Predatory publishing from A to Z

During 2019, Cabells published on its Twitter feed (@CabellsPublish) at least one of its 70+ criteria for including a journal on the Cabells Journal Blacklist, generating great interest among its followers. For 2020, Simon Linacre highlights a new initiative below where Cabells will publish its A-Z of predatory publishing each week to help authors identify and police predatory publishing behavior.


This week a professor I know well approached me for some advice. He had been approached by a conference to present a plenary address on his research area but had been asked to pay the delegate fee. Something didn’t seem quite right, so knowing I had some knowledge in this area he asked me for some guidance. Having spent considerable time looking at predatory journals, it did not take long to notice signs of predatory activity: direct commissioning strategy from unknown source; website covering hundreds of conferences; conferences covering very wide subject areas; unfamiliar conference organizers; guaranteed publication in unknown journal; evidence online of other researchers questioning the conference and its organizers’ legitimacy.

Welcome to ‘C for Conference’ in Cabells’ A-Z of predatory publishing.

From Monday 17 February, Cabells will be publishing some quick hints and tips to help authors, researchers and information professionals find their way through the morass of misinformation produced by predatory publishers and conference providers. This will include links to helpful advice, as well as the established criteria Cabells uses to judge if a journal should be included in its Journal Blacklist. In addition, we will be including examples of predatory behavior from the 12,000+ journals currently listed on our database so that authors can see what predatory behavior looks like.

So, here is a sneak preview of the first entry: ‘A is for American’. The USA is a highly likely source of predatory journal activity, as the country lends credence to any claim of legitimacy a journal may adopt to hoodwink authors into submitting articles to them. In the Cabells Journal Blacklist there are over 1,900 journals that include the name ‘American’ in their titles or publisher name. In comparison, just 308 Scopus-indexed journals start with the word ‘American’. So for example, the American Journal of Social Issues and Humanities purports to be published from the USA, but this cannot be verified, and it has 11 violations of Journal Blacklist criteria, including the use of a fake ISSN number and complete lack of any editor or editorial board member listed on the journal’s website (see image).

‘A’ also stands for ‘Avoid at all costs’.

Please keep an eye out for the tweets and other blog posts related to this series, which we will use from time to time to dig deeper into understanding more about predatory journal and conference behavior.

Beware of publishers bearing gifts

In the penultimate post of 2019, Simon Linacre looks at the recent publication of a new definition of predatory publishing and challenges whether such a definition is fit for purpose for those who really need it – authors


In this season of glad tidings and good cheer, it is worth reflecting that not everyone who approaches academic researchers bearing gifts are necessarily Father Christmas. Indeed, the seasonal messages popping into their inboxes at this time of year may offer opportunities to publish that seem too good to miss, but in reality, they could easily be a nightmare before Christmas.
 
Predatory publishers are the very opposite of Santa Claus. They will come into your house, eat your mince pies, but rather than leave you presents they will steal your most precious possession – your intellectual property. Publishing an article in a predatory journal could ruin an academic’s career, and it is very hard to undo once it has been done. Interestingly, one of the most popular case studies this year on COPE’s website is on what to do if you are unable to retract an article from a predatory journal in order to publish it in a legitimate one. 
 
Cabells has added over two thousand journals to its Journals Blacklist in 2019 and will reach 13,000 in total in the New Year. Identifying a predatory journal can be tricky, which is why they are often so successful in duping authors; yet defining exactly what a predatory journal is can be fraught with difficulty. In addition, some commentators do not like the term – from an academic perspective ‘predatory’ is hard to define, while others think it is too narrow. ‘Deceptive publishing’ has been put forward, but this, in turn, could be seen as too broad.
 
Cabells uses over 70 criteria to identify titles for inclusion in its Journals Blacklist and widens the net to encompass deceptive, fraudulent and/or predatory journals. Defining what characterizes these journals in just a sentence or two is hard, but this is what a group of academics has done following a meeting in Ottowa, Canada earlier in 2019 on the topic of predatory publishing. The output of this meeting was the following definition:
 
Predatory journals and publishers are 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.” (Grudniewicz et al, 2019)
 
The definition is presented as part of a comment piece published in Nature last week and came from a consensus reached at the Ottowa meeting. It is a pity that Cabells was not invited to the event and given the opportunity to contribute. As it is, the definition and accompanying explanation has been met with puzzlement in the Twittersphere, with a number of eminent Open Access advocates saying it allows almost any publisher to be described as predatory. For it to be relevant, it will need to be adopted and used by researchers globally as a test for any journal they are thinking of submitting to. Only time will tell if this will be the case.


From all of us at Cabells, we wish everyone a joyous holiday season and a healthy New Year. Our next blog will be published on January 15, 2020.

The Journal Blacklist surpasses the 12,000 journals listed mark

Just how big a problem is predatory publishing? Simon Linacre reflects on the news this week that Cabells announced it has reached 12,000 journals on its Journal Blacklist and shares some insights into publishing’s dark side.


Predatory publishing has seen a great deal of coverage in 2019, with a variety of sting operations, opinion pieces and studies published on various aspects of the problem. It seems that while on the one side, there is no doubt that it is a problem for academia globally, on the other side there is huge debate as to the size, shape and relative seriousness of that problem.

On the first of those points, the size looks to be pretty big – Cabells announced this week that its Journal Blacklist has hit the 12,000 mark. This is less than a year since it hit 10,000, and it is now triple the size it was when it was launched in 2017. Much of this is to do with the incredibly hard work of its evaluations team, but also because there are a LOT of predatory journals out there, with the numbers increasing daily.

On the last of those points, the aftershocks of the Federal Trade Commission’s ruling against OMICS earlier this year are still being felt. While there is no sign of any contrition on the part of OMICS – or of the $50m fine being paid – the finding has garnered huge publicity and acted as a warning for some academics not to entrust their research with similar publishers. In addition, it has been reported that CrossRef has now cut OMICS membership.

However, the shape of the problem is still hard for many to grasp, and perhaps it would help to share some of the tools of the trade of deceptive publishers. Take one journal on the Cabells Journal Blacklist – the British Journal of Marketing Studies.

Cabells Blacklist Screenshot

Sounds relatively normal, right? But a number of factors relating to this journal highlight many of the problems presented by deceptive journals:

  • The title includes the word ‘British’ as a proxy for quality, however, over 600 journals include this descriptor in the Blacklist compared to just over 200 in Scopus’ entire index of over 30,000 journals
  • The journal is published by European-American Journals alongside 81 other journals – a remarkable feat considering the publisher lists a small terraced house in Gillingham as its main headquarters
  • When Cabells reviewed it for inclusion in the Blacklist, it noted among other things that:
    • It falsely claimed to be indexed in well-known databases – we know this because among these was Cabells itself
    • It uses misleading metrics, including an “APS Impact Factor” of 6.80 – no such derivation of the Web of Science metric exists, apart from on other predatory journal sites
    • There is no detailed peer review policy stated
    • There is no affiliation for the Editor, one Professor Paul Simon, and searches cannot uncover any marketing professors with such a name (or a Prof. Garfunkel, for that matter)

This IS a problem for academia because, no matter what the size and seriousness of predatory publishing may be unless researchers learn to spot the signs of what it looks like, they will continue to get drawn in and waste their research, funding dollars, and even career, on deceptive publishing practices.

Signs of a predatory publisher

The variety of tactics used by predatory publishers to fool unsuspecting authors into submitting their work are frustrating and dishonest to be sure, but they also provide us at Cabells with the motivation to keep working at exposing them. But what does it mean when these deceitful operations no longer try very hard to trick anyone?


“Really? That’s the best they could do?”  That was our initial thought here at Cabells after receiving the most recent invitation to publish that crossed our collective desk. We then thought, “Who would be tricked into thinking this is a genuine invitation from a legitimate publisher? Did they really think this would work?” Our second thought was a bit more troublesome, “Are they even trying to fool anyone at this point?”

Nice day!

We have learnt about your published precious paper in LEARNED PUBLISHING with the title Cabells’ Journal Whitelist and Blacklist: Intelligent data for informed journal evaluations, and the topic of the paper has impressed us a lot.

Researchers specializing in a wide range of disciplines have expressed keen interests in your paper.

That’s it. That’s the entire message followed by two links, one to “Contribute Your Articles” and another to “Become the Editorial Member.”  At least some of the language above is likely familiar to anyone who has had an article published in an academic journal and is fairly easy to identify as suspicious, to say the least.

However, there is usually a bit more of an “honest” effort to seem like a legitimate operation. At least a bit more wooing in the text of the invitation. To be frank, these folks seem to be mailing it in a bit. After clicking the link, there was not much evidence present to move us from our initial impression:

Among the red flags: despite claiming to publish 39 journals, SCIREA lists approximately 10,800 editors; that would be around 277 editors per journal. It is safe to say there are not enough articles to go around for each of these editors to be kept busy.

There are also many of the standard red flags waved by most predatory operations:

  • the promise of rapid publication (“manuscripts are peer-reviewed and a first decision provided to authors approximately 20 days after submission; acceptance to publication is undertaken in 5 days.”)
  • mention of an APC but with no further information (“free for readers, with article processing charges (APC) paid by authors or their institutions”) – the link leads nowhere, which brings us to our next warning sign
  • numerous non-working links:

The four links in the column on the left: Journals, Articles, Conferences, and Editors are functional and take the user to those respective pages. The remaining 17 links in the three columns to the right are all non-functioning links that simply bump up to the top of the current page.

These signs taken together would likely be enough to alert most academics that they are probably looking at a predatory publisher’s website. Here at Cabells, we have the luxury of a team of experts who can dive in to remove all doubt and shine a light on these types of operations through inclusion in our Journal Blacklist. Stay tuned for an update on the results of the investigation which is still in its beginning stages, SPOILER ALERT, things are not looking good for SCIREA.

The fact that there is not much of an effort on the part of SCIREA to come across as legitimate is a concern. Is this an indication that subterfuge is no longer necessary to achieve their goal of collecting manuscripts and APCs? Is it now enough just to announce your presence as an outlet for publication, even an obviously dishonest one, and the money will come rolling in due to authors needing/wanting to have their work published?

We will continue to monitor this situation and will report our findings. As always, we love hearing from the academic community with feedback, tips or questions on predatory activity; please don’t hesitate to contact us at blacklist@cabells.com.

If at first you don’t succeed…

Last year, we were approached by the editors of Social Sciences, published by Science Publishing Group (Science PG), regarding an article we published in Learned Publishing, the journal of the Association of Learned & Professional Society Publishers.  The article, “Cabells’ Journal Whitelist and Blacklist: Intelligent data for informed journal evaluations” presented readers with an overview of our Journal Whitelist and Journal Blacklist and delivered insight into the construction and maintenance of the products. The piece also discussed the troubling growth of predatory publishing and our efforts to help combat this problem. SciencePG contacted us to let us know that “the topic of the paper has impressed [them] a lot” and extended an invitation not only to publish the paper in their “journal” but to join their Editorial Board as a member/reviewer.  There were several red flags in their communication, so after an investigation by our Blacklist team, the journal was promptly added to the Journal Blacklist. You can read more about this incident here.

Well, the folks at SciencePG must not be faithful readers of The Source (?!), because they are back again (twice in three days, no less) with invitations to have our recent article from the Journal of Business-to-Business Marketing, “Publishing in an Environment of Predation: The Many Things You Really Wanted to Know, but Did Not Know How to Ask” included in their publication, International Journal of Business and Economics Research, and also for us to serve as “Lead Guest Editors” and/or editorial board members of the journal:

And then:

Having recalled our previous encounter with SciencePG, we were not at all surprised to find the International Journal of Business and Economics Research already included in our Journal Blacklist:

While we admit to being a bit amused by the irony of the situation, this contact serves as a reminder to us that our continued diligence and commitment to our mission is sorely needed. Predatory publishers are relentless and cast as wide a net as possible, knowing that just a few “bites” will keep them in business. The fact that they are repeatedly reaching out to us about our articles chronicling the dangers of predatory journals and publishers, speaks volumes.

Some invitations, like these extended by SciencePG, are rather easy to identify as deceitful, especially for our crack team of Journal Blacklist investigators. However, some communications are not as easy to classify and require thorough vetting. Rest assured, we will continue our work in exposing these frauds and will force them out of the shadows.

Building bridges at NASIG 2019

The theme of this year’s NASIG Annual Conference – Building Bridges – was appropriate for a number of reasons. Not only did the meeting take place in the City of Bridges, but the idea of connecting the various global communities within academia was present in many of the sessions. What’s more, the core mission of NASIG is to “facilitate and improve the distribution, acquisition, and long-term accessibility of information resources in all formats and business models”: in essence, building a bridge to knowledge.

There were an array of sessions building on this “connectivity” theme: discussions on linking to disabled members of the community through greater accessibility, to resource users through technical and customer services, and to future academics through digital preservation, to name just a few. However, the session that caught our collective eye at Cabells was one that focused not so much on building bridges, but rather on blocking the way down a dangerous road …

While there is no debate (we think) that predatory journals are causing problems in the scholarly publishing landscape, there are differing opinions on the magnitude of these problems.  “Minding Your Ps and Qs: Predatory Journals, Piracy, and Quality Questions” was presented by Marydee Ojala, Editor of Online Searcher Magazine and Regina Reynolds, Director of the U.S. ISSN Center and Head of the ISSN Section of the Library of Congress.  Ms. Ojala, a former academic and corporate librarian, spoke of the danger, especially in today’s ‘fake news’ environment, of calling into question the validity of scholarly research by muddying the water with junk science and ‘sting’ articles filled with nonsense.  Ms. Reynolds suggested the problem of predatory publishing is overstated and exists due to a market created by academia through several enabling forces.

What was made clear in this session is the fact that more and more librarians are becoming aware of predatory publishing and the dangers it poses. They are also becoming keenly aware that they must rethink how they evaluate collections and what researchers are finding in available databases. Instead of going directly to subscription databases, many researchers turn first to Google or Google Scholar. A quick search on these platforms will make it clear the results contain predatory articles alongside legitimate ones. The use of LibGuides, instructional videos, posters, presentations and even one-on-one communication to educate researchers can go a long way to changing the methods they use.

When discussing whether the problem of predatory journals is overstated (a firm ‘no’ in Cabells’ opinion), Mr. Reynolds made several interesting points.  Enabling market forces such as open access, a rapidly growing number of scholars worldwide, the disadvantages of the those in the global south, and the ‘publish or perish’ mindset have created a fertile ground for predatory publishing activity. To think that it will not be taken advantage of is short-sighted.  Predatory journals give scholars who wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to publish a chance to publish; this highlights an uneven playing field in academia that must be corrected to stem the tide of predatory enterprise.

Ms. Reynolds discussed the idea that predatory journals exist as a response to an environment, and market, created by academia itself.  Is the scholarly community willing to turn its collective back on predatory publications?  Is every academic serving on the editorial board of a predatory journal doing so without their knowledge and consent? Of course not, just as not everyone who publishes in a fake publication is duped into doing so. There must be a concerted effort throughout the scholarly community to reject the easy route to publication and CV glory on the back of fraudulent publications. As Ms. Ojala pointed out, there are resources (most notably the Journal Blacklist) that are working to shine a light on deceitful operations to alert researchers, librarians and administrators to stay away; as Ms. Reynolds pointed out, these stakeholders must be willing to heed the warning.

Do we need the Journal Blacklist?

As any scholar will attest, one of the most annoying aspects of becoming an academic author is the incessant emails popping into your inbox on a daily basis offering to publish your next article for a knockdown price – in just a few weeks’ time, in a subject area you know nothing about, for a journal you have never heard of. Simon Linacre asks if the Blacklist of journals is actually worth the time and expense just to help eradicate this nuisance, or if there is more to it than that.


In the world of academic research, there is an equivalent to the emails everyone receives supposedly from a Nigerian prince who needs to deposit $30m in your account for a few days, for which you will be paid handsomely. These are the emails that promise rapid open access publication for just a few hundred dollars, most likely in a very generic-sounding journal that purports to have an Impact Factor, even though you have never heard of it. As with the emails promising a generous slice of $30m, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. And anyway, just how many gullible idiots pay these people?

Well, if you are sat in a lab or department meeting, you could be looking at one. While it is difficult to establish exactly how many authors fall for predatory publishing, some recent investigations can put the problem in context. Firstly, a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) judgment in the US in 2018 against OMICS Group Inc and related entities found damages totaling over $50m were owing due to the predatory practices of the organizations over a four-year period, based on the operation of predatory journals and predatory conferences. This figure was arrived at following an estimation of the total revenues accruing from predatory practices – revenues from individuals paying for publishing and conference services that were below the expectations they were entitled to have from such services. In other words, that’s a lot of disappointed people.

Human face

The FTC investigation brings the actual cost of predatory practices into relief, as that money will not just have come from the back pockets of some gullible academics, but from university grants and research funders, happy to support research in belief some of the money will enable it to published in reputable journals, cementing its place in the body of knowledge for others to use. Another investigation in 2018 put forward the human side to this problem, namely a joint enterprise by three German news organizations – Süddeutschen Zeitung, the NDR and the WDR. In the article Das Scheingeschäft – Angriff auf die Wissenschaft” (“The Bogus Business – Assault on Science), the various aspects, dangers and consequences of predatory publishing are considered using a sting operation as a vehicle. What is striking about the reports – supported by Cabells which gave gratis access to the Blacklist – is that the problem is not just one of annoyance, but large-scale fraud and misinterpretation of science. Amongst other things:

  • After analyzing over 175,000 of publications in predatory journals, authors included Nobel-prize winners and those from top German institutions
  • Individual employees from large firms figured significantly among the authors of papers, including BMW, Siemens and Airbus. Indeed, of the thirty top companies on the German stock exchange (DAX), employees of 12 of these companies had published in predatory journals
  • One top pharma company has published a study on Aspirin in a predatory journal, which purports to provide evidence that a new version of its product is more effective at treating flu symptoms than the original drug
  • Finally, one story emerged about a German celebrity who died of cancer after trying a drug where the only evidence for its efficacy was published in predatory journals.

The German team of journalists concluded that this final example was a warning for the dangers abusing predatory publishing to spread “false science”, citing examples where climate-change deniers had also published research in predatory journals. This highlights an often overlooked point – recently covered by Danish academic Tove Faber Frandsen in the article ‘Why do researchers decide to publish in questionable journals? A review of the literature’ – that far from being duped, many authors knowingly publish in predatory journals simply to tick the necessary box. This trend has also been noted by reports in The New York Times and other research journals like CMAJ and Journal of Scholarly Publishing.

Black and White

Cabells’ Journal Blacklist was several years in development and was specifically designed to provide researchers and their institutions a resource to help them avoid publishing in predatory journals and avoid the serious issues outlined above. The Blacklist uses over 60 different, weighted criteria to determine whether a journal exhibits predatory behaviors or not. It utilizes a team of academic and publishing experts to constantly monitor publishing practices and assess if an individual journal – not a publisher – is legitimate or not. Many journals are left off the Blacklist where they are legitimate, but of low quality, and as such are not listed in the Journal Whitelist either. The process is transparent and often time-consuming, with all the criteria published by Cabells as well as the violations if a journal is listed.

It has been almost two years since the Blacklist was first published, in which time it has grown from 4,000 journals to 11,000.

In all that time, there have only been three requests from journals for a review.

Cabells places a very high value indeed on the legitimacy and veracity of scholarly publishing, a value it believes it shares with academics the world over. It believes that the provision of the Blacklist is a valuable service to those institutions who believe they need to support their academics in a world of fake news, fake science and fake journals. Like any other commercial service, in order to recoup the costs of its investment it charges a fee for a subscription to the Blacklist which can be less than a single APC for many predatory journals, so universities can avert the problems caused by a faculty member submitting to a predatory journal just once to pay for the service.

As we have seen, faculty can be unaware of the problems, or in some cases, they can be aware but make unethical decisions. Either way, librarians or research managers are often tasked with policing publications, and Cabells continues to develop the Blacklist to support them in their work. Hopefully, a subscription is a small price to pay to ensure public or institutional funding isn’t wasted and quality research is published in the right journals.