Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#SciFri: How to spot a predatory journal

As many of you will be aware, I like to write a publish a lot – especially short natural history notes that help to fill gaps in of our knowledge on a particular species or habitat. These tend to be in one of a couple of places although I have published manuscripts in a variety of places. Through the years I’ve picked up a few tricks from the peer review process to help see through deception and identify predatory journals. With this in mind, I thought I’d share these with you to help stop you falling victim to scams and deceit whilst trying to find somewhere to publish your research.

First let’s define what a predatory journal is. They are exploitative academic journals that charge author fees (usually at extortionate costs) without any peer review or quality control of submitted and subsequently published papers. New and inexperienced authors tend to be their main prey, luring them in with opportunities that sound too good to be true! These predatory journals may have a peer-review process but it’s poor in comparison to what it should be, with low standards and a lack of ethical review. They’ve found a market where they can easily make some money, due to the growing pressure on young researchers who are feeling the pressure to either publish or perish.

With that out of the way – let’s move on!Having published previously, I receive a number of phishing emails on a weekly basis trying to convince me with to publish an article with a particular journal. These emails always use the same template and compliment a piece of work you’ve published elsewhere, in my case open access natural history notes. I’m not sure if there are algorithms running behind the scenes to scan newly published open access papers for contact details or if it is a manual process. Either way, the template email is usually written in very poor English and comes from a gmail account – if alarm bells aren’t already ringing they should be.

From this email you can usually determine a few things that will also indicate whether or not the journal is predatory. After all, some journals do allow authors of reviews and special issues to use templates to put a call out for papers. How do you know the email isn’t genuine? The first thing you want to do is go to the journal website and give it a thorough look. For predatory journals these tend to be poorly written and unprofessional looking website, full or errors that are either grammatical or spelling in nature. The impact factor may also be displayed on the homepage, which is usually overinflated which of course seems to give the journal more credibility and legitimacy. Sometimes journals will claiming to be new, however new journals can’t have an impact factor so if one is displayed on their website – this is another red flag.

One the simplest tests is to Google the journal, look to see if they are indexed on SCOPUS or Web of Science and what other information you can find. Predatory journals tend to be quite vague in their peer review process so the more you can find out about them and their editorial board, the better. It is at this time that you should also check to see if they are a member of a recognised professional body such as the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) or European Association of Science Editors (EASE). Whilst it may state it on their website, a quick search will reveal whether or not this claim is genuine or not.

I tend to look for the Editor-in-Chief, find their university page or LinkedIn profile, do they list this journal on anything you can reliably link to them? Predatory journals will often falsify information, including who is on their editorial board. Whilst on the journal website, also look at some of the previously published research as see how it compares to yours and if it fits the remit of the journal. Read some of the PDFs, can you spot obvious spelling and grammar issues, is the formatting consistent or is it quite sloppy? Another good test is to find out if your colleagues or your supervisor have heard of the journal, if not then it may be an indication to stay away.

One of the biggest red flags in my opinion is a journal that states that it accepts manuscripts from a variety of topics from veterinary medicine to mechanical engineering. Whilst there are journal out there that do accept manuscripts from all fields (such as Nature and Science), these tend to be well known giants in the publishing world. A small journal that has contacted you out of the blue does not have the capacity to effectively cope with such a wide variety of topics. A lot of the smaller journals I publish in are herpetology specific (for obvious reason), I’d be concerned if they started publishing articles about medicine or chemistry. Most journals are specific to one topic, so be wary of those that seem to be a jack of all trades.

Something else predatory journals are notorious for is omitting all reference of publishing fees from their website. They do however promise the impossible, a extremely quick turnaround with the article being reviewed and published in a week (or less). This is where the trap is sprung. Once you’ve submitted a manuscript (with some potential groundbreaking research) and now they are demanding hundreds or thousands of pounds/dollars to publish the research as either a submission fee (which isn’t something genuine journals demand) or as the publication fee. This is where unfortunately most people seem to come undone, especially if the journal has done a good job of appearing to be genuine up until this point.

Hopefully all of that helps you to critically evaluate the legitimacy of a journal, their intentions and whether or not you should submit manuscripts to them. However things can be complicated if you’ve already submitted a manuscript to a predatory journal before you realise what has happened. What do you do? Do you retract the paper or pay the fees? This can be complicated further if you’ve had to transfer your copyright ownership to the journal too, despite their claims to be open access etc. There is no simple answer as each case is different, depending on your research and the journal. I’d speak with your co-authors and try to come to a resolution given your circumstances. I’d also expect that your institution may also be able to provide some advice too.

It’s easy for all of us to fall for scams, so don’t worry if you do get caught out. It is my hope with this post that it helps researchers from all fields and walks of life to be more cautious when looking for places to publish their research.

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