Predatory Journals, a practical story


So one day, I open the University mailbox and, to my surprise, I read the following email:

Suspicious Email

Let’s agree it may look like a typical case of spam, but in this case, it is the forefront of a problem that is plaguing the academic world lately, the predatory journals. Academy indexes of proficiency and productivity are heavily based on the number of articles that one researcher has published, and, how many citations such articles obtain, written by other researchers.

The usual process of publishing an article in a journal goes along the following lines: first, you write your manuscript, then you send it for review, then the reviewers decide whether it is accepted or not and then, if accepted, you release some intellectual rights to the publisher, that proceeds to the publication. In this case, the publisher usually asks for a fee to the readers in order to read them. As the reader has to pay in order to access the paper, the number of citations that the article gets might be smaller.

As an answer to this, there is the open access model, where the author is the one who pays, and then the article, after being reviewed and accepted, is freely accessible to everyone, thus increasing the chances to get citations, in theory.

Predatory journals usually attach to this second model, as it allows them to ask money directly from the authors. The scam consists of the “journals” not having any sort of control about what they publish, publishing everything for money without review (or with less than the standard review) and thus having no credibility, just doing it for the money (in this case, between $256 and $1080 per article). As a researcher, you don’t want your papers to be even close to a journal like those if you care about your reputation and the quality of the publishers of your work.

What ringed the bell of this being pretty shady?

  • The fact that it was them that sent me the email because they need a manuscript (I am not the most experienced researcher, but I think it does not work like that).
  • The fact that it is an Opthalmology journal, a field that only tangentially (if so) touches mine.
  • After a small research on their webpage, which is already dubious, I went to the last issue, and there are only 5 articles, all of them reviewed in less than one month. For comparison, the last issue of Behavioral Research Methods (a Springer journal) has 21 articles and they have around 130 in the queue, approved and waiting for publication. The period to wait for review is usually much larger than one month.
  • The articles are one or two pages when the usual length of a journal article is much bigger.

Also, the fact that the same publisher appears in the blog Flaky Journals should be an already good indicator. To close, and as a conclusion, because this is starting to be long and boring, I would say, from my small experience, that you should avoid this kind of journals at all costs. They don’t provide value, they might not even have any impact in your performance evaluations (at least in Finland they would, most likely, not rank in the Finnish Publications Forum) and they can even damage your reputation. It is better to work it out and publish in better journals.

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