Guest Post – Why Should We Worry about Predatory Journals? Here’s One Reason

Editor’s Note: This post is by Rick Anderson, Associate Dean for Collections & Scholarly Communication in the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah. He has worked previously as a bibliographer for YBP, Inc., as Head Acquisitions Librarian for the University of North Carolina, Greensboro and as Director of Resource Acquisition at the University of Nevada, Reno. Rick serves on numerous editorial and advisory boards and is a regular contributor to the Scholarly Kitchen. He has served as president of the North American Serials Interest Group (NASIG), and is a recipient of the HARRASSOWITZ Leadership in Library Acquisitions Award. In 2015 he was elected President of the Society for Scholarly Publishing. He serves as an unpaid advisor on the library boards of numerous publishers and organizations including biorXiv, Elsevier, JSTOR, and Oxford University Press.


This morning I had an experience that is now familiar, and in fact a several-times-daily occurrence—not only for me, but for virtually every one of my professional colleagues: I was invited to submit an article to a predatory journal.

How do I know it was a predatory journal? Well, there were a few indicators, some strong and some merely suggestive. For one thing, the solicitation addressed me as “Dr. Rick Anderson,” a relatively weak indicator given that I’m referred to that way on a regular basis by people who assume that anyone with the title “Associate Dean” must have a doctoral degree.

However, there were other elements of this solicitation that indicated much more strongly that this journal cares not at all about the qualifications of its authors or the quality of its content. The strongest of these was the opening sentence of the message:

Based on your expertise & research on Heart [sic], it is an honour to invite you to submit your article for our Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Therapeutics.

This gave me some pause, since I have no expertise whatsoever “on Heart,” and have never published anything on any topic even tangentially related to medicine. Obviously, no legitimate journal would consider me a viable target for a solicitation like this.

Another giveaway: the address given for this journal is 1805 N Carson St., Suite S, Carson City, NV. As luck would have it, I lived in northern Nevada for seven years and am quite familiar with Carson City. The northern end of Carson Street—a rather gritty stretch of discount stores, coffee shops, and motels with names designed to signal affordability—didn’t strike me as an obvious location for any kind of multi-suite office building, let alone a scientific publishing office, but I checked on Google Maps just to see. I found that 1805 North Carson Street is a non-existent address; 1803 North Carson Street is occupied by the A to Zen Thrift Shop, and Carson Coffee is at 1825. There is no building between them.

Having thus had my suspicion stoked, I decided to give this journal a real test. I created a nonsense paper consisting of paragraphs taken at random from articles originally published in a legitimate journal of cardiothoracic medicine, and gave it a title consisting of syntactically coherent but otherwise randomly-chosen terms taken from the discipline. I invented several fictional coauthors, created an email account under the assumed name of the lead author, submitted the manuscript via the journal’s online system and settled down to wait for a decision (which was promised within “14 days,” following the journal’s usual “double blind peer review process”).

***

While we wait for word from this journal’s presumably distinguished team of expert peer reviewers, let’s talk a little bit about the elephant in the room: the fact that the journal we’re testing purports to publish peer-reviewed research on the topic of heart surgery.

The problem of deceptive or “predatory” publishing is not new; it has been discussed and debated at length, and it might seem as if there’s not much new to be said about it: as just about everyone in the world of scholarly publishing now knows, a large and apparently growing number of scam artists have created thousands upon thousands of journals that purport to publish rigorously peer-reviewed science, but will, in fact, publish whatever is submitted (good or bad) as long as it’s accompanied by an article processing charge. Some of these outfits go to great expense to appear legitimate and realize significant revenues from their efforts; OMICS (which was subject to a $50 million judgment after being sued by the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive practices) is probably the biggest and most famous of predatory publishing outfits. But most of these outfits are relatively small; many seem to be minimally staffed fly-by-night operations that have invested in little more than the creation of a website and an online payment system. The fact that so many of these “journals” exist and publish so many articles is a testament to either the startling credulity or the distressing dishonesty of scholars and scientists the world over—or, perhaps, both.

But while the issue of predatory publishing, and its troubling implications for the integrity of science and scholarship, is discussed regularly in broad terms within the scholarly-communication community, I want to focus here on one especially concerning aspect of the phenomenon: predatory journals that falsely claim to publish rigorously peer-reviewed science in fields that have a direct bearing on human health and safety.

In order to try to get a general idea of the scope of this issue, I did some searching within Cabell’s Journal Blacklist to see how many journals from such disciplines are listed in that database. My findings were troubling. For example, consider the number of predatory journals found in Cabell’s Blacklist that publish in the following disciplines (based on searches conducted on 25 and 26 November 2019):

Disciplinary Keyword # of Titles
Medicine 3,818
Clinical 300
Cancer 126
Pediatrics 64
Nutrition 88
Surgery 159
Neurology 39
Climate 25
Brain 24
Neonatal 16
Cardiovascular 51
Dentistry 44
Gynecology 44
Alzheimer’s 10
Structural Engineering 10
Anesthesiology 21
Oncology 74
Diabetes 51

Obviously, it’s concerning when scholarship or science of any kind is falsely represented as having been rigorously reviewed, vetted, and edited. But it’s equally obvious that not all scholarship or science has the same impact on human health and safety. A fraudulent study in the field of sociology certainly has the capacity to do significant damage—but perhaps not the same kind or amount of damage as a fraudulent study in the field of pediatric anesthesiology, or diagnostic oncology. The fact that Cabell’s Blacklist has identified nearly 4,000 predatory journals in the general field of medicine is certainly cause for very serious concern.

At the risk of offending my hosts, I’ll just add here that this fact leads me to really, really wish that Cabell’s Blacklist were available to the general public at no charge. Recognizing, of course, that a product like this can’t realistically be maintained at zero cost—or anything close to zero cost—this begs an important question: what would it take to make this resource available to all?

I can think of one possible solution. Two very large private funding agencies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, have demonstrated their willingness to put their money where their mouths are when it comes to supporting open access to science; both organizations require funded authors to make the published results of their research freely available to all, and allow them to use grant funds to pay the attendant article-processing charges. For a tiny, tiny fraction of their annual spend on research and on open-access article processing charges, either one of these grantmakers could underwrite the cost of making Cabell’s Blacklist freely available. How tiny? I don’t know what Cabell’s costs are, but let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it costs $10 million per year to maintain the Blacklist product, with a modest amount of profit built in. That would represent two tenths of a percent of the Gates Foundation’s annual grantmaking, or 2.3 tenths of a percent of Wellcome’s.

This, of course, is money that they would then not be able to use to directly subsidize research. But since both fundmakers already commit a much, much larger percentage of their annual grantmaking to APCs, this seems like a redirection of funds that would yield tremendous value for dollar.

Of course, underwriting a service like Cabell’s Blacklist would entail acknowledging that predatory publishing is real, and a problem. Oddly enough, this is not universally acknowledged, even among those who (one might think) ought to be most concerned about the integrity of the scholcomm ecosystem and about the reputation of open access publishing. Unfortunately, among many members of that ecosystem, APC-funded OA publishing is largely—and unfairly—conflated with predatory publishing.

***

Well, it took much longer than promised (or expected), but after receiving, over a period of two months, occasional messages telling me that my paper was in the “final peer review process,” I finally received the long-awaited-for response in late January: “our” paper had been accepted for publication!

Journal Blacklist entry for Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Therapeutics

Over the course of several subsequent weeks I received a galley proof for my review—along with an invoice for an article-processing charge in the amount of $1,100. In my guise as lead author, I expressed shock and surprise at this charge; no one had said anything to me about an APC when my work was solicited for publication. I received a conciliatory note from the editor, explaining that the lack of notice was due to a staff error, and further explaining that the Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Therapeutics is an open-access journal and uses APCs to offset its considerable costs. He said that by paying this fee and allowing publication to go forward I would be ensuring that the article “will be available freely which allows the scientific community to view, download, distribution of an article in any medium (provided that the original work is properly cited) thereby increasing the views of article.” He also promised that our article will be indexed “in Crossref and many other scientific databases.” I responded that I understood the model but had no funds available to pay the fee, and would therefore have to withdraw the paper. “You may consider our submission withdrawn,” I concluded.

Then something interesting happened. My final communication bounced back. I was informed by a system-generated message that my email had been “waitlisted” by a service called Boxbe, and that I would have to add myself to the addressee’s “guest list” in order for it to be delivered. Apparently, the editor no longer wanted to hear from me.

Also interesting: despite my nonpayment of the APC, the article has now been published and can be seen here. It will be interesting to see how long it remains in the journal.

We need to be very clear about one thing here: the problem with my article is not that it represents low-quality science. The problem with my article is that it is nonsense and it is utterly incoherent. Not only is its content entirely plagiarized, it’s so randomly assembled from such disparate sources that it could not possibly be mistaken for an actual study by any informed reader who took the time to read any two of its paragraphs. Furthermore, it was “written” by authors who do not exist, whose names were taken from famous figures in history and literature, and whose institutional affiliations are entirely fictional. (There is no “Brockton State University,” nor is there a “Massapequa University,” nor is there an organization called the “National Clinics of Health.”)

What all of this means is that the fundamental failing of this journal—as it is of all predatory journals—is not its low standards, or the laxness of its peer review and editing. Its fundamental failing is that despite its claims, and despite charging authors for these services, it has no standards at all, performs no peer review, and does no editing. If it did have any standards whatsoever, and if it performed even the most perfunctory peer review and editorial oversight, it would have detected the radical incoherence of my paper immediately.

One might reasonably ask, though: if my paper is such transparently incoherent nonsense, why does its publication pose any danger? No surgeon in the real world will be led by this paper to do anything in an actual surgical situation, so surely there’s no risk of it affecting a patient’s actual treatment in the real world.

This is true of my paper, no doubt. But what the acceptance and publication of my paper demonstrates is not only that the Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Therapeutics will publish transparent nonsense, but also—more importantly and disturbingly—that it will publish ­anything. Dangerously, this includes papers that may not consist of actual nonsense, but that were flawed enough to be rejected by legitimate journals, or that were written by the employees of device makers or drug companies that have manipulated their data so as to promote their own products, or that were written by dishonest surgeons who have generally legitimate credentials but are pushing crackpot techniques or therapies. The danger illustrated by my paper is not so much that predatory journals will publish literal nonsense; the more serious danger is that they will uncritically publish seriously flawed science while presenting it as carefully-vetted science.

In other words, the defining characteristic of a predatory journal is not that it’s a “low-quality” journal. The defining characteristic of a predatory journal is that it falsely claims to provide quality control of any kind—precisely because to do so would restrict its revenue flow. This isn’t to say that no legitimate science ever gets published in predatory journals; I’m sure quite a bit does since there’s no reason why a predatory journal would reject it, any more than it would reject the kind of utter garbage this particular journal has now published under the purported authorship of Jackson X. Pollock. But the appearance of some legitimate science does nothing to resolve the fundamental issue here, which is one of scholarly and scientific fraud.

Such fraud is distressing wherever it occurs. In the context of cardiothoracic surgery—along with all of the other health-related disciplines in which predatory journals currently publish—it’s terrifying.

Or it should be, anyway.

Growth of predatory publishing shows no sign of slowing

This week the Cabells Journal Blacklist has hit 13,000 titles, and while the number itself is not that significant, its continued rate of growth shows that the problem of predatory publishing shows no sign of abating. In his latest post, Simon Linacre shares a case study of what a predatory journal looks like and why their continued growth should concern us all.


Firstly, a warning: this post will share a link to a journal that Cabells has identified as predatory in nature, and as such, you should take precautions before giving it a click. This is because there is evidence to show that some predatory journal websites, whether it is by accident or design, contain malware that can infect your computers and its networked systems. So, if you do click on it, please don’t share any information as it could infect your hardware.

Welcome to the dark world of predatory publishing.

Despite the risks, it is useful to look at a specific predatory journal to gain some insight into how they operate and what they contain. The example we are using is the International Journal of Science Technology & Management, which appears to be based in India and has been publishing several issues annually since 2012, and includes hundreds of articles freely accessible as pdfs. This particular journal has one of the highest numbers of breaches of our Blacklist criteria, some of which are included below to help explain why the journal is predatory:

  1. Editors do not actually exist or are deceased. The journal does not name an Editor or Editors but has a huge list of names and affiliations, many of which do not actually exist or are listed without their knowledge.
  2. The journal’s website does not have a clearly stated peer review policy. The journal states it is “refereed”, but there is no evidence this occurs.
  3. Falsely claims indexing in well-known databases (especially SCOPUS, DOAJ, JCR, and Cabells). This is a key indicator of predatory journals, and can be easily checked – this particular journal claims it is indexed by Cabells (this is categorically untrue), listed by DOAJ (also false) and has an Impact Factor of 2.012 (most definitely incorrect).
  4. The website does not identify a physical address for the publisher or gives a fake address. Sometimes an address will be given that is the same address as 8,459 other businesses, which is remarkable in that it turns out to be a small terraced house in suburban England. In this example, there is an address you can find after some searching, but the address is spelled incorrectly and the location in India is also home to dozens of other journals and conferences the publisher operates, but no offices.
  5. The publisher or journal’s website seems too focused on the payment of fees. Many predatory publishers charge the going rate of $1,000+ to publish in them, but this journal ‘only’ charges $60 (plus $20 if you require a certificate). This may seem a bargain to some, but authors are being ripped off even at this low price.

There are many other problems with the journal, not least that the quality of articles published in it would embarrass any high school student, let alone an academic. However, while the desire and ease of publishing in such journals persists, Cabells will have to increase its Journal Blacklist by many more thousands to keep pace with demand.

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.

A New Year’s resolution worth keeping: Say “NO” to spam

Recent studies have shown the huge impact that spam emails from predatory journals have on academics’ workflows. Simon Linacre argues that, far from being harmless, they contribute to a wider malaise in academic life.


If I said I have a New Year’s Resolution that could save everyone who reads this blog hundreds of dollars in time and effort, as well as enrich everyone’s lives, would you be interested in joining me? There is no catch, no trick, but there is a small degree of effort involved. And it is quite simple – just open up every email unsolicited email you receive and either block it or unsubscribe. Your life will improve as a result, guaranteed.
 
But will such a straightforward, if humdrum, task really make such savings? Well, two recent studies show that the total cost to academia of spam emails is vast. Firstly, this week’s Times Higher Education (THE) reports on a new study that estimates the time wasted on opening and deleting spam emails, typically ones from predatory journals, is equal to $1.1bn – and this rises to over $2bn when all spam email is included
 
They arrive at this figure using the following methodology: take an average figure for the number of targeted spam emails academics receive each day from a number of prior studies (which is around five); estimate that each academic spends five seconds dealing with every email; assume the average academic earns $50 an hour; multiply by the number of academics in the world according to the United Nations. It may sound a bit like a back-of-a-napkin calculation, but for many academics, the number of emails and time to sift through them may seem significantly undercooked.
 
Another study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) looked more specifically at the impact of emails received from predatory journal publishers by career development grant awardees. This study found that academic spam emails (or ASEs) were a significant distraction for academics and that there was an urgent need to mitigate the problem. The results from a survey of grant awardees showed that almost 90% had a spam filter turned on, but around half said they received up to 10 spam emails a day, with fully 30% estimating they received between 11 and 20. 
 
Some unsolicited emails may of course be legitimate, and can be blocked, while others are a result of individuals at some stage signing up to receive emails, usually to gain access to something or when making a purchase. Emails from law-abiding sources such as these can be stopped – it just takes a little time. As can those purchases from Amazon, Gap or Ebay where we have used our work email only to suffer a permanent slew of special offers (don’t worry, we’ve all been there). In these cases, our New Year’s Resolution can indeed help cut down the time spent on email and make more time for more meaningful pursuits.
 
However, as the THE piece points out, there is very little academics can currently do to stem the tide of spam from predatory journals. All we can do is become more savvy in identifying them quickly, choose not to open them and delete straight away. And in the meantime, hope that someone invents a spam filter that genuinely screens ASEs out and doesn’t send important emails from your Dean to your ‘junk’ folder.

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.

Look to the North

Say what you like about Canada – and plenty do – but they are taking the threat of predatory publishing more seriously than just about any other country. Simon Linacre reflects on recent activities North of the 49th parallel.


It’s all about Canada at the moment. They have the new NBA champions in the shape of the Toronto Raptors, overcoming huge odds to beat defending champions Golden State Warriors in a thrilling finals series, and in the process becoming the first Canadian winner of a major US sports championship in over 25 years. Add to that one of the more likable (if under pressure) world leaders, and continued dominance of lists of best places to live, and those living North of the border seem to have it sewn up, eh?

They also seem to be leading the way when it comes to research integrity and publishing ethics, as a number of high-profile studies and articles have shown. A piece in Canadian news magazine The Walrus has highlighted the problems of predatory publishing in Canada, but also the fight to overcome these concerns. The article is entitled ‘The Rise of Junk Science’ and highlights the ways predatory publishing has infected scholarly activities in Canada, including:

  • Seeing predatory publishers buy out legitimate publishers and use their name to support predatory conferences
  • Wasting resources from funding organizations and universities on APCs for predatory journals
  • Forcing reputable universities to check every individual CV of every academic to ensure they haven’t published in predatory journals
  • Running the risk that ‘junk science’ published in seemingly authentic journals will be read and used, causing unknown harm
  • Allowing unscrupulous academics to take advantage of university policy to publish in journals with no peer review or quality control in order to be rewarded.

This last point was also highlighted by Derek Pyne in 2017, who pointed out that some of his colleagues at Thompson Rivers University had published in predatory journals and received rewards as a result. Pyne was suspended for a brief spell following publication of the article, but it acted as a wake-up call to many institutions to review their policies when it came to publications.

Canada also hosted a conference on predatory journals this year – as opposed to the numerous predatory conferences that have also sprung out of predatory publishing practices. These are also highlighted by the article in The Walrus which gives a great overview of the predatory publishing problem in Canada. Cabells’ own evidence shows that there seems to be a specific issue there as there are 119 confirmed and over 500 suspected predatory journals originating from there in the Blacklist, which is nearly 5% of the total. However, by shining a light on the problem and tackling it head-on, the country can at least lead the way for many others to follow.