Abusing Open Access: Predatory Publishing

As the Open Access (OA) movement continues gaining ground worldwide in academic publishing, readers are less likely to be asked to pay if interested in reading about scientific research results. This is because, as part of the movement, journal subscription fees are being replaced by author fees. Despite the obvious advantages (e.g., wider and quicker access, greater social and economic impact), OA publishing also has some downsides. Perhaps one of the most apparent is that dishonest publishers can more easily profit from publishing low-quality content – a phenomenon termed predatory publishing.

Predatory publishing stands for the prioritization of “self-interest at the expense of scholarship, (…) 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” (Grudniewicz et al., 2019, p. 211). In this blog article, we discuss the characteristic features of predatory publishing, the reasons behind its working, the harms it causes, and the possible tools against it.

What makes predatory publication?

Predatory Publishing Preadtory Publishing
Photo by Geran de Klerk on Unsplash

Predatory publishing has several features that make it distinct from legitimate research publishing. Here follows a list of the most characteristic attributes of predatory journals.

  • Exploitative academic publishing model: They abuse the gold (author-pays) OA model of scholarly publishing for their own profit (Beall, 2012).
  • Unethical business practices: For example, lack of transparency about article processing charges (APCs) – including fee negotiation with the author (Gonzalez et al., 2018), and lower-than-average APCs “to attract as many submissions as possible in order to generate revenue and presumably to build their content and reputation” (Shamseer et al., 2017).
  • Having a broad scope or the scope not matching the content (Shamseer et al., 2017).
  • No proper quality check, that is, lack of peer review (Gonzalez et al., 2018).
  • No legitimacy check, meaning that authors are not asked to declare conflicts of interest and the submitted manuscript is not checked for plagiarism, data fabrication, and authorship standards (Gonzalez et al., 2018; Shamseer et al., 2017).
  • No archiving, a consequence of which is that there is a heightened risk of an author’s work getting lost (Gonzalez et al., 2017).
  • Manipulation of journal impact factors and creating “citation cartels, in which a number of journals enter into an agreement to quote each other’s articles to an excessive extent, i.e., by choice of the editor rather than by what the researchers find scientifically justified” (Eriksson & Helgesson, 2017, p. 166).

While the above-mentioned features might not be inferable upon the first click on a potential predatory journal’s website, there are a few warning signs that can help readers if they are facing such a publisher. To give but a few examples (Gonzalez et al., 2018; Shamseer et al., 2017):

  • journal titles mimicking existing journals of high reputation;
  • journal titles containing fake geographical references;
  • shady and unprofessional websites typically containing spelling and grammar mistakes;
  • use of low-resolution or distorted images;
  • non-professional e-mail addresses (e.g., Gmail, Yahoo);
  • direct marketing activities, for example, inviting manuscripts via e-mail, which is often accompanied by the praising of the recipient’s earlier work;
  • use of advertisements that are not related to the journal content;
  • promising rapid peer review and publication;
  • false and inappropriate claims about indexing and inclusion in databases; and
  • falsified bibliometrics, references to non-existing parameters.

What keeps predatory journals alive?

Despite the legal and moral concomitants of predatory publishing (see below), it is still a relatively thriving business. As Umlauf and Mochizuki (2018, p. 2) point out, in 2015, “illegitimate publishers generated $75 million by publishing 500,000 questionable manuscripts in 8000 dubious journals (Teixeira da Silva, 2015).” So, why might some authors still choose this form of publishing? Well, there can be multiple reasons:

Community and individual tools against predatory publishing

By now, you might be wondering how you can avoid predatory publishing. One possible way is to look for experiments testing journals for legitimacy, also called sting operations. There have been several of these, including the Anna O. Szust, Bohannon’s (2013), and the SCIgen experiments, which typically reveal the titles of those journals that have lost their credibility due to accepting low-quality and nonsensical manuscripts or being associated with unprofessional editorial boards.

There are some community tools that can also help stay away from predatory publishing. There exist blacklists of journals, such as Beall’s and Cabell’s, and whitelists of journals, for example, the DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals), Cabell’s list, Sherpa Romeo, OASPA (Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association), and indexing databases. These lists identify deceptive and legitimate journals, respectively, according to various quality criteria. Furthermore, educational guides prepared by librarians and publishers can also be helpful to raise awareness of deceptive journals.

Finally, there are some steps to avoid predatory publishing at an individual level. It is recommended that before submitting a manuscript to a journal, the author checks all the available information on the journal for credibility. Alternatively, authors can also ask their more experienced peers about the quality and reputation of the journal in question. Given the ever-growing number of predatory journals, the wisest thing is always to be suspicious, especially, if a journal meets any of the top indicators of predatory journals, such as promising a quick publication and a simple peer review process. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Legal and moral issues: The harm caused by predatory publishing

Predatory publishing causes harm on a broad scale. At the most direct level, the author’s academic integrity and reputation are damaged both when one publishes high- and low-quality work in a predatory journal (Richtig et al., 2018). What is more, there is a high risk of losing published papers due to a general lack of archiving in the case of predatory journals (Ferris & Winker, 2017). Turning to the readers (and society in general), their trust in scholarly communication can easily be undermined as the papers published in predatory journals are likely to contain misleading or unchecked information (Ferris & Winker, 2017). Also, building on false claims and invalid findings can be dangerous both with respect to the advancement of a research domain as well as the education of future generations (Forero et al., 2018).

Unfortunately, the list of actors harmed by predatory publishing is even longer. Just think about the funding bodies: when a paper is published in a deceptive journal, research funds are not only wasted, but the reputation of the funding bodies is jeopardized as well (Ferris & Winker, 2017). Finally, legitimate publishers can also be regarded as victims. This is because they need to compete with unfair methods, and the harmful activities of predatory publishers can contribute to a weakened trust in (OA) publishers.

Trust in AKJournals

There are multiple features that make AKJournals a trustworthy academic publisher. These include the following (in no particular order of importance):


Beall, J. (2012). Predatory publishers are corrupting open access. Nature, 489(179). https://doi.org/10.1038/489179a

Bohannon, J. (2013). Who’s afraid of peer review? Science, 342(6154), 60–65. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.2013.342.6154.342_60

Eriksson, S., & Helgesson, G. (2017). The false academy: Predatory publishing in science and bioethics. Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy, 20, 163–170. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11019-016-9740-3

Ferris, L. E., & Winker, M. A. (2017). Ethical issues in publishing in predatory journals. Biochemica Medica, 27(2), 279–284. https://doi.org/10.11613/BM.2017.030

Forero, D. A., Oermann, M. H., Manca, A., Deriu, F., Mendieta-Zerón, H., Dadkhah, M., Bhad, R., Deshpande, S. N., Wang, W., & Cifuentes, M. P. (2018). Negative effects of “predatory” journals on global health research. Annals of Global Health, 84(4), 584–589. http://doi.org/10.29024/aogh.2389

Gonzalez, J., Bridgeman, M. B., & Hermes-DeSantis, E. R. (2018). Differentiating predatory scholarship: Best practices in scholarly publication. International Journal of Pharmacy Practice, 26(1), 73–76. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijpp.12380

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., … Lalu, M. M. (2019). Predatory journals: No definition, no defence. Nature, 576, 210–212. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-019-03759-y

Richtig, G., Berger, M., Lange-Asschenfeldt, B., Aberer, W., & Richtig, E. (2018). Problems and challenges of predatory journals. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 32(9), 1441–1449. https://doi.org/10.1111/jdv.15039

Shamseer, L., Moher, D., Maduekwe, O., Turner, L., Barbour, V., Burch, R., Clark, J., Galipeau, J., Roberts, J., & Shea, B. J. (2017). Potential predatory and legitimate biomedical journals: Can you tell the difference? A cross-sectional comparison. BMC Medicine, 15(28). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-017-0785-9

Umlauf, M. G., & Mochizuki, Y. (2018). Predatory publishing and cybercrime targeting academics. International Journal of Nursing Practice, 24(S1), e12656. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijn.12656