborating with Atypon’s Inera division, and specifically its Edifix product to help prevent ‘citation contamination’. This is where illegitimate articles published in predatory journals find their way into the research bloodstream by being referenced by legitimate journals. With Edifix, users can now vet bibliographic reference lists for citations to predatory journals, as identified by Predatory Reports.

This new Edifix web service with the automated Cabells Reference Checking Tool was showcased at SSP’s Annual Meeting (meeting registration required) this week (and previewed in an SSP sponsored session in October 2020) with a host of other new innovations, collaborations and product developments from the scholarly communications industry. While it would have been great to see old friends and colleagues in person at the event, the virtual format enabled much wider, international engagement which contributed to an undoubtedly successful event.