In this new blog series called ‘Publishing tips‘, we bring expert advice to help researchers navigate the academic landscape better.
In the first post of the series, Lea Gagnon, Editorial Development Advisor at Nature Research Academies, shares a handy check list that researchers can use to avoid falling prey to predatory journals.
In the competitive academic landscape where researchers only have one chance of publishing their findings, some might be tempted to publish on the first invitation. Here’s one such classic, ego-flattering invitation:
“Dear esteemed doctor, based on your valuable experience and contributions, we are delighted to invite you to submit a manuscript to our journal.”
Hold on – if it sounds too alluring, it probably is. Many predatory journals use such aggressive seduction techniques (with repeated emails flooding your mailbox) to earn publication fees before acceptance and without delivering the promised services. Here are four evaluation criteria that could save you from falling prey to predatory journals.
The first criterion to evaluate is the journal’s reputation. Is the journal published by an acclaimed publisher (e.g. Springer Nature, Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, Wiley, Sage, etc.)? How well do you and your colleagues know this journal? Are you familiar with the editorial board members? Some illegitimate journals will automatically play audio testimonies of researchers’ positive opinions on their website to influence you. Others will use the names of deceased or acclaimed researchers without their consent. And if they do agree to contribute, their involvement is often minimal. Make sure you discuss with your colleagues and confirm personally with the editors if and how much they are involved with the journal.
The second indicator is the journal’s credibility. This can be assessed by its physical and online presence. Is the journal based in the middle of nowhere and only displays a P.O. Box? How easy is it to contact and hear from the editor? Can you find the journal in trustworthy databases such as Pubmed/Medline, Web of Science, Scopus, Embase or Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)? Is the journal a member of the Committee On Publication Ethics (COPE)? Is it listed on the black or white lists of illegitimate or legitimate journals? While Jeffrey Beall’s infamous blacklist was retracted in 2017, Cabells International has since developed both a black and a white list, adding to the DOAJ selective whitelist
The third benchmark to review is the journal’s impact, evaluated by several metrics such as the famous impact factor (IF). Journal IFs are published annually by Clarivate Analytics and calculated from citations in journals indexed in Web of Science’s Science Citation Index (SCI) but also Emerging SCI (ESCI), Social SCI (SSCI), Arts and Humanities CI (AHCI), Book CI (BKCI) and Conference Proceedings CI (CPCI). Only journals indexed in SCI, SCI-Expanded and Social SCI receive IFs. Homemade bogus IFs are commonly displayed on predatory journals’ websites, such as the “Global Impact Factor”. Therefore it is wise to double check whether they match the official IF released only in the Journal of Citation Reports.
Lastly, the journal quality needs careful examination. Are there any spelling mistakes on the journal’s website? How is the peer review process (e.g. single-blind, double-blind or open)? Are the published articles sloppy? Can you access all archived full texts? Most predatory journals claim to use peer review but rarely do, leading editors to accept manuscripts either instantly (e.g. a few hours) or within a few days, compared to several weeks in legitimate journals. When a journal fails to provide details of peer review process, you might want to see a few papers and screen for any fake papers, like this Star Wars midichlorians paper. To help you assess a paper that appears legitimate, the Equator Network developed valuable checklists (e.g. CONSORT for clinical trials) indicating what aspects of a study should be presented. The majority of predatory journals do not follow these checklists. For example, only 40% of 1907 human and animal studies published in predatory journals report having received approval from a research ethics committee. In genuine journals, such an unethical study would have been directly rejected from the editor’s desk.
So, exercise care when choosing your target journal by reading several articles from the journal and cross-checking its claims (IF, indexes). Follow this useful think-check-submit checklist and remember that most open access journals (except economic journals) only charge a fee after acceptance. If you do submit your hard work by mistake, never sign the copyright transfer agreement and insist on having your manuscript removed (see also advice on what to do if this happens).
After all, publishing your hard-earned research is one of the most important steps in your career.
[Lea Gagnon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org]