There are so many scientific journals nowadays, it is understandably challenging for the untrained eye to be able to discern the good ones from the bad ones. Heck, sometimes it's hard for the well trained eye.
One of the main reasons for the difficulty lies in a major shift in scientific publishing that has happened in the last decade - the introduction of open access publishing on the internet. This has brought with it the unfortunate rise of online journals that fall under the category of ‘predatory’ journals. These are defined as journals that 1) actively solicit manuscripts, 2) charge publications fees and 3) lack robust peer review and editorial services.
But, predatory journals are dressed up to look like reputable journals. So, how can one discern if the paper that they are reading is from a predatory journal or not? A group recently set out to find the answer. They chose roughly one hundred journals from each of three different categories and carried out a cross-sectional comparison of characteristics. The categories were potential predatory, legitimate open access, and legitimate subscription-based biomedical journals. The group looked at many different factors that defined the journal's characteristics such as website integrity, look and feel, editors and staff, editorial/peer review process, instructions to authors, publication model, copyright and licensing, journal location, and contact. (1) Data were collected, statistics were calculated and, in the end, 13 characteristics were identified that distinguished predatory journals from presumed legitimate journals. Before we get to the list of 13, some interesting distinctions were made. Here are a few.
- Many more predatory journals’ homepages contained spelling errors (66%) and distorted or potentially unauthorized images (63%) compared to open access journals (6% and 5%, respectively) and subscription-based journals (3% and 1%, respectively).
- Scientists use an "impact factor" metric to discern how widely read a journal is. However, 33% of predatory journals (and zero subscription-based journals) cite a fabricated metric - the Index Copernicus Value as their Impact factor.
In regards to the editorial staff which is truly the heart and soul of the journal, the data speak for themselves,
Predatory Open-Access Subscription
- There was a high prevalence of predatory journals from low or low- to middle-income countries (LMICs) (75.%) compared to open access journals (19.56%). None of the subscription-based journals listed LMIC addresses.
- Readers were the main target of language used on subscription-based journal web pages (58%) but less so in open access (14.14%) and predatory (3.23%) journals, where authors (predatory journals) or both authors and readers (open access journals) were the primary target.
- Predatory journals charge a considerably smaller publication fee (median $100 USD) than open access journals ($1865 USD) and subscription-based hybrid journals ($3000 USD)
- More predatory journals indicated interest in publishing non-biomedical topics (e.g., agriculture, geography, astronomy, nuclear physics) alongside biomedical topics in the stated scope of the journal and seemed to publish on a larger number of topics than non-predatory journals
From these data, and many, many more metrics that were analyzed, the authors developed a list of thirteen characteristics that can be used to identify predatory journals.
The list of 13
- The scope of interest includes non-biomedical subjects alongside biomedical topics
- The website contains spelling and grammar errors
- Images are distorted/fuzzy, intended to look like something they are not, or which are unauthorized
- The homepage language targets authors
- The Index Copernicus Value is promoted on the website
- Description of the manuscript handling process is lacking
- Manuscripts are requested to be submitted via email
- Rapid publication is promised
- There is no retraction policy
- Information on whether and how journal content will be digitally preserved is absent
- The Article processing/publication charge is very low (e.g., < $150 USD)
- Journals claiming to be open access either retain copyright of published research or fail to mention copyright
- The contact email address is non-professional and non-journal affiliated (e.g., @gmail.com or @yahoo.com)
This study is now increasingly more important. There are now an estimated 28,000 scientific journals in existence. Young researchers that are desperate to get their work out there in order to graduate don't know any better. Graduate training does not include publication skills and ethics and one mistake early on in a career could have lasting ramifications. As publishing options continue to expand, this list of 13 will act as an important guide for separating the good journals from the junk.
(1) Items for which data were extracted were based on a combination of items from Beall’s criteria for determining predatory open-access publishers, the COPE Code of Conduct for Journal Publishers (http://publicationethics.org/resources/code-conduct), and the OASPA Membership criteria (http://oaspa.org/membership/membership-criteria/).