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.

Back to basics

As we enter what is an uncertain 2021 for many both personally and professionally, it is worth perhaps taking the opportunity to reset and refocus on what matters most to us. In his latest blog post, Simon Linacre reflects on Cabells’ new video and how it endeavors to show what makes us tick.

It is one of the ironies of modern life that we seem to take comfort in ‘doomscrolling’, that addictive pastime of flicking through Twitter on other social media on the hunt for the next scandal to inflame our ire. Whether it is Brexit, the coronavirus epidemic or alleged election shenanigans, we can’t seem to get enough of the tolls of doom ringing out in our collective echo chambers. As the New Year dawns with little good news to cheer us, we may as well go all in as the world goes to hell in a handcart.

Of course, we also like the lighter moments that social media provide, such as cat videos and epic fails. And it is comforting to hear some stories that renew our faith in humanity. One parent on Twitter remarked this week as the UK’s schools closed and reverted to online learning, that she was so proud of her child who, on hearing the news, immediately started blowing up an exercise ball with the resolve not to waste the opportunity lockdown provided of getting fit.

Reminding ourselves that the glass can be at least half full even if it looks completely empty is definitely a worthwhile exercise, even if it feels like the effort of constantly refilling it is totally overwhelming. At Cabells, our source of optimism has recently come from the launch of our new video. The aim of the video is to go back to basics and explain what Cabells does, why it does it, and how it does it through its two main products – Journalytics and Predatory Reports.

Making the video was a lot of fun, on what was a beautiful sunny Spring day in Edinburgh with one of my US colleagues at an academic conference (remember them?). While nerve-shredding and embarrassing, it was also good to go back to basics and underline why Cabells exists and what we hope to achieve through all the work we do auditing thousands of journals every year.

It also acted as a reminder that there is much to look forward to in 2021 that will keep our glasses at least half full for most of the time. Cabells will launch its new Medical journal database early this year, which will see over 5,000 Medical journals indexed alongside the 11,000 journals indexed in Journalytics. And we also have major upgrades and enhancements planned for both Journalytics and Predatory Reports databases that will help researchers, librarians and funders better analyse journal publishing activities. So, let’s raise a (half full) glass to the New Year, and focus on the light at the end of the tunnel and not the darkness that seems to surround us in early January.

What to know about ISSNs

There are many ways to skin a cat, and many ways to infer a journal could be predatory. In his latest blog post, Simon Linacre looks at the role the International Standard Serial Number, or ISSN, can play in the production of predatory journals. 

For many reasons, the year 2020 will be remembered for the sheer volume of numbers that have invaded our consciousness. Some of these are big numbers – 80 million votes for Joe Biden, four million cases of COVID in the US in 2020 – and some of these will be small, such as the number of countries (1) leaving the EU at the end of the year. Wherever we look, we see numbers of varying degrees of import at seemingly every turn.

While numbers have been previously regarded as gospel, however, data has joined news and UFO sightings (seemingly one of the few phenomena NOT to increase in 2020) as something to be suspicious about or faked in some way. And one piece of data trusted by many authors in determining the validity or otherwise of a journal is the International Standard Serial Number, or ISSN.

An ISSN can be obtained relatively easily via either a national or international office as long as a journal can be identified as an existing publication. As the ISSN’s own website states, an ISSN is “a digital code without any intrinsic meaning” and does not include any information about the contents of that publication. Perhaps most importantly, an ISSN “does not guarantee the quality or the validity of the contents”. This perhaps goes some way to explain why predatory journals can often include an ISSN on their websites. Indeed, more than 40% of the journals included in Cabells’ Predatory Reports database include an ISSN in their journal information.

But sometimes predatory publishers can’t obtain an ISSN – or at least can’t be bothered to – and will fake the ISSN code. Of the 6,000 or so journals with an ISSN in Predatory Reports, 288 or nearly 5% have a fake ISSN, and this is included as one of the database’s behavioural indicators to help identify predatory activity. It is instructive to look at these fake ISSNs to see the lengths predatory publishers will go to in order to achieve some semblance of credibility in their site presence.

For some journals, it is obvious that the ISSN is fake as it looks wrong. In the example above for the Journal of Advanced Statistics and Probability, the familiar two groups of four digits followed by a hyphen format is missing, replaced by nine digits and a forward slash, which is incorrect.

For other journals, such as the Global Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Biology below, the format is correct, but a search using the ISSN portal brings up no results, so the ISSN code is simply made up.

More worrying are the few publications that have hijacked existing, legitimate journals and appropriated their identity, including the ISSN. In the example below, the Wulfenia Journal has had its identity hijacked, with the fake journal website pictured below.

If you compare it to the genuine journal shown below (the German homepage can be found here), you can see they list the same ISSN.

One can only imagine the chaos caused for a legitimate journal when its identity is hijacked, and this is just part of wider concerns on the effects of fake information being shared have on society. As always, arming yourself with the right information – and taking a critical approach to any information directed your way – will help see you through the morass of misinformation we seem to be bombarded with in the online world.

Cabells and Inera present free webinar: Flagging Predatory Journals to Fight “Citation Contamination”

Cabells and Inera are excited to co-sponsor the free on-demand webinar “Flagging Predatory Journals to Fight ‘Citation Contamination'” now available to stream via SSP OnDemand. Originally designed as a sponsored session for the 2020 SSP Annual Meeting, this webinar is presented by Kathleen Berryman of Cabells and Liz Blake of Inera, with assistance from Bruce Rosenblum and Sylvia Izzo Hunter, also from Inera.

The webinar outlines an innovative collaborative solution to the problem of “citation contamination”—citations to content published in predatory journals with a variety of bad publication practices, such as invented editorial boards and lack of peer review, hiding in plain sight in authors’ bibliographies.

DON’T MISS IT! On Thursday, November 12, 2020, at 11:00 am Eastern / 8:00 am Pacific, Kathleen and Liz will host a live screening with real-time chat followed by a Q&A!

For relevant background reading on this topic, we recommend these Scholarly Kitchen posts:

The A-Z’s of predatory publishing

Earlier this year Cabells (@CabellsPublish) published an A-Z list of issues regarding predatory publishing practices, with one Tweet a week going through the entire alphabet. In this week’s blog, Simon Linacre republishes all 26 tweets in one place as a primer on how to successfully deal with the phenomenon

A = American. US probable source of #PredatoryJournals activity as it lends credence to claims of legitimacy a journal may adopt to hoodwink authors into submitting articles #PredatoryAlphabet #PredatoryJournal #PublicationEthics

B = British. Questionable journals often use ‘British’ as a proxy for quality. Over 600 include this descriptor in the Predatory Reports database, many more than in the Journalytics database of recommended journals

C = Conferences. Predatory conferences bear the same hallmarks as #PredatoryJournals – few named academics involved, too-good-to-be-true fees & poorly worded/designed websites. Some tips here.

D = Dual Publication. Publishing in #PredatoryJournals can lead to dual publication if the same article is then published in a legitimate journal

E = Editor (or lack of). Always check if a journal has an Editor, with an institutional email address and corroborated affiliation. Lack of an Editor or their details can indicate poor quality or predatory nature

F = Font. Look at fonts used by journals in emails or on web pages – clashing colors, outsized lettering or mixed up fonts may indicate predatory behavior

G = Germany, which takes #PredatoryJournals seriously through university-level checks, highlighting the issue and exposing problems in a 2018 investigation

H = H-Index. Authors’ and journals’ #H_index scores can be skewed by #PredatoryJournal activity

I = ISSN. Over 4,000 out of 13,000 (30%) journals on @CabellsPublish Predatory Reports database claim an ISSN (some genuine, some fake)

J = JIF. Always check the Journal Impact Factor (JIF) claims on journal websites as many #PredatoryJournals falsely claim them. Check via @clarivate Master Journal List

K = Knowledge. Spotting #PredatoryJournals and recognising legitimate #Journals can be important as subject knowledge for publication. ‘Research your research’ by using tools such as @CabellsPublish databases

L = Legitimacy. First responsibility for authors is to check legitimacy of journals – use checklists, peer recommendations and @CabellsPublish Predatory Reports database

M = Membership scams. Beware any journal that offers membership of a group as a condition of publication. Check existence of group and journal credentials on @CabellsPublish Journal databases

N = Nature. Using a trusted scholarly brand such as @nature can help identify, understand and define #PredatoryJournals, with dozens of articles on the subject via @NatureNews

O = OMICS. In 2019, the FTC fined publisher OMICS over $50m for deceptive publishing practices

P = Predatory Reports. The new name for the @CabellsPublish database of 13,400 #PredatoryJournals

Q = Quick publication. Peer review is a long process  typically lasting months. Beware journals offering quick #PeerReview and publication in days or even weeks

R = Research. Academic #Research should also include research on #Journals to enable #PublicationEthics and #ResearchIntegrity are followed. Use @CabellsPublish Predatory Reports to support your research

S = Spam. Journal emails to solicit articles are often predatory (see below for ironic example). Authors can check the legitimacy of journals by using the @CabellsPublish Predatory Reports database

T = Top Tips. Use our research on #PredatoryJournals and how to spot #PredatoryPublishing practices

U = Unknown. Never trust your research to any unknown editor, journal or publisher #PredatoryJournals #PredatoryAlphabet via @CabellsPublish

V = Vocabulary. Look out for ‘unusual’ vocabulary in predatory journal solicitation emails (i.e., “…your precious paper…”) #PredatoryJournals #PredatoryAlphabet via
@CabellsPublish

W = Website. Look for red flags on a journal’s website such as dead links, poor grammar/spelling, no address for journal or publisher, or no contact info (just web-form)

X = There are no current ISSNs with more than one ‘X’ at the end, which serves as a check digit. Be aware of fake ISSNs with multiple X’s

Y = Yosemite Sam. Always check the backgrounds of Editors and Editorial Board members of journals – if they are a cartoon character, maybe don’t submit your article

Z = Zoology. The US Open Zoology Journal is one of 35 zoology titles on the @CabellsPublish Predatory Reports database. It is not open, is not from the US and has no articles, but will accept your $300 to submit an article

Open with purpose

This week is Open Access Week, which you will not have missed due to the slew of Twitter activity, press releases and thought pieces being published – unless you are an author, perhaps. In this week’s blog, Simon Linacre focuses on academic researchers who can often be overlooked by the OA conversation, despite the fact they should be the focus of the discussion.

The other day, I was talking to my 16 year-old son about university, as he has started to think about what he might study and where he might like to go (“Dunno” and “dunno” are currently his favourite subjects and destinations). In order to spark some interest in the thought of higher education, I told him about how great the freedom was to be away, the relaxed lifestyle, and the need to be responsible for your own actions, such as handing in your work on time, even if you had to pull an all-nighter.

“What do you mean ‘hand in your work’?”, he said.

“You know, put my essay in my tutor’s pigeon hole”, I said.

“Why didn’t you just email it? And what do pigeons have to do with it?”, he replied.

Yes, university in the early 90s was a very different beast than today, and I decided to leave pigeons out of the ensuing discussion, but it highlighted to me that while a non-digital university experience is now just a crusty anecdote for students in education today, the transition from the 80s and 90s to the present state of affairs is the norm for those teaching in today’s universities. And in addition, many of the activities and habits that established themselves 20 to 30 years ago and beyond are still in existence, albeit changed to adapt with new technology.

One of these activities that has changed, but remained the same, is of course academic publishing. In the eyes of many people, publishing now will differ incredibly to what it was in the 80s pre-internet – physical vs digital, delayed vs instant, subscription vs open. But while the remnants of the older forms of publishing remain in the shape of page numbers or journal issues, there are still shadows from the introduction of in the early 2000s. This was brought home to me in some webinars recently in Turkey, Ukraine and India (reported here) where the one common question about predatory journals was: “Are all open access journals predatory?”

To those of us who have worked in publishing or to Western academics, this may seem a naïve question. But it is not. Open Access articles – that is, an article which is both free to read on the internet and free to re-use – are still relatively unknown by many academics around the world. In addition, being asked to pay money to publish is still not the norm – most journals listed by the Directory of Open Access Journals do not charge an Article Processing Charge (APC) – and publisher marketing communications are dominated by spam emails from predatory journals rather than press releases during Open Access Week. As such, while the dial may have moved appreciably in Europe and North America following initiatives such as Plan S and high-profile standoffs such as that between the University of California and Elsevier, discussion about OA may not have been replicated elsewhere.

So, while there will be many interesting conversations about Open Access (and delta Think has some fascinating data here), it is also important not to forget many authors may be hearing about it for the first time, or previously may have only heard negative or misleading information. Thankfully, there are plenty of useful resources out there, such as this introduction from Charlesworth Author Services to help authors identify the right OA outlet for their research. And of course, authors should remember that most Open Access journals are not predatory – but to be on the safe side, they can check our Predatory Reports database or criteria to judge for themselves.

Empowering India’s Academia

According to some research, India has the unfortunate distinction of having both the highest number of predatory journals based there, and the highest number of authors publishing in them. In this week’s blog, Simon Linacre answers some of the questions researchers in that country have regarding authentic publishing practices.

During the latter part of 2020, instead of jetting off to typical destinations in the scholarly communications calendar such as Frankfurt and Charleston, some of my energies have been focused on delivering a number of short webinars on predatory publishing to a variety of Indian institutions. According to an oft-quoted article by Shen and Bjork in 2015, India has the largest number of authors who have published in predatory journals, and Cabells knows from its own data that one of the most common countries to find predatory journals originating is in India.

There are probably a number of reasons that account for this, but rather than speculate it is perhaps better to try to act and support Indian authors who do not want to fall into the numerous traps laid for them. One aspect of this are the recent activities of the University Grants Commission (UGC) and its Consortium for Academic and Research Ethics (CARE), which have produced a list of recommended journals for Indian scholars to use.

However, many in India are still getting caught out as some journals have been cloned or hijacked, while others use the predatory journal tactic of simply lying about their listing by UGC-CARE, Scopus, Web of Science or Cabells in order to attract authorship. Following one webinar last week to an Indian National Institute of Technology (NIT), there was a flurry of questions from participants that deserved more time than allowed, so I thought it would be worth sharing some of these questions and my answers here so others can hopefully pick up a few tips when they are making that crucial decision to publish their research.

  1. What’s the difference between an Impact Factor and CiteScore? Well, they both look and feel the same, but the Impact Factor (IF) records a journal’s published articles over a two year period and how they have been cited in the following year in other Web of Science-indexed journals, whereas the CiteScore records a journal’s published documents over a three year period before counting citations the following year.
  2. How do I know if an Impact Factor is fake? Until recently, this was tricky, but now Clarivate Analytics has made its IFs for the journals it indexes for the previous year available on its Master Journal List.
  3. If I publish an article in a predatory journal, can the paper be removed? A submission can be made to the publisher for an article to be retracted, however a predatory publisher is very unlikely to accede to the request and will probably just ignore it. If they do respond, they have been known to ask for more money – in addition to the APC that has already been paid – to carry out the request, effectively blackmailing the author.
  4. If I publish an article in a predatory journal, can I republish it elsewhere? Sadly, dual publication is a breach of publication ethics whether the original article is published in a predatory journal or a legitimate one. The best course of action is to build on the original article with further research so that it is substantially different from the original and publish the subsequent paper in a legitimate journal.
  5. How can I tell if a journal is from India or not? If the origin of the journal is important, the information should be available on the journal’s website. It can also be checked using other sources, such as Scimago which provides country-specific data on journals.

Simon Linacre, Cabells

The RAS Commission for Counteracting the Falsification of Scientific Research

Predatory publishing is undoubtedly a global phenomenon, but with unique characteristics in different countries. In this week’s blog, Simon Linacre shares insight from Russia and a group of researchers keen to shine the spotlight on breaches in publication ethics from within their own country.

For many of us, the Summer months are usually filled with holidays, conferences and a less than serious new agenda. The so-called ‘silly season’ could reliably be identified by news stories of the cat-stuck-in-tree variety, signaling to us all that there was nothing going on and we could safely ignore the news and concentrate on more important things, such as what cocktail to order next from the poolside bar.

Not anymore.

It is hard to put a finger on it, but since around 2015 the Summer months seem to have been populated almost exclusively by epoch-making events from which it is impossible to escape. Whether it’s Brexit, COVID or any number of natural or man-made disasters, the news cycle almost seems to go up a gear rather than start to freewheel. And news stories in scholarly communications are no different. This summer saw a number of big stories, including one in Nature Index regarding alleged plagiarism and article publications in predatory journals by Russian university officials. Intrigued, I contacted the research group behind the investigation to learn more.

The group in question is the Commission for Counteracting the Falsification of Scientific Research, Russian Academy of Sciences, and earlier this year they compiled what they claimed to be the first evidence of large-scale ‘translation plagiarism’ by Russian authors in English-language journals (“Predatory Journals at Scopus and WoS:  Translation Plagiarism from Russian Sources” (2020). Commission for Counteracting the Falsification of Scientific Research, Russian Academy of Sciences in collaboration with Anna A. Abalkina, Alexei S. Kassian, Larisa G. Melikhova). In total, the Commission said it had detected 94 predatory journals with259 articles from Russian authors, many of which were plagiarised after being translated from Russian into English.

In addition, the study saw that over 1,100 Russian authors had put their names to translated articles which were published in predatory journals. These included heads of departments at Russian universities, and in the case of three authors over 100 publications each in predatory journals. The report (the original can be found here) was authored by some of the founders of Dissernet, a Russian research project which is developing a database of mainly Russian journals which publish plagiarised articles or violate some other criteria of publication ethics. They are concerned that the existence of paper mills in Russia that spam authors and offer easy publication in journals is leading to wide-ranging breaches of publication ethics, supported by inflated metrics appearing to lend some legitimacy to them. Cabells hopes to be able to support the work of Dissernet in highlighting the problem in Russia and internationally, so watch this space.

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.