Predatory journals are widely recognised as a real and escalating threat to the legitimacy of modern scholarly publishing. But what defines predatory publishing? There are many behaviours that indicate that a journal or publishers’ intentions may not be 100% legitimate, which can result in their inclusion in Cabell’s Blacklist, but this judgement involves a degree of subjectivity. The difficulties in defining ‘predatory publishing’ is the subject of a recent LSE impact blog by Kyle Siler.
Siler suggests that to demarcate predatory and non-predatory publishing is complex due to the varying types and degrees of illegitimacy that exist. These may range, for example, from relatively minor violations, such as a poorly maintained webpage, to obviously fraudulent activity, such as fake editorial boards, or an absent peer review process. Siler highlights that journals and publishers may exhibit a combination of violations that vary in severity, which can lead to significant levels of ambiguity in academic publishing; publishers may produce a series of journals of varying quality and legitimacy, and, likewise, individual journals may publish strong articles alongside less legitimate contributions. This can make it difficult to draw the line between legitimate and predatory.
Siler explains that as academic publishing is simultaneously a professional and an economic activity, where business interests supersede a journal’s academic function, the borders of legitimacy can be pushed. This careful balance is evident in controversial ‘grey’ journals and publishers, some of which have seen increasing success in recent years despite criticism over their business practices. Siler suggests that peer review is key to managing this ambiguity and proposes that the wider application of open peer review in particular is needed to expose poor practices.