This blog post is base on our comment published in Science of the Total Environment (Pourret et al., 2020).
The definitions of ‘predatory’, ‘deceptive’, or ‘questionable’ publishers/journals are often vague, opaque, and confusing, and can also include fully legitimate journals, such as those indexed by PubMed Central. In this sense, Grudniewicz et al. (2019) recently proposed a definition that needs to be shared:
“Predatory journals and publishers are entities that prioritize self-interest at the expense of scholarship and are characterized by false or misleading information, deviation from best editorial and publication practices, a lack of transparency, and/or the use of aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation practices.”
Figure from Grudniewicz et al. (2019)
Moreover, Eve and Priego (2017) queried who is actually harmed by “predatory publishers”, and concluded that any harm is negligible to virtually all stakeholder groups, including researchers. However, they also noted that “established publishers have a strong motivation to hype claims of predation as damaging to the scholarly and scientific endeavour while noting that, in fact, systems of peer review are themselves already acknowledged as deeply flawed”. As researchers, it is our duty to remain critical and not fall for such misleading messaging, and focus on the real problems at hand.
Publishers have always been in the lucrative business of making money off of researchers, and the largest publishing houses are among the most profitable companies in the world, often at the expense of vast amounts of taxpayer funds. Predatory publishers are no worse in this regard than any other commercial publishing house, except that the scale of their threat is relatively minute. However, the problem of predatory publishers can be easily alleviated with a little knowledge and training. One simple rule for researchers is that if you do not recognise a journal, invoke some scholarly intellect and act sensibly and do not publish with them. There now exist a number of alternatives to the defamed “Beall’s List”, including Cabell’s Whitelist and Blacklist (commercial), as well as the DOAJ. Web of Science and Scopus also offer whitelists of a sort, and a tool dedicated to this specific problem, Think Check Submit, is freely available.
These tools and services will not stop the ‘pollution’ of the scholarly record. With or without OA journals and OAPJs, there has always been harmful research published in journals. One of the most harmful papers ever published, associating vaccines with autism, was published in the ‘top’ journal, Science, retracted finally 12 years after publication. and continues to create major global health problems to this day. There is absolutely no evidence to support the assertion that OAPJs lead to a decline in the public trust in science; and indeed, with more open research practices, public trust in science is actually on the rise. In terms of the ‘fight’ against questionable publishing, many organisations, groups, and individuals have already in part taken on this burden (e.g., COPE, DOAJ). At an institutional level in Denmark, France and many other countries, it is now commonly a requirement for students at different levels to pass a responsible research course of some sort, including ethical research conduct, plagiarism, and identification of predatory journals. We do not believe that judges are required to fix this problem, but that training, support, and education can help. If we want to almost completely solve the problem at its source, the solution is easy: require all journals to publish their review reports alongside articles, and thus prove that they operate a rigorous peer review procedure.
Eve, M.P., Priego, E., 2017. Who is actually harmed by predatory publishers? TripleC, 15(2): 755-770.
Grudniewicz, A., Moher, D., Cobey, K.D., Bryson, G.L., Cukier, S., Allen, K., Ardern, C., Balcom, L., Barros, T., Berger, M., Ciro, J.B., Cugusi, L., Donaldson, M.R., Egger, M., Graham, I.D., Hodgkinson, M., Khan, K.M., Mabizela, M., Manca, A., Milzow, K., Mouton, J., Muchenje, M., Olijhoek, T., Ommaya, A., Patwardhan, B., Poff, D., Proulx, L., Rodger, M., Severin, A., Strinzel, M., Sylos-Labini, M., Tamblyn, R., van Niekerk, M., Wicherts, J.M., Lalu, M.M., 2019. Predatory journals: no definition, no defence. Nature, 576(7786): 210-212. doi:10.1038/d41586-019-03759-y.
Pourret, O., Irawan, D.E., Tennant, J.P., Wien, C., Dorch, B.F., 2020. Comments on “Factors affecting global flow of scientific knowledge in environmental sciences” by Sonne et al. (2020). Science of The Total Environment: 136454. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.136454.