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For a researcher, having a paper published in a predatory journal is not a good thing. Given that, why is there such a proliferation of predatory journals?

How predatory journals operate

The Open Access (OA) movement provided an entrée to journal publishers who sought to take advantage of the fact that they could publish content on the web without the benefit of peer review. They have proliferated because of the “publish or perish” axiom of academic advancement. Researchers, especially new researchers, are under pressure to be published in a prestigious journal. If acceptance is slow or not forthcoming, they will resubmit until they find a journal that accepts it. It may in fact be a fake journal, but it will accept the author’s payment to have it published. Or, more commonly, the journal publishes the paper, then demands payment, before the researcher realizes the journal has a poor reputation for quality research. These publications may also solicit leading academics to serve on their boards (in name only) to appear more legitimate to potential authors.

How they continue to operate

Predatory journals can be a lucrative business model, and publishers continue to operate them because researchers continue to submit papers. It’s understandable that some researchers may be duped into submitting their manuscripts to less than reputable journals, but with all the publicity surrounding predatory practices and how to spot them, why is this still happening?

One reason researchers continue to submit papers is lack of due diligence when researching a journal. Predatory journals often have names similar to prestigious publications, appear legitimate, and even have respected academics on their boards — although these board members are sometimes not even aware of their purported affiliation with the journal. Another reason is the length of time it takes from submission to publication. With legitimate publications, it can take at least six months, often longer. Researchers are understandably anxious for their findings to enter the annals of scientific publishing, and predatory publications will publish quickly, with little or no scientific review. Unfortunately, once a researcher has been published in a predatory journal, his or her reputation may suffer damage.

How to shut down predatory journals

Before we discuss the how, we need to discuss why we need to shut down predatory publishers. Some in the scholarly publishing realm may be indifferent to this trap, feeling that if researchers choose a questionable avenue, that’s their business. In reality, it should be everyone’s business ― the scholarly publishing community. Not only do predatory publications harm the individual researcher’s reputation and desire to have his or her research seen by the research community, they also tarnish the OA publishing model as well as the very premise of scientific discovery. If pseudo or unsubstantiated research is incorporated into scientific directories, other researchers may incorporate this research or build off it for their own studies. It can stall scientific discovery or lead it down a dead-end path. It can lead to false conclusions and development of strategies or products with little scientific basis. This could be especially detrimental for biomedical research, where the public is continually waiting for new cures and life-preserving treatments.

Stopping predatory publishing must be a community-wide endeavor.

Researchers need to understand the dangers of predatory publishing to their own career path as well as to scientific publishing in general. They should learn how to spot predatory publishers. Think Check Submit is a website that helps researchers choose legitimate journals for their submissions, and Cabell’s Blacklist maintains a catalog of suspected predatory journals. Academic journal publishers need to ensure their own practices are ethical and report publishers whose practices are not. Even the systems embedded in the academic community need to evolve. A researcher’s reputation and career advancement should not be tied mainly to how much they have published. It needs to come from the quality of the research itself. A predatory, pseudo or low-quality journal should not be used as a quick route to advancement.

Predatory publishers will continue to thrive as long as there is economic incentive to do so. We must work on ways to educate writers, identify unethical publishing practices, and stem the harm to scientific discovery. There won’t be an easy or quick fix because attitudes are difficult to change. Make sure your own publishing practices promote rather than limit scientific advancement and take action to see that other researchers and publishers do so as well.

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