Rev. Isaac Boaheng
Posted 7th May 2021
There is a common saying in academia that “publish or perish,” meaning, one cannot flourish in the academic field without research and publication. People need publications for promotion and recognition. The academic idea of “publish or perish” idea and the relative ease of website creation have led to the proliferation of publishing agencies across the globe these days. There is the need for one to be cautious where they publish because not all publishing agencies are credible. How painful it is to pay for a publication only to realize later that the publisher is not credible. Some institutions only accept publications done with certain (listed) publishing agencies, others do not have such a list. Whichever way it is, one thing is clear: no serious institution will readily accept publications done with predatory publishers/journals. The problem predatory publishers/journals pose to scholarship cannot be over-emphasized. For some time now the issue of predatory Publishers/Journals has featured prominently in many academic discourses. In this brief discussion, I consider what predatory publishers/journals are, what features characterize them, and how they can be avoided.
What is predatory Publishing?
Predatory publishing refers to an exploitative academic publishing model that charges publication fees and yet publishes papers without checking for quality and legitimacy, and without providing editorial services required to ensure acceptability of published documents in academic circles. Grudniewicz et al. (cited in Musick 2020: n.p) define predatory publishers/journals as “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.” According to Musick (2020: n.p) predatory publishers/journals “seek to obtain money from authors (usually via article processing charges [APCs]) to publish their papers (usually open access) but fail to uphold the standard editorial, peer review, or other ethical publishing practices that reputable journals do.” Thus, predatory publishers/journals are opportunistic publishing agencies that exploit the academic need of scholars to publish without offering their clients the services they have paid for (such as peer-reviewing, copyediting, and other publishing services). The word “predatory” may refer to “deceptive”, “pseudo”, “fake”, “illegitimate”, “exploitative”, “unscrupulous”, “scam”, “bogus”, and “non-reputable.” Predatory Publishers/Journals have existed for at least ten years, but they have increased rapidly recently.
Three Key Features of Predatory Publishers/Journals
Many features characterize predatory publishers/journals. I present just a few of these characteristics in this section.
- Lack of proper peer review process
Since no one has all wisdom, it is important that scholarly works be subject to review by other colleagues who are experts in the field. During peer review, one’s work is evaluated by one or more scholars who have expertise in the field of research. Peer review, therefore, serves as a form of self-regulation by qualified members of a profession within the relevant field. Through peer review, one’s work is validated and improved (when suggestions for revisions are attended to). For most credible publishers/journals, peer review is done by two experts who neither know the author nor are known to the author. This peer review model in which both the reviewer and the author are anonymous is referred to as a double-blind review. The anonymity checks reviewer bias and ensures that papers are evaluated based on their contents rather than the reputation of their authors. Afterward, the review reports are sent to the publisher who in turn sends them to the author. Since reviewers are also scholars who have other engagements, they need some time to be able to review papers sent to them; therefore, the review period for most credible journals is more than two weeks.
Predatory Publishers/Journals do not review papers before publishing; even if they do, their peer review is not standard. They offer very fast publication of manuscripts, sometimes they publish within few days after receiving manuscripts. They do not provide review reports; all they send to the author is an email or a letter indicating that the paper has been accepted for publication. The next thing they ask is payment for the publication. Almost all the predatory publishers/journals I have come across, state on the website that they do double-blind peer review before publishing. Yet, one realizes that the turnaround time is too short for a proper review; and the review report (if sent to the author) is too scanty for a proper review. Therefore, one should not simply be satisfied when a publisher or a journal claims credibility because of a so-called peer review system. I have applied to two of such journals to be engaged as a reviewer and none of them has paid attention to my application. They are simply not interested in peer review. They claim they review papers before publishing but that is not true.
- Lack of proper editorial services
To ensure proper editorial services, reputable journals have an editorial board, senior editors, and assistant editors. The editorial board comprises experts in various fields of study related to the scope of the publisher/journal. Credible publishers/journals usually list their editorial staff and indicate their credentials and contacts. This is important because of the crucial role that these people play in the publishing industry. Some predatory publishers/journals do not have any list of their editorial staff. Some of them may list names of reputable scholars as members of the editorial board without the knowledge of the people listed. Others also make up names for the editing staff and reviewers and so the editorial staff and reviewers cannot be traced (contacted) at all.
An important process in publishing is copyediting which refers to the process by which written documents are revised to improve readability and to ensure that they are free of grammatical and factual errors. Predatory publishers/journals do not take this aspect of publishing seriously at all. In 2019, I sent a paper to a predatory journal without knowing it was one. I had feedback of acceptance within four (4) days. Could there have been a proper peer review within four days? The accepted paper which I was to proofread and afterward make payment for its publication contained typographical errors which could have been dealt with if the paper was actually edited by the publisher. I found out that, it was the same paper I sent to them only that it was now on their journal’s template. Most publishers/journals do not have the capacity to render editorial service because most of their websites are characterized by (avoidable) grammatical mistakes, poor wording, typos and others. Some of the mistakes I sometimes see on their websites make me think that these sites are managed by people with low educational background. The obvious conclusion is that most of them are “academically blind” and do not have the capacity to give any direction on the academic journey.
- Use of aggressive emails to solicit paper from authors
Predatory publishers/journals employ different techniques to get scholars to submit their research to them, the most common technique being unsolicited emails. I regularly get such emails in my spam. The journal I referred to in the previous section, for instance, became known to me through such unsolicited emails. One may wonder where these publishers/journals get the email addresses from. My study indicates that they search through university websites, or search through conference proceedings and use web scraping (the use of using bots to extract data from a website) to automate the process.
In my view, one should avoid responding to such emails, unless they know the publisher/journal to be reputable, have published in it before and know the editors’ reputation as well. As indicated earlier, these journals will accept one’s paper without a robust peer review process (even if one is present at all). Back to my experience, in the case mentioned earlier, the email I received from the journal did not state any Article Processing Charge (APC); it simply said the journal is preparing to publish at the end of the month and so I can submit a paper by 25th of that month and get it published at the end of the month. This was enticing because I thought I could publish within a short time with no financial commitment. It was later that the issue of publication fee came into the picture. There is therefore some element of deception in their dealings.
Predatory publishers/journals and open-access policy
Though almost all predatory publishers/journals publish open access, not all open access publishers/journals are predatory. There are many open-access publishers/journals that maintain high standards for peer review and editing. Open access publishing has become popular because of the desire to disseminate research to a larger audience through modern information and communication technology. One cannot identify a publisher/journal as predatory simply because it operates as open access. To be sure, authors can search the Open Access Scholarly Publishers’ Association (OASPA) or Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) to see if the publisher/journal they are about to deal with is found in this directory. If the said publisher/journal is not found in the OASPA’s or DOAJ’s list, then it is questionable.
One cannot also say that an open-access publisher/journal is predatory because it charges a publication fee. The fact that an open-access publisher/journal charges article processing (or publication) fee does not make it necessarily predatory because there are many reputable open-access publishers/journals who also rely on this fee to cater for the cost of review, editorial services and hosting of publications online, without compromising quality and effectiveness. However, on average, predatory publishers/journals charge lesser than reputable ones.
Predatory publishers/journals exist mainly to make money. They do not care about the quality of their publication and so there is always no or little editing or peer-review. That is, they do not adhere to accepted standards or best practices of scholarly publishing. The desperation of predatory publishers/journals can be seen in the non-feasible turnaround time they promise authors. It is important that one finds out from colleagues and other scholars about the reputation of the publisher/journal they are about to deal with before making any commitment. What I sometimes do is to search from the internet if someone has listed the publisher/journal in question as a (potential) predatory publisher/journal.
Musick, Chad. “8 questions and answers about predatory journals: Protecting your research, reputation, and funding from theft and fraud” (2020) [Accessed online at https://thinkscience.co.jp/en/articles/predatory-journals, on 19th April, 2021]
Open Access Working Group. “Guide to Predatory Publishing”, Leibniz Association, October 2018. [Accessed online at
Open_Science/Guide_PredatoryPublishing_2018.pdf, on 19th April, 2021]
This article is published with the kind courtesy of the author—Isaac Boaheng (Rev.), an ordained minister of the Methodist Church Ghana, a Master of divinity graduate of the Trinity Theological Seminary, Legon Accra -Ghana and a Translator with the Bible Society of Ghana.
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