Ecology Community: Predatory Journals

Who hasn’t received emails from dubious sounding journals requesting manuscript submission? These emails are very common nowadays and generally ignored, immediately deleted or left in the junk mail. But, what is hidden behind these emails from so-called predatory journals? In this blog post, Nicolas Fanin, Guille Peguero and Journal of Ecology Associate Editors Paul Kardol and Franciska De Vries give us their personal views on predatory journals and what they think we should do as a community to fight against these fraudulent companies. They also provide details of useful existing tools to help you decide whether a journal is trustworthy. If you have stories to share about predatory journals, please get in touch with the Blog Team or tweet it with #EcologyCommunity


It’s time to rise up against predatory journals!

The pressure of predatory journals is increasing across all disciplines including ecology. Predatory publishing can mean different things to different people, but here we will discuss truly exploitative journals that charge authors publication fees without providing editorial or other publishing services their legitimate counterparts provide (Figure 1). If you’re asking yourself what exactly the services are that legitimate publishers provide, you might find this regularly updated list from the Scholarly Kitchen useful.

It is also important to explicitly note that legitimate open access journals provide all the same services as subscription journals. Although their business model is to charge per article published they should not be conflated with predatory publishers. Far from adding value in 102 ways listed in the previously referenced post, predatory publishers could be said to destabilise the scientific systemand potentially even commit crimes punishable under most judiciary systems: fraud, identity impersonation2 or reputation misappropriation of third-parties to their own profit. Although most experienced scientists know how to recognize a predatory journal, it is crucial to warn the scientific community about the misdeeds of these companies.

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Figure 1: Example of an abstract published in May from a seemingly predatory journal (highlighting added by us).

One important issue associated with predatory journals is the difficulty of chasing these illegal acts. Who is behind these journals? Where to report the problem? What can we do against this growing plague? Who is in charge of law enforcement in these cases? Moreover, there is another, and probably more important, dimension to this phenomenon: who is vulnerable and who is being preyed upon by these companies?

A preliminary investigation of one journal we believe to be predatory indicates that the main target of predatory journals are researchers from countries in the Global South. Institutions countries in the Global South represent more than two-thirds of publishing people in our sampling, displaying the opposite pattern of what we usually see in typical international peer-reviewed journals. Scientists from developing countries have the same pressure of ‘publish or perish’ as elsewhere. However, they may also experience greater difficulties to publish in these traditional peer-reviewed scientific outlets, perhaps increasing the incentive of paying for a publishing shortcut. If so, this should galvanise the scientific community, not only because of the credibility damage that predatory journals can inflict to science, but also about what we can do to update the scientific publishing system to reach more equality.

The problem of predatory journals stretches beyond the daily annoyance of receiving numerous spam emails from illegitimate journals in your mailbox; it questions the base of the current scientific system. So what can be done? Perhaps the easiest way to fight this phenomenon is to ensure all researchers have the tools to spot potentially predatory journals. There are many tools already out there, including blacklists, whitelists and publisher online tools.

Blacklists

There have been many attempts to create blacklists of predatory journals. The original Beall’s list has been taken down by Jeffrey Beall but several versions of this are being kept up to date by various anonymous individuals including this one and this one. However, these are problematic for many reasons including opaque inclusion criteria and potential biases of the anonymous curators.

Whitelists

There are also many whitelists of legitimate open access journals such as DOAJ, which is an online directory of ‘high-quality, open access, peer-reviewed journals’. These are useful, but it’s important to note that just because a journal is not included on a whitelist that does not mean it is necessarily predatory. The journal may not have indexed yet, or it may not reach one or other of the particular whitelist standards but could still be a legitimate journal.

Publisher online tools

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Choose the right journal for your research (www.thinkchecksubmit.org)

Another excellent initiative put together by a large cross publisher group (ALPSP, DOAJ, INASP, ISSN, LIBER, OASPA, STM, UKSG, and individual publishers) is Think, Check, Submit. This provides a simple checklist for researchers to follow to ensure they are submitting to trusted journals. 

We would like to see things go further however. A good starting point would be to create an international watchdog platform that makes it easier for the scientific community to denounce bad practices. Once identified, instead of directly pursuing the individuals behind these journals (which may prove very elusive in legal terms), it could be more efficient to fight back by sending a legal request to those responsible for the hosting services. Successful platforms such as ‘retraction watch’ may also be used to denounce the bad practices of predatory journals (e.g., identity impersonation), thus prompting institutions to investigate this growing phenomenon.

It is essential to bring together the entire scientific community to think about collective solutions. We invite all the different parties around the table (publishing groups, scientists, ecological societies): it’s time to rise up against predatory journals.

If you want to share your own stories, please get in touch with the Blog Team or tweet it with #EcologyCommunity

Nicolas Fanina, Guille Peguerob,c, Paul Kardold* & Franciska De Vriese*

aInstitut National de la Recherche Agronomique, UMR 1391 ISPA, Bordeaux Sciences Agro, Villenave-d’Ornon, France. bUniversity of Antwerpen, Belgium. cCREAF, Barcelona, Spain. dSwedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden. eUniversity of  Manchester, UK. *Associate Editor of Journal of Ecology.

1Predatory journals send spam to scientists at all stages of careers, which not only forms a time drain but also buries legitimate emails. According to a small exploratory survey this means on average more than 4 mails per day per person including invitations to questionable conferences. These journals also publish low quality science that may discredit the base on which the scientific system is built. Please participate in our international survey here to get more data.

2Some predatory journals add names of renowned scientists to their Editorial Board without asking them permission (see our Twitter story here on the potentially predatory journal Species). Personal note from Paul Kardol: after sending them a non-friendly email, they removed me from their list of Editorial Board members. 

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