Predatory journals: The rise of worthless biomedical scienceH Sharma1, S Verma2
1 Department of Public Health Dentistry, Triveni Institute of Dental Sciences, Hospital and Research Centre, Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, India
2 Department of Public Health Dentistry, Rungta College of Dental Sciences and Research, Kohka, Bhilai, Chhattisgarh, India
Correspondence Address: Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None DOI: 10.4103/jpgm.JPGM_347_18
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
Keywords: Deception, open access publishing, peer research, professional misconduct, publishing, review
Publication of the researches in a scholarly indexed journal is the most inspiring goal for young researchers and scientist. Internet which is considered as one of the greatest invention and advancement in the field of communication and transfer of digital content across the world had played a significant role in digitization of content and transfer of published researchers to be read by loyal readers across the world. But like each coin has two faces, the other unwelcome face of Internet invention and digitization had let to rise of the so-called pseudo or predatory publishing.
Timely dissemination of scientific information and knowledge to the worldwide scientific community helps in advancement of medical sciences and gaining credit worldwide. The need to subscribe the journals at a high cost to access information of such a great importance had acted as a major force behind the emergence of the open access (OA) movement. The rise of the digital era with the Internet being the most potential source for transmitting information had eased the way that any information is available to anyone, anywhere, anytime, and in any format. The major advantages of OA include worldwide access of knowledge by researchers and students, increased visibility and readership of published information, the potential impact of research is heightened, and finally increased access and sharing of knowledge to worldwide scientific community leading to opportunities for development in the field of medical science by acquiring funds across the world, intercultural communication, and by acting as potential to spark innovation. OA improves the speed, efficiency, and efficacy of research as it also enables computation upon the research literature.
These pseudo or predatory journals have emerged as a threat to the integrity of academic publishing by targeting eager-to-publish authors or young academic researchers by offering fast or rapid review process for quick publishing. Predatory publishers generally carry a large fleet of journals under their publishing company name or may even be a standalone journal. These pseudo or predatory publishers exploit OA model by exploiting or corrupting peer-review process which is either absent or minimal in nature. In simple terms, these predatory journals are a by-product of the OA movement which began in the early 90s. Such journals lure young and inexperienced scientist by operating through highly sophisticated and mirror image webpage of reputed indexed mainstream journals for manuscript submission to gain monetary benefits in the form of article processing fee or publication fee.
Development of biomedical science relies on information, which young doctors and researchers retrieve from the Internet and majority of this information comes from researches published in OA journals. But with the rise of OA predatory journals, we are living in the world where we can no longer blindly trust a scientific biomedical journal. Before Internet era, we used to have difficulty in searching relevant information, but with the rise of predatory journals in Internet era gave birth another problem of searching relevant authentic information in a vast sea of heavily contaminated, fake, plagiarized, or manipulated data in the name of biomedical researches.
Distinguishing a predatory journal and legitimate is not always an easy task. Moreover, with new predatory journals getting online each and every day with short lifespan it is impossible to track such journals. Thus, the only way to avoid such journals is by getting knowledge regarding ways to distinguish them from legitimate index journals. Hence, this review is an attempt to understand the predatory journals their way of operation, motive of operation, and disadvantage of publishing in predatory journal and a way to distinguish them from legitimate journals.
According to Merriam Webster's dictionary, the word “Predatory” refers to anything that is inclined or intended to injure or exploit others for personal gain or profit. Similarly, in the world of biomedical journals it refers to journals which prey on young researchers or academicians for personal gain or financial profit through article-processing charges (APCs) for OA articles, without meeting the standard publishing standards.
In today's world with cut-throat competition in professional field based on publication as criteria for promotion and increasing tenure of jobs, there is a rise in unethical publication through means of predatory journals. This has triggered the need of understanding regarding predatory journals to increase research publication qualities. Wahyudi (2017), on the basis of 25 invitations for manuscript submission from predatory or fraudulent journals, had provided a generic structure to help new inexperienced upcoming researchers to help them in distinguishing predatory or fraudulent journals from legitimate ones. Below are some of the characteristics of emails or invitations send by predatory or fraudulent journals:
Most of the predatory journals are operated by one person and one PC. These journals send bulk spam invitations to all the authors regarding article submission for which they ask manuscript processing fees and mainly guarantee the acceptance of manuscripts without proper peer-review process which reputable index journals follow and thus jeopardizing the authenticity of biomedical science in the name of reputed index journals.
Predatory journals use several methods and tactics to prove themselves legitimate and attract the attention of young inexperienced researchers; one such tactics recently revealed under ugly umbrella of predatory publishing is “predatory conferences.” These predatory conferences organized by various predatory publication groups appear to be scholarly but are strictly meant for exploiting money from authors in terms of huge registration charges by promising them getting the manuscripts published in international index journals thus creating sense of legitimacy and a source of gaining pride. This method of attracting young inexperienced researchers to publish legitimate researches in predatory journals not only causes immense loss of funds and valuable time but also cause loss of important legitimate researches which could have proven to be milestone in development of field of medical sciences.
Weak or absent review system in predatory journals gives opportunities to unethical researches with false, plagiarized, or manipulated data, to enter the larger academic community, thus undermining the quality of researches which are built on such researches and also floods the minds of young and inexperienced researchers with false knowledge who are loyal readers. Thus, predatory journals act as loop holes and impart severe threat to medical science by publishing manuscripts with plagiarized or potentially fraudulent content which otherwise generally would not be published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Contrarily, several shortcomings of the publishers to meet the requirements of standards of scholarly journal like absent or weak peer-review system, lack of reliable archiving system for scientific articles, and lack of dissemination of these published works to deserving scientific community may cause loss of scientific data, funds, and hard work of genuine researchers.
Legitimate articles when published in predatory or pseudo journals are publicly available through Internet searches, but are devoid of getting indexed in the reputed library system, thus making them worthless for the scientific world by getting inaccessible to larger academic community. This not only creates loss of motivation to young researchers but also makes them devoid of adequate credit which would have been their right. Moreover, such predatory or pseudo journals are transient in nature due to continuously changing webpage domain resulting in a loss of legitimate and worthful articles from vanished archives. Thus, many valuable researches are being lost.
On the other hand, peer-review process in predatory journals by predatory reviewers also gives scope for unethical abuse of reviewing process. A study conducted by Resnik et al. reported unethical and unfortunate evidences of predatory reviewers stealing original authors' ideas and purposely delaying their publications. It was reported that among study participants including researchers, research staff, postdoctoral trainees, and technicians working at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, 6.8% of the respondents reported experiencing predatory reviewers breaching the confidentiality of their manuscript submission, they also reported that predatory reviewers unethically used their ideas or data without their will and permission to gain personal benefits. About 9.2% respondents claimed that reviewers unethically delayed their review process so that he or she could publish their own research on the same topic with similar idea or even may reject manuscript that carries major advances and innovations.,,
The predatory journals are not indexed in major bibliographic databases, such as PubMed, Medline, Web of Science, or Scopus. Also, to avoid potential conflict of interest and allowing plagiarized content to publish without peer reviewing them, predatory journals limit accessibility of articles published in these journals by encrypting them, thus making inaccessible to search engines. Thus, perhaps in many cases, these articles cannot be traced. The authors should be aware that they should not publish in predatory journals as this may not only make them devoid from the credit they deserve as these predatory publications do not count for doctoral thesis or grant applications but also may harm the authors publishing in these journals by permanent blacklisting the authors from further publication in indexed journals.
The statement of World Association of Medical Editors (WAME) on “Predatory Journals” gives a glimpse for methods which can be used to distinguish legitimate journals from overflooding sea of predatory or pseudo journals. According to WAME's statement, predatory journals are the journals that claim to conduct peer review for all submitted manuscripts and mimic the structure of legitimate journals, but contrary to this they publish almost all the manuscripts submitted without any external peer review and do not follow standard ethical policies that are recommended or advocated by reputed organizations such as WAME, the COPE, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), and the Council of Science Editors (CSE) All these journals do not have any policies or permanent methods regarding long-term archiving of journal content, management of potential conflicts of interest, and transparency of journal processes and policies including fees. In spite of many clues these journals give of being predatory in nature, WAME still cautions all the authors and researchers against the use of Beall's list as the sole method for determining whether a journal is predatory or legitimate. Apart from Beall's list that identifies “predatory” journals, WAME recommends use of DOAJ which identifies legitimate OA journals and “Think. Check. Submit.” checklist developed by a coalition of scholarly publishing organizations.,,
Bohannon J IN 2013 conducted an interesting experiment to check the extent of predatory journals destroying biomedical science and bypassing peer-review system conducted on 304 submissions of an hopelessly flawed error-ridden study describing the benefits of a new cancer drug submitting as imaginary African researcher affiliated to imaginary fake institute in Eritrea. The extent of error in the submitted study was that extreme, even a high school kid with good knowledge of chemistry and the ability to understand a basic data plot could have easily marked the studies' flaws. But surprisingly, out of 304 submissions, 157 were either processed for further review or were straight away sent for publication. This shows the extent of problem the predatory journals create by flooding the web with worthless papers by selling worthless science in the name of publication.
Many young and inexperienced researchers along with reputed researchers knowingly use predatory or pseudo journals for the purpose of publications to build their resume and CV, to gain employment, fund for further research, grants, and even promotions in their professional carriers. Thus, the authors of medical field who are even aware of the predatory nature of a journal may still publish in it due to pressure to publish.,
On the other hand, predatory journals use various methods to prove themselves legitimate. One such tactics employed by these predatory journals is getting themselves indexed in fake indexes and displaying fake matrices. According to a report published by a leading newspaper “The Hindu,” a systematic study of the University Grants Commission's (UGC) approved list of journals has revealed that 88% of journals in UGC's white list are predatory, thus revealing the ugly side of predatory publishing.
UGC admitted that the UGC guidelines had indicated ISSN number as a criterion for a research journal. This indeed was a big mistake because “International Standard Serial Number” (ISSN) number is used to identify newspapers, journals, magazines, and all kinds of periodicals – print and electronic media. These numbers are mainly for identification through bar code and library classification, ordering, and distribution purpose. ISSN numbers are necessary for administration and logistics purposes; however, they do not reflect quality of any journal, periodical, or monograph.
These journals not only prevent themselves to be identified as predatory journals but also mask themselves from reputed indexing or listings of various reputed institutions or regulating bodies thus creating a havoc in scientific community.
Internet being the most wonderful innovation of century showed light for advancement in field of communication, sharing of knowledge, and advancement of science; on other side, it also showed the shadow of darker side in the form of hacking and cybercrimes. OA movement which was invented with noble dreams of revolution in scholarly publishing through freely accessible research papers to everyone turned into a nightmare with fraudulent journals taking unethical advantage of it. Promotion of OA publishing had given rise to many fake or pseudo journals whose creators practice questionable ethics by selling worthless science in the name of publication.
To deal with this evil of predatory publishing, Jeffre Beall, associate professor of library science working with University of Colorado, created Beall's list (2011–2017) which was a register that keeps a track and monitors these pseudo or predatory journals. Beall's list consisted of an annually compiled list of potential, possible, or probably predatory scholarly OA journals. Further in 2015, he included two new lists of misleading metrics and hijacked journals. Where the function of misleading metrics was to list out companies that generate and display fraudulent and counterfeit impact factors which pseudo or predatory publishers use to deceive researchers to make them think that the journals are legitimate once. While as the list of hijacked journals represented a list of journals that use fake duplicate webpage that exactly mimics the webpage of legitimate journal for deceiving researcher for the purpose of soliciting submissions and collecting fees in the name of article processing fee without making them aware that they are submitting manuscript to predatory journals or pseudo journals.,
Unfortunately Beall's list was removed and ultimately went dark on January 17, 2017 following removal by the owner under tremendous pressure from publishers, journal editors, and even university but still many reputed institutions use the checklist to list out predatory journals.,
Beall never supported a regulatory body to oversee scholarly publishers but instead he suggested that best defence against these pseudo and predatory journals involved in unethical publishing will be education and scientific literacy of all the researchers by ability to recognize these journals. For this, Beall's gave Beall's criteria to identify such journals [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4].
One can attempt to demark predatory journal from legitimate OA journals using “Think? Check. Submit.” initiative. This initiative was started to help researcher gain knowledge to prevent them falling prey to these pseudo or predatory journals. The word “Think” alarms that are you submitting your research to a trusted journal? The word “Check” says to use our check list to assess the journal in which you are submitting, and finally the word “Submit” says only if you can answer “yes” to the questions on our check list then you can proceed submitting your research to the journal you checked. The following checklist is mentioned by these initiative:
DOAJ is a community-curated online directory that indexes and provides access to high-quality, OA, peer-reviewed journals. For a journal to obtain DOAJ seal, the journal should fulfil the following criteria:
First and foremost is that it should provide permanent identifiers like Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) to all the researches being published. Any journals publishing high-quality researches should also have provision for depositing its digital content with long-term digital preservation or in simpler terms long-term archiving program. Each article should be printed with embed machine-readable CC licensing information and allow the authors to hold the copyright without restrictions or hidden policies. Finally, it should allow generous reuse and mixing of content digitally in accordance with a CC BY, CC BY-SA, or CC BY-NC license and their representative web page should clearly mention about any kind of charges to be borne by the authors to process or publish a paper. For example, APCs, submission charges, page charges, colour charges, or any other processing charges.
This review article aims to introduce the issues related to predatory publishing and the techniques/strategies used by these predatory publishers to attract young and inexperienced researchers. These issues related to predatory publishing create a need to increase the awareness of young unfledged academic researchers regarding potential consequences of these predatory publishing. It is sought that instead of banning or creating any specific laws or committee for scrutiny of these journals, all the educational academic institutes should focus on delivering specially designed courses for the postgraduate student, young untrained researchers, and faculty members to highlight predatory publishing and creating new ways to curb this maniac by active discussion with researchers.
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Conflicts of interest
There are no conflicts of interest.
[Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4]