Tips & Resources

How Researchers Can Avoid Being Victims of Fake Journals

Research published last week in BMC Medicine has shown that fake journals, which target scientists looking for a quick way to publish their research, are on the rise. They usually charge the researcher a fee of $60-$200 and their peer review is weak, if it exists at all.

“They may go through the motions of peer review, but it’s not bonafide. It’s just lip service,” says Jeffrey Beall, an academic librarian at the University of Colorado, Denver, in the United States. (See related story: “Predatory Journals Seek Arab Researchers,”)

Beall compiles a list of these predatory journals, which includes nearly 12,000 periodicals and publishers, and that list, of course, is a good place to check an unfamiliar journal.

Here are other ways to avoid predatory journals:

  • Since 1975, Thomson Reuters has produced an annual assessment of the scholarly reach of scientific and social science journals. The 2015 report includes over 11,000 listings. If a researcher is invited to submit work to a journal that they aren’t familiar with, they can check the journal against this list. If they find the journal named in the report they can be fairly confident it’s legitimate. (Beall cautions that about ten journals on the list are ones he regards as “predatory.”)
  • Researchers should be wary of journals contacting them by e-mail and expressing admiration for their previous work. Young researchers should be especially skeptical of such messages.
  • Researchers should also avoid journals that promote their ability to rapidly edit and publish research. “Some of them blatantly advertise a one-week peer review,” says Beall. Expedited peer review is sometimes possible in highly competitive fields for research that might someday win a Nobel Prize, but those occasions are very rare. The one-week peer review makes Haider Sabah Kadhim, the head of the microbiology department at Al-Nahrain University in Iraq, laugh. “A true journal takes as long as that just to tell you they’ll send it to a reviewer,” he says. Kadhim, who has written about predatory journals, says that if the publisher promotes anything less than a month’s turnaround time, that should make researchers tread cautiously. A typical peer-review period for a scientific journal would be about six months.
  • Beall also cautions would-be authors against taking any reassurance from an impressive-sounding name on a journal’s editorial board. “They often add people’s names without their knowledge or permission,” he says, “They do that with respected names to gain an air of gravitas.”

Researchers who take all of the above steps and exercise a reasonable amount of caution can help to ensure that their work gets published in a journal that will help their career, not harm it.

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