Red Flags: How to Identify Predatory Publishing

What is predatory publishing? The term “predatory publishing” refers to an exploitative academic publishing business model that involves charging publication fees to authors without checking articles for quality and legitimacy, and without providing editorial and publishing services that legitimate academic journals provide, whether open access or not. If you are unfamiliar with the term “open access,” you can read about it in another blog post, but a quick definition of one model of open access, is that instead of having readers pay to read published works (subscription or paywall model), publishers have authors, or their institutions, pay for their work to be published. In the subscription model, the reader must pay to have access to published information, so only those who can afford to pay (or are associated with an institution, like students, staff, and faculty at a university library) can read the information. You have fewer readers of your published works. In the open access model, authors or their institutions are asked to pay to publish, but then anyone with the internet can read their work. There are various models of open access, and this is just one version, with a simplified explanation.

How does open access relate to predatory publishing? In the model of open access in which authors pay to publish, predatory publishers take advantage of authors who want to get published by offering to take the author’s money so that the (anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars) and they publish their work. The author does get published, and if that’s all that the author is interested in, then there is no issue. But sometimes authors are misled to believe their article is getting peer reviewed, which means that there is a vetting process of works that are submitted to their journal before they are published. Some predatory publishers have peer reviewing in place, others do not. How do you find out if a journal is peer reviewed? One resource is the database Ulrich’s Periodicals Directory, you can search by the name of the journal or publisher to determine if they are peer reviewed, or “refereed.”

How can I determine if a publisher is predatory? Use this checklist to determine if a publisher may be predatory:

  • The journal is not listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)
  • It’s not listed in Ulrichs Periodicals Directory, which is an authoritative source on publisher information, including Open Access titles
  • The publisher is not a member of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA)
  • It’s not widely available within major databases: 
    • Web of Science for journals spanning the humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields (select “Publication Name” from the drop down menu next to the search box)
    • SciFinder for journals in Chemistry and related fields (select “Journal” under the References bar). Users must first register.
    • PubMed for life sciences, biomedical, clinical, and public/community health journals (choose “Journal” from the drop down menu next to the search box)
    • JSTOR for journals spanning the arts, humanities, social sciences, and sciences (scroll down and search using the “Publication Title” search box)
  • The publisher is listed on List of Predatory Journals

Publishers often contact authors directly to solicit their work, or their labor for peer reviewing. Many times those inquiries are legitimate, but there are a growing number of cases of predatory publishers emailing authors to ask them to publish their work, or to solicit their name as an editor or a reviewer. My recommendation is to use the same critical thinking skills we use when we receive emails phishing for passwords: does the email have grammatical errors? Or do they misspell your name or that of your institution?  Questions like this can easily detect predatory publishers.

 If you can’t tell from an email if the publisher is predatory, visit the publisher’s website. Some red flags include:

  • You don’t recognize previously published authors or members of the editorial board.
  • The journal isn’t affiliated with a university or scholarly organization with which you are familiar.
  • You can’t easily identify if they have author processing fees and/or how much they cost:
    • Additionally, if they charge for submissions (prior to peer review) this is a red flag (although this may be changing). 
  • The journal doesn’t appear professional – look for an impact factor, an ISSN, DOIs for individual articles, and easy to find contact information.

I have seen various predatory publishing emails as well as websites. It’s not always easy to determine who to trust, sometimes we must make our best guess (or best professional opinion). If you come across a journal or publisher that you think may be predatory, or you just want to learn more, you can always contact me by emailing alexa.hight@tamucc.edu. You can also watch this workshop recording from November 21, 2021.

Alexa Hight

Scholarly Communication and Copyright Librarian

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