Predatory Publishing

What is predatory publishing?

The term refers to business practices that offer publishing services in return for payment of publication charges, mostly under the pretext of open access, but do not actually perform these services at all or only inadequately. For example, this means that no quality assurance procedures (such as peer review) are carried out or that no editorial work is done, which would be expected of professional journals (be they open-access or closed access) in order to ensure scientific standards and quality. Publishers who engage in predatory publishing are also referred to as predatory publishers, and their journals as predatory journals.

How does predatory publishing work?

A large number of these publishers try to attract authors through unsolicited and sometimes aggressive marketing and with the promise of a fast publication process. While some of this advertising (e. g. emails) are easily recognisable as dubious, there are publishers that advertise professional-looking publication services that appear to be of adequate quality due to their layout, naming or references to allegedly involved editors or professional societies. Common practices include:

  • A large number of allegedly already published articles is mentioned. Upon closer examination, these articles often turn out to be faked or plagiarised articles that merely intented to simulate an established publication institution.
  • The design or titles of renowned scientific journals are used or imitated.
  • Impact factors or similar metrics of the journals are claimed. In many cases, these turn out to be false claims, or the metrics referred to do not really exist or merely imitate existing metrics.
  • Renowned academics are advertised as members of the editorial board, but they do not really exist or have never been asked or agreed to be involved.
  • The possibility of publishing special issues is offered. This is intended to attract further scholars in the network of the editors for publishing articles.

Why is the use of such publishing services a problem?

Quality-assured open access journals ensure a review process (usually peer review), the inclusion of articles in scholarly databases and catalogues, persistent referencing and identification of the article and other professional services. The publication of research results in predatory journals, on the other hand, cannot be regarded as meeting the standards of scientific quality assurance. For members of Humboldt-Universität, respective standards are specified in the "Satzung der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin zur Sicherung guter wissenschaftlicher Praxis und zum Umgang mit Vorwürfen wissenschaftlichen Fehlverhaltens".

The risks of publishing in such journals include the following:

  • no (peer) review: Scientific quality assurance is a time-consuming process. In contrast to the promise of predatory publishers of quick review within a few days, reputable publication outlets require more time for an adequate review process. A lack of quality assurance, on the other hand, leads to the publication of non-reviewed results. At worst, this can even have real and serious negative consequences, for example in the field of medicine.
  • impermanence: Reputable publishers or institutions address the issue of long-term archiving of publications and maintain the necessary technical infrastructure, often in cooperation with other publishers and libraries. Articles in predatory journals may disappear overnight if the provider ceases to operate its platform or establishes a new publishing outlet under a different name.
  • lack of visibility: While publications in reputable publishing outlets are referenced and made discoverable through indexing in library catalogues, general or subject-specific citation databases (e. g. Scopus, Web of Science, PubMed) and search engines, articles in predatory journals can often only be retrieved via common search engines. Accordingly, they are not easily discovered and usually not cited.
  • damage to scientific reputation: Such a publication can damage the reputation of the individual scientist, but also of the institution. It can also harm the individual's scientific career in the long term.

What precautions can I take?

Before submitting a paper to a journal, it is wise to check the journal. This is especially important if you are less familiar with the journal or do not know it at all.

A good place to start is the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), which lists quality-assured open access journals.

Before submitting a contribution, we recommend to check the journal for the following indications of predatory publishing:

  1. Does the provider's website or online platform appear dubious or poorly designed? Does it contain obvious errors, commonplace phrases, misspellings, mistranslations, or similar?
  2. Does the journal ask for a submission fee? If so, either disregard this journal at once or be at least cautious.
  3. Are promises made that the paper will be published in any case? Are unrealistic statements or promises made with regard to the duration of the peer review or publishing process?
  4. Is the editorial board relatively small or stated as 'coming soon'? Are the editors listed in multiple journals or in other journals which are not related in terms of discipline or subject? Do the editors appear to not exist when crosschecked with a web search?
  5. Does the content of the journal vary from the title and stated scope? Are there errors in the titles and abstracts of articles?

We furthermore recommend to check the following aspects:

  1. Is there clear information on the peer review, the open access charges (if any), the rights of use and the open licence (most commonly a Creative Commons licence)?
  2. Is the journal indexed in established databases (other than the Directory of Open Access Journals)? Check the Zeitschriftendatenbank or Scopus.
  3. Is the stated ISSN of the journal correct? Verify this by using the Zeitschriftendatenbank or the ISSN Portal.
  4. Is the journal included in established journal indices or indexed in other established metrics or rankings, such as the Scimago Journal Rank (freely available) or the Journal Citation Reports (known for the Journal Impact Factor)?
  5. Is the publisher a member of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) or of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)?

Similar and also applicable are the criteria of the Think!Check!Submit! initiative, whose recommendations are available in numerous languages.

Logo von Think!Check!Submit!

Image: Think!Check!Submit, licenced under CC BY 4.0

In case of doubt, we recommend that you discuss any concerns you may have with your peers or contact our Open Access Team. You can also ask the respective subject librarian responsible for your discipline.

Does this also apply to conference publications?

The issue also occurs in the context of conferences. Often, researchers receive offers from publishers to publish their written papers in a journal or conference series after they have given presentations at conferences. Here, too, it is important to examine such offers very critically.

Another phenomenon are bogus conferences by organisers who heavily solicit submissions for alleged international conferences and who ask speakers to pay unusually high participation fees. After receiving the fee, organisers often inform speakers at short notice that the conference will only take place virtually or on a much smaller scale. Submissions are also frequently published afterwards without further editing. Refunds of fees usually are not granted.

More information

The following resources provide further information and background on predatory publishing: