Predatory publishers: what to look out for

I posted last week about predatory publishers, and avoiding the ‘quick fix’ that many of them seem to offer researchers. In this post, I want to look in more detail at how to spot a scam, so that you can avoid falling into the trap. I know a few bright scholars who have been caught by these publishers – not all of them are true scams, and many of them are becoming better at creating websites and emails that look and sound real.

First things first, what is a ‘predatory’ publisher? Essentially, this is a publisher that may a) troll academia.edu and Google Scholar, find recently published papers, and then track down the author. Or, b) set up a website, with many of the right pieces in place, and spam people in academia with more general ‘Calls for Papers’-type emails. In the first instance, authors receive a flattering email, telling them that their paper {insert title here} is exactly the kind of thing the journal/publishing house/conference is looking for, and inviting them to send anything they may be working on to that journal, or develop the paper into a book, or use it as a basis for a keynote lecture. Some of these emails are pretty obvious, but these publishers are getting cleverer all the time, and there are different ways in which they create predatory journals in particular.

One way is through hacking a real journal, and then creating a bogus site, setting up an email account and sending out spam emails. This is usually pretty easy to track down – just type the ISSN, or journal title, into Google and spend a few minutes looking around carefully. If it’s a scam, it should come up fairly quickly. You can also look at this archived copy of Jeffrey Beall’s well-known list of predatory publishers and journals.

But, in some cases things do look legit, even after the Googling. This is an example I received recently:

ACADEMIA JOURNAL OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH
Impact Factor (0.351)

Call for Papers

Publication and peer-review process: All manuscripts are reviewed by the Editorial Board and qualified reviewers. Decisions will be made as rapidly as possible, and the journal strives to return reviewers’ comments to authors within 4 weeks.

The editorial board will re-review manuscripts that are accepted pending revision. All accepted articles will be published online immediately after proof reading and formatting process.

ACADEMIA JOURNAL OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH journal welcomes the submission of manuscripts in:

  Agricultural Sciences
  Applied Biology
  Biochemistry
  Biological Sciences
  Biophysics
  Cell Biology
  Chemical Engineering
  Chemical Engineering
  Chemistry
  Civil Engineering
  Civil Engineering
  Communication & IT
  Computer Science
  Construction
  Dentistry
  Developmental Biology
  Ecology
  Education
  Endocrinology
  Energy
  Engineering, All Fields
  Entomology
  Environment
  Evolution
  Fisheries
  Food & Food Technology
  Genetics
  Genomics
  Geology
  Immunology
  Infectious Diseases
  Marine Sciences
  Marine Technology
  Mathematics
  Medical Technology
  Medicine
  Microbiology
  Nanotechnology
  Neuroscience
  Nuclear Engineering
  Nutrition and Food Science
  Oceanography
  Oncology
  Parasitology
  Petroleum & Gas
  Pharmacology
  Physics
  Physiology
  Plant Biology
  Population Biology
  Robotics
  Signal Transduction
  Solid State Technology
  Space Science
  Zoology
  Veterinary Science
  Toxicology
  Statistics
  Nursing
Indexing Body and Partners:

Impact Factor (0.351), Covered by CABI, Google Scholar, Open J-Gate, Journal Seek,  DOAJ, Union Catalogue, University of California Library, National Library of Sweden, Scholars Portal, University Library, Saskatchewan, The University of Georgia Library, Chemical Abstracts (USA), University of Oregon Library, University of Groningen Library, State Library of New South Wales, Colorado State University Library, Ghent University, Belgium, WZB Library, Germany, Periodicos, Scotland Knowledge Network, Covered by SLUB

We invite you to submit your manuscript(s) to academia.onlinepub@gmail.com for publication. Our objective is to inform authors of the decision on their manuscript(s) within four weeks of submission. Following acceptance, a paper will normally be published in the next issue. Instruction for authors and other details are available on our website.

Best regards,
Prof. Lewis
Editor,
ACADEMIA JOURNAL OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH
EMAIL: academia.onlinepub@gmail.com
Academia Publishing
ISSN 2315-7712

I typed the ISSN into Google and found this:

Screenshot 2017-08-15 11.17.41.png

Now it looks like a real journal, right? But the email I received was not from the posted email address. A little more digging revealed several identical emails posted on sites alerting internet users to scams, with different ‘editor’ names at the end. I was still not completely convinced that even the seemingly ‘real’ journal was real, so I Googled some more. I now think that this is a predatory publisher, and that probably all of its journals are predatory as well. Why? There are a few red flags and I’ll list them here:

  1. The LONG list of topics they ‘specialise’ in. Credible journals with scholarly reputations tend to specialise in more focused areas of their field, for example ‘Mediterranean Politics; Teaching in Higher Education; British Journal for Educational Technology; Environmental Earth Sciences. If you look carefully at their ‘About this journal’ or ‘Aims and scope’ pages, you won’t see a list of everything about education, politics or environmental sciences listed there. If a journal says it will publish anything you want to write about, beware!
  2. The typos on the home page. A credible journal that has a website with typos is a red flag for me. Proofreading is not that hard. If they are not paying attention to their brand image, what are they doing with your paper?
  3. The vague talk about article processing charges. I have published with journals that charge article processing fees. Many international journals do this now, especially for gold open access. BUT, these are only payable when your article has been peer reviews, for free, copyedited and typeset for free, and accepted for publication. Also, you are told exactly how much you will be asked to pay BEFORE you send in your paper, on the website. Many predatory publishers are known for asking for fees to be paid but it is not always possible to find out what these charges are upfront, as these are typically not declared online. If this seems like the deal with publishers you are looking into, don’t go there. Close your browser window and move on.
  4. The dodgy list of ‘indexes’. Good journals are well-indexed. This essentially means that they have been vetted as being of good standing by a group of peers, and they have coverage in terms of appearing on databases in library holdings, such as EBSCOHost and Ingenta, and in Google Scholar searches. Well-known indexes are the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), SCOPUS, ISI (Web of Science), the International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS), the Norwegian List, SciELO (in South Africa), WorldCAT, Sherpa-Romeo. Google Scholar does not count as a database, and neither does a library. The DOAJ does count (the journal above lists this index), but if you search the DOAJ list this journal (above) is not on it.
  5. The Gmail email address: Not all gmail addresses for editors lead to bogus journals. In some cases, managing editors are independent, or journals are not housed at only one university, hence a gmail address, which offers no costs and good cloud storage. So, use this one with caution. Often, though, a gmail address, in conjunction with other warning signs, can be a sign that things are not what they may seem. Also, if there is no online submission platform, and only a gmail address, this should be a red flag.

Why should you be aware, and vigilant? There are a few reasons, but I will name just two of the most important ones: firstly, the peer review, and proceeding copyediting etc of your paper will typically be really shoddy at these kinds of journals. As I commented in the last post, good peer review, and editorial oversight, takes time, and cannot really be done well, consistently, in 4 weeks. So, you won’t get useful, thoughtful feedback, and you may end up with a paper you have put a lot of work into disappearing into the ether, or worse, being findable but embarrassing, as it won’t have benefitted from constructive critique, or professional editing. Secondly, because of the shoddy peer review, and a rushed publication process, these journals do not typically publish scholarship that advances knowledge and learning. We share our work with one another through journals, books, and so on to do just this, and we should all be concerned about the rise of fake, and predatory, publishers who are publishing scholarship with little value or credibility, or that may even be methodologically or factually unsound.

If you are worried at any point that you may be dealing with a predatory publisher, have a look here for excellent advice, especially with book publishers, and here, here and here for further advice on spotting predatory journal publishers. Take your time, ask Google, check with your peers, and proceed with caution. There are plenty of good, credible, well-managed open access journals out there for you to publish with.

I’ll post next week on finding a good journal for your paper, and some tips for creating a plan for publishing.

Predatory publishers: avoid the ‘quick fix’

I received an email this morning from a student, sadly not my first (or last I suspect), asking me to help her work out if an offer she received from a publisher to publish her thesis was legit or not. As you may suspect, it was not. I receive these kinds of unsolicited emails all the time, to publish a paper I have written as a book, or to draw on my recent journal article in a keynote at a random conference about everything, or to turn a paper into a whole book. I delete them all. But, I have published enough (and have worked in academic publishing long enough) to smell a scam or predatory publisher/journal/conference when these emails arrive in my inbox.

caution-1776643_640

But what of less experienced authors? How are they supposed to know that they are potentially being conned into giving their hard work away to a publisher who has zero academic credibility, and may well charge them large amounts of money to publish their work? So many early career researchers are under huge amounts of pressure to publish, and this can make them feel a bit desperate. When I tell first-time authors they may have to wait up to a year to see their paper in print, they freak out a bit, especially because they don’t yet have a conveyor-belt of papers in various stages of development, or a position with status that gives them breathing room. When a seemingly legit email arrives then, promising peer review and publication within 4-6 weeks of receiving the manuscript, it can be mighty tempting to send the paper there instead.

In part, researchers fall into the traps presented by predatory publishers, then, because of this insane pressure to publish (or risk losing a postdoc position, or a chance at a teaching job, and so on). In part, though, I think they fall into the trap because they think that a year-long (or longer) wait between submission and publication is ridiculous. I have learned, from working with people who have yet to publish, or have not published very much, that few people really understand journal waiting times, and what goes into them. Thus, when they are offered a chance to publish really quickly, they may jump at it, believing that the process can actually happen, credibly and with due care, in 6 weeks.

Most credible journals will indicate that it takes a minimum of 16 weeks/4 months to receive a response if your paper has been sent out for peer review. If your paper is rejected, you should hear within 4-6 weeks of submission. Papers are generally reviewed/read by an initial editor or editors, who may then assign an associate editor, who is knowledgeable about the topic you are writing about, to manage your paper. This editor then has to choose peer reviewers, and find at least two people willing and able to review the paper within the stipulated time frame – anywhere from 30 to 60 days. Many reviewers submit reviews late, and this can slow the process. After peer review, the editor then has to look at the feedback and reach a decision on your paper, before sending it back to you with comments and a decision. If your paper is rejected, you will need to start again with a new journal, possibly having to make changes and revisions first. If the reviewers recommend revisions, these can take up to 3 months to effect. The paper may then only go back to the editors for re-review, or it may go back to one or more of the initial reviewers. This again takes a few weeks or more. Then the paper has to be copyedited, returned to you for author checking, and then typeset before it can be published, online or in print. Any journal that tells you it can do all of this in 6 weeks is lying to you, and is certainly predatory.

This journal, published by a large international publisher, gives you a one example of a typical publication process. Most journals of repute do work hard to process papers within 9-12 months of submission, but busier, higher profile journals do have higher rejection rates, and longer wait times because of the volume of research they have to process. Based on research into average wait times for peer review, revisions, possible rejection and resubmission to a different journal, and so on, Editage has useful advice for you on how to prepare your own publication schedule here. There will always be exceptions – sometimes you get lucky: the reviews are positive, the revisions are minor and there’s a gap in an upcoming issue, and you get published within 6 months of submission of your paper. But this is not, unfortunately, the norm.

To work in academia these days is to publish, and share your research with your community of peers and fellow researchers. It’s not just about climbing a totem pole at your university, or scoring the right kinds of ‘credits’ – although (for now anyway) this is part of the ‘game’. I prefer to think of publishing my work as taking advantage of opportunities to speak to my colleagues, here and further afield, about research I am interested in, and think is important. I write papers I would like to read, and papers I think will help or interest or even inspire the people I work with. This motivates me to write papers that credible, well-read, well-respected journals in my field will be interested in. If you are motivated to share your work with readers like you, you will look to the journals you read, find useful and enjoy as possible places to publish your work. And these won’t be predatory, low-impact, no credibility journals.

Screenshot 2017-08-15 10.14.28

Publishing in journals requires patience, fortitude, a thick skin, and a realistic plan.  When those seemingly too-good-to-be-true emails pop into your inbox, spend some time Googling the so-called journal before you jump at a ‘quick fix’. Publish your work where it will be seen, read, engage your readers, and make an impact on your field. The waiting will be worth it.