Predatory publishing refers to the unethical practices of publishers who make false claims about the merit of their publications in a bid to lure researchers to submit their work. The publishers seek to take advantage of the Gold Open Access model of publication, whereby the author pays to have an article available on open access.
By accepting an author’s fee and failing to provide the benefits and services a legitimate journal offers, such as peer review, editing and indexing in a reputable service, an even higher profit margin is possible than that available to legitimate publishers. Many such publishers have nearly no overhead. All they need is a website, a contact email for each journal, and a hosting service (Murphy, 2019, p. 74).
Predatory publishers often email researchers directly to solicit work and are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their methods. They trawl conference proceedings and monitor thesis submissions in institutional repositories to identify individuals to target and create websites for their journals to appear authentic. They particularly target HDR students and Early Career Researchers who are often especially keen to publish and may not be as discerning about the publication source.
Murphy, J. A. (2019). Predatory publishing and the response from the scholarly community. Serials Review, 45(1–2), 73–78. https://doi.org/10.1080/00987913.2019.1624910
Unethical publishers do authors a disservice by claiming to be full-service publishers. Remember, as an author you are providing a valuable product, and legitimate publishers provide valuable services to protect your work. Some of the dangers of publishing with a questionable publisher are outlined below.
Your work may be subject to sub-par peer-review. The peer-review system isn't perfect, but there is general consensus that papers that undergo peer-review are better for it. If you plan to seek promotion or tenure you want to make sure you are publishing in a place that values your work and is willing to devote time and resources to improving it.
Your work could disappear. One of the advantages of publishing with a responsible publisher is that they make commitments to preserve your work. Opportunists looking to make a quick buck are not going to care if your paper is still available tomorrow, much less in five years. This situation is the stuff of nightmares if you plan to go up for tenure or promotion.
Your work will be hard to find. Some predatory publishers advertise that they are included in well-known databases like Web of Science or Scopus when they are not. Since RMIT University Library subscribes to hundreds of databases, including Web of Science, this is easy to check. While most predatory journals will probably be covered by Google Scholar your work won't be as visible if it's missing from other research databases.
Embarrassment. Finding out you've been the victim of a scam is never fun. While the repercussions of publishing with questionable publishers are still largely unknown there have been a few documented cases where it has hurt careers.
You may be unable to publish your research subsequently with legitimate publishers. If you discover you have published work with a predatory publisher, you will unlikely be unable to publish it elsewhere as it will no longer be considered novel unpublished research.
It is a good idea to be wary of publishers soliciting articles or conference presentations from you. The table and resources listed below can help you vet these opportunities.
|Reputable publishing practice
|Signs of potential problems
|Publishes quality research that you would read and use.
|The journal promises to publish all content.
|You can identify and contact any affiliated organisation.
|There is no clear organisational affiliation.
|Has clear editorial policies and peer review processes. Is listed in Ulrichs as a peer reviewed journal.
|The editorial process is unclear.
|Has clear information about publication fees.
|Publication fees are undisclosed or difficult to find.
|The names and affiliations of editorial boards are clearly visible.
|It is unclear who is on the editorial board. The same editors are on numerous journals.
|Is indexed in standard databases in the subject field.
|Not indexed in the standard databases.
|Mention of citation impact factor comes from standard sources such as JCR, Scimago or Scopus Sources.
|It makes unverified claims regarding citation impact. The sources are not the standard ones.