Some argue that predatory publishers have flourished as an unintended consequence of the increase in open access publishing. The number and productivity of predatory journals are on the rise, rendering them a hot topic in scholarly publishing. This was recently highlighted in an investigation by the Guardian newspaper, conducted in collaboration with publishers, which found that more than 5,000 scientists in British universities published with the “predatory open-access publishers” Omics and Waset in the last five years. While some authors are deceived by predatory publishers, others may knowingly choose to submit to a predatory journal due to the pressure to publish. Dr Kelly Cobey and colleagues, authors of a recent scoping review in F1000Research, partly attribute the rise of predatory journals to the lack of a standardised definition.
“What is a predatory journal?” was the key question posed in this review, which extracted 109 unique characteristics of predatory journals from almost 40 empirical studies, before thematically grouping them into six categories. The most heavily populated category, ‘Journal Operations’, was dominated by descriptors such as “deceptive” or “lacking transparency”. The ‘Communication’ category revealed that “persuasive language” was another key identifier of predatory journals; targeted language was used to influence the actions of the reader. Overall, unethical or unprofessional publication practices were common characteristics, although the researchers emphasised the challenges that authors still face in identifying predatory journals.
So, what does the future look like? Dr Cobey and colleagues advocate a number of strategies to quash the growth in predatory publishing. Firstly, establishing a consensus definition could inform development of policies to avoid predatory publishers. Secondly, the limitations of predatory journal blacklists should be considered; the use of a list of legitimate journals, such as the Directory of Open Access Journals, may be a more successful approach. Finally, knowledge is key. Educational initiatives, such as ‘Think. Check. Submit.’, may equip authors to make better decisions when navigating the complex processes of journal selection and submission. Together, these interventions could help to protect authors from falling victim to predatory journals.