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.

FTC v. OMICS: a landmark predatory publishing case

In March of 2019, upon review of numerous allegations of predatory practices against the publisher OMICS International, the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada ordered OMICS to pay $50.1 million in damages. The case marks one of the first judgments against a publisher accused of predatory practices and could be a signal of greater publisher oversight to come.


In March of this year, a US federal court ordered OMICS International to pay over $50 million in damages stemming from a 2016 lawsuit brought by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the first such action against a ‘predatory’ publisher.  The FTC was moved to act against the Hyderabad, India-based open access publisher and its owner, Srinubabu Gedela, after receiving a multitude of complaints from researchers concerning several systematic fraudulent practices.

In April we wondered if this decision would be more than a public record and condemnation of OMICS’ practices, but also act as a deterrent to other similar operations. Stewart Manley, a lecturer for the Faculty of Law at the University of Malaya, has gone deeper in examining this topic in two recent articles: “On the limitations of recent lawsuits against Sci‐Hub, OMICS, ResearchGate, and Georgia State University” (subscription required) featured in the current issue of Learned Publishing, and “Predatory Journals on Trial: Allegations, Responses, and Lessons for Scholarly Publishing from FTC v. OMICS” from the April issue of Journal of Scholarly Publishing (subscription required).

Mr. Manley was also recently interviewed for Scholastica’s blog where he addressed several key questions on this topic and felt that other questionable publishers will likely not be deterred if OMICS wins on appeal or simply refuses to comply with the order. He also lays out the key takeaways from FTC v. OMICS for publishers, academics, and universities.

Another recent article, “OMICS, Publisher of Fake Journals, Makes Cosmetic Changes to Evade Detection” by Dinesh C. Sharma for India Science Wire discusses a recent study showing the evolution of OMICS journals to mimic legitimate journals, making it difficult to distinguish between authentic and fake journals using the standard criteria. Rather than make substantive changes to their practices, OMICS is finding ways to more effectively evade quality checks.

Despite the hits OMICS has taken in actual court and in the court of public opinion, with an appeal in the offing, the final outcome of this matter is still to be determined. Additionally, as Mr. Manley points out in his Q&A, enforcing a judgment such as this is difficult, especially when the defendant is from a foreign jurisdiction. OMICS has yet to comply with the order and there is little reason to believe they ever will. We will continue to monitor this case and will provide updates as they become available.

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.

Faking the truth

Predatory publishing can cause harm in all sorts of ways, but so can fighting it with the wrong ammunition. In this blog post, Simon Linacre looks at examples of how organizations have gone the wrong way about doing the right thing.


One of the perks – and also the pains – of working in marketing is that you have to spend time trawling through social media posts. It is painful because no matter how good your filters are, there is a huge amount of unnecessary, unearthly and unhealthy content being shared in absolute torrents. On the flip side, however, there are a few gems worth investigating further. Many of them prove to be rabbit holes, but nevertheless, the chase can be worthwhile.

Searching through some posts earlier this month I happened upon mention of an updated list of recommended and predatory journals. Obviously, this is our gig at Cabells so I was genuinely intrigued to find out more. It turns out that the Directorate General of Scientific Research and Technological Development (RSDT) in Algeria has produced three lists on its website – two of recommended journals for Algerian researchers in two subject categories, and one of predatory journals and publishers.

Judgment

A cursory look at the predatory list shows that the first 100 or so journals match Beall’s archived list almost exactly. Futhermore, there is nowhere on the website that suggests how and why such a list exists, other than an open warning to authors who publish in one of the journals listed:

“To this effect, any publication in a journal in category A or B which is predatory or published by a predatory publisher, or that exclusively publishes conference proceedings, is not accepted for defense of a doctoral thesis or university tenure.” (own translation)

In other words, your academic career could be in trouble if you publish in a journal in the RSDT list.

Consequences

The rights and wrongs, accuracies and inaccuracies of Beall’s list have been debated elsewhere, but it is fair to say that as Beall was trying to eradicate predatory publishing practices by highlighting them, some journals were missed while some publishers and their titles were perhaps unfairly identified as predatory. Now the list is over two years out of date, with one version being updated by no-one-knows-who. However, what are the consequences for Algerian academics – and authors from anywhere else who are judged by the same policy – of publishing in a journal?

  1. Publish in RSDT-listed journal that is not predatory but on the list: Career trouble
  2. Publish in RSDT-listed journal that is predatory and on the list: Career trouble
  3. Publish in journal not listed by RSDT but is predatory: Career trouble
  4. Publish in journal not listed by RSDT and is not predatory: Career OK

Option 4 is obviously the best option, and Option 2 is a sad result for authors not doing their homework and de-risking their publishing strategy. But it seems there will be a large number of academics who make a valid choice (1) based on independent criteria who will fall foul of an erroneous list, or who think they are safe because a journal is not on the RSDT list but is predatory (3).

Comparison

One of my colleagues at Cabells cross-referenced the RSDT list and the Cabells Blacklist, which now has over 11,595 journals reviewed and validated as predatory. The results show that due to a lack of crossover between the lists, many academics in Algeria, and potentially elsewhere, could be wrongly condemned or unwittingly publish in predatory journals:

  • In terms of publishers, the RSDT list contains 1601 unique publishers, while the Blacklist contains 443
  • There are exactly 200 publishers on both lists, meaning that around 12% of the publishers on the RSDT list are also included in the Blacklist, while 43% of the Blacklist publishers are also on the RSDT list
  • The RSDT list contains 2488 unique journals, of which only 81 are the same as the 11,500+ Blacklist journals
  • Less than 1% (0.7%) of the Blacklist is also on the RSDT list; conversely, about 3% of the RSDT list is also included on the Blacklist.

As always, the moral of the story for authors is ‘research your research’ – fully utilize the skills you have gained as an academic by applying them to researching your submission decision and checking multiple sources of information. Failure to do so could mean serious problems, wherever you are.

Feedback loop

Last week the Scholarly Kitchen blog reviewed the Cabells Blacklist for its readers and inspired the second highest number of comments for any post so far in 2019. As a follow-up, Simon Linacre answers some of the questions the post and comments have raised while providing an update on the product itself.    



The publication of Rick Anderson’s review of the Blacklist last week gives Cabells some great feedback for us to improve the product, both from an industry expert and the blog’s readers from the scholarly publishing community. We have answered some of the specific queries already in the Comments section, but thought it would be helpful to address some wider points for the benefit of those who have been so engaged with the post.

Firstly, Rick pointed out that for those journals under review, there was no indication as to why that was the case. Journals are recommended for review through the Cabells website, from members of the academic community, through word of mouth and from our own research, so often the reason they are being reviewed is not recorded. Some journals check out just fine, so we have to be careful not to stigmatize a journal unfairly by repeating claims that may be unfounded, which could also have legal implications.

Secondly, Rick felt that some of the criteria for inclusion were a little ambiguous and unclear, and this is something we have very much taken on board. We have recently revamped the criteria and added some new items, but due to the nature of predatory publishing this review process is ongoing and we will look to clarify any ambiguities we can. In addition, there was clear concern that the appeals process for the Blacklist was not visible enough, and this is something that will be changed to make the appeals policy more visible. A page for the Blacklist appeals process has been added to our blog, The Source. In addition, we will add a link to the Cabells Blacklist product page under the Blacklist criteria link. 

Rick’s final point was with regard to the functionality of Advanced Search on the Blacklist, with recommendations it should be expanded to offer searches by violation type, for example. This development is currently on our roadmap, as we constantly seek to improve the product’s utility for users. Other product development ideas mentioned in the Comments section – such as integrating the Blacklist as a tool for customers to run checks on journals and checking citation activity – are also in on our to-do list, and we hope to be able to share some product development news shortly.

Moving on to the Comments, it is clear some in the community feel the Blacklist should be free or at least available at a lower subscription price. As has been noted by our colleague in the Comments, the price one contributor quoted for a subscription was far more than a typical subscription, which tends to equate to a handful of APCs. One of the Scholarly Kitchen chefs commented that many institutions and funders unfortunately waste many thousands of dollars for academics to publish their papers in predatory journals, which use of the Blacklist would help mitigate.

Finally, there were two very interesting comment threads around author services and offering a ‘gray list’ to customers in the future. Cabells has a strategic partnership with Editage, and in collaboration with them offers users an opportunity to improve their articles before the vital submission stage. As for offering a Gray List, while there is a de facto list of such journals – i.e. a list of journals NOT on the Whitelist or Blacklist – this list could easily include 50,000 journals or more, and as noted above could unfairly taint essentially decent journals. Cabells is very much a global operation and understands new, regional, niche, innovative or low-cited journals can be legitimate and offer a vital publication outlet for many researchers. If we were to think of another list, it would be to champion these titles rather those that offer little or no value for their contributors.
 
PS – If you would like a quote for your institution to subscribe to the Blacklist or any other Cabells products, please email us at sales@cabells.com and we will get straight back to you.

FTC’s victory will educate, but will it deter?

Word of the Federal Trade Commission’s $50 million court judgment against OMICS International and its owner, Srinubabu Gedela, has reached all corners of the academic community. While there is no question this is a step in the right direction, there is little reason to believe this will do much to slow the growing problem of predatory publishing.

The victory for the FTC was a decisive one, with the court granting a summary judgment – a decision without the need for a trial as no material facts were in dispute – and the message is clear: OMICS International is running a scam operation and the damage is real and impactful. If there are still those in the scholarly community who doubt the severity of the problem of predatory publishing, perhaps this judgment will convince them of the magnitude of the issue and the need to deal with it in a proactive manner.

While OMICS is the largest predatory publishing operation – there are currently 768 OMICS journals listed on Cabells’ Journal Blacklist – it is simply the most ravenous shark in a sea of predators. If/when OMICS actually halts their fraudulent operations – they are expected to appeal the decision – the vacuum created will quickly be filled by any number of bad actors looking to capitalize and snatch up the revenue that is now presumably up for grabs.

Fundamentally, there are two groups of researchers at play when it comes to predatory publishers. The first group is made up of researchers who might be considered “prey” – those who unwittingly fall victim to the ploys of predatory publishers. These researchers submit their paper for publication only to find that their work has been hijacked, part of their limited budget has been squandered on (often hidden) publication fees, and their careers have been compromised by this association with a fraudulent publisher.

The work of the FTC and news of their victory over OMICS will hopefully go far in protecting those who are unaware of the existence and deceitful nature of operations such as OMICS, and will educate them on the warning signs and help them steer clear of ever becoming involved going forward.

However, what (if any) impact this decision will have on the second group of researchers, those who knowingly use predatory publishers to advance their career or for other professional gains remains to be seen.  The reason predatory publishers have been able to flourish and grow exponentially is that there is an insatiable market for their services due in large part to the ‘publish or perish’ system forced upon academics. The publication of research papers is at an all-time high with estimates of close to two million papers published each year, with little in the way of a quality control system in place. Predatory publishers have simply identified and capitalized on an opportunity for illicit profit.

The focus on research and publication needs to be on quality and not quantity. Publication records need to be vetted and researchers held accountable for the outlets they choose for publication.  The respective bodies of knowledge for many fields are compromised and diluted by the dissemination of junk research. Unqualified candidates are getting hired, promoted and tenured on the backs of their ginned-up publication records. Predatory publishers and these researchers who support them are coming out ahead, while academia and knowledge are losing out.

Despite the decision against OMICS, certain researchers have been and will continue to look for shortcuts to publication. The onus is on administrators, department heads, funders, and academia at large to change – not just the process by which academics are measured by moving away from the “publish or perish” mindset, but also the methods used to monitor and vet research and publication activity.

The FTC’s victory may go a long way in reducing the number of researchers who can honestly say they were unaware of a problem with the journal they chose, but it will do little to stop those who are willful participants in this process without wholesale changes from other key stakeholders.

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.

Blacklist Journals Overtake Whitelist

What’s in a number? Well, when the number of bad journals overtakes the number of good journals, we may have something to worry about. Simon Linacre takes a brief look behind the figures and shares some insight into the current dynamics of scholarly publishing.


Right up there with ‘How many grains of sand are there in the world?’, ‘Is Santa Claus real?’ and ‘Where do babies come from?’, one of the questions you do not want to be asked as a member of the scholarly communications industry is ‘How many journals are there?’. This is because, like grains of sand there is no finite answer as the numbers will change from one day to the next, but also there is no way to even approximate an educated guess. You could, perhaps, as a fall back look at the numbers of journals where someone has actually counted and updated the number. For example:

  • Cabells Journal Whitelist: 11,048
  • Clarivate Analytics Master Journal List: 11,727
  • Directory of Open Access Journals: 12,728
  • Scopus: 36,377
  • Ullrichs Periodicals Directory: 300,000+ (periodicals)

However, all of the above have criteria that either limit the number of journals they count or include most journals plus other forms of publication. And another journal list that adds further complexity is this one:

Now, the more eagle-eyed among you will have seen that the Cabells Blacklist now lists more journals than are indexed in the Whitelist. How can this be? Are we saying there are more predatory journals than legitimate titles out there? Well, not quite. While Cabells has a growing Blacklist thanks to the ever-expanding activities of predatory publishers, the Whitelist is limited to journals of evident quality according to specific criteria and is yet to include medical and engineering journals. When both databases were launched in 2017, the Whitelist was based on Cabells Directories that went back decades, while the Blacklist was newly developed with 4,000 journals. That has now grown to over 11,000 in nearly two years, with many journals coming through the pipeline for assessment.

Due to the rigorous process Cabells administers for the Whitelist, it was inevitable that such a list where many titles are rejected would be superseded by the Blacklist where sadly ever more titles are acceptable for inclusion, due to the proliferation of predatory publishing practices.

So, if you do get asked the dreaded question, the answer is that there are a LOT of journals out there. Some are good, some are bad, and some are in-between. But arm yourself with a trusted index and some relevant criteria, and you won’t need to play the numbers game.