Researchers – Beware of Predators

A recent column in Nature draws attention to ‘predatory journals’ – journals that charge open access publication fees without editorial or publishing services (such as peer-review) that are usually seen with legitimate journals.[1] Anecdotally, researchers have found that, after submitting a manuscript, they are presented with a hitherto unmentioned charge for publishing, and then when refusing to pay find that the paper is still ‘published’, making it much more difficult for it to published in another, legitimate, journal. Further, they were then invoiced for a retraction fee to remove the paper. Others have found that they have been listed on a journal’s editorial board without their explicit consent.

Although many researchers may feel that they would not fall for a predatory journal, it is still possible, especially for those who are early career researchers, those who have had a string of rejections and are feeling pressurised to publish, or those who are distracted by other concerns. Fortunately Shamseer and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional comparison study of nearly 300 journals to discern if there were any characteristics more strongly associated with predatory journals.[2] They identified 13 such characteristics that are more likely to be seen:

  1. Including biomedical and non-biomedical subjects in their scope of interest, and in particular subjects with little overlap.
  2. Having spelling and grammar errors.
  3. Using unauthorised and/or low-resolution images.
  4. Using language on the website that targets authors as opposed to readers. For example, focusing on inviting submissions, promoting metrics, etc. as opposed to highlighting recent publications.
  5. Promoting the Index Copernicus Value as a metric.
  6. Lacking description of the manuscript handling process.
  7. Requesting that manuscripts are submitted through email, as opposed to through a submission system. This often ignores requirements such as conflicts of interest declarations, funding statements, etc.
  8. Promising rapid publication.
  9. Having no retraction policy.
  10. Having no detail on digital preservation.
  11. Having low publishing fee (e.g. <$150, as opposed to >$2000 in legitimate journals).
  12. If the journal claims to be open access, either retains copyright, or fails to mention it.
  13. Having a non-professional or non-journal affiliated email address as a point of contact.

Of course, having one or some of these characteristics does not mean the journal is predatory, but should indicate that you take a closer look.

— Peter Chilton, Research Fellow


  1. Cobey K. Illegitimate journals scam even senior scientists. Nature. 6 September 2017.
  2. Shamseer L, Moher D, Maduekwe O, et al. Potential predatory and legitimate biomedical journals: can you tell the difference? A cross-sectional comparison. BMC Medicine. 2017; 15: 28.

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