Questionable publishers – better safe than sorry

In the wake of the Open Access movement, many unreliable and unscrupulous publishers have emerged. They publish anything without editorial review, and are only interested in your publication fee. In this interview with  Anders Wändahl, previously a staff member at the library research support now at the KTH Library, you’ll learn how these publishers behave – and how to avoid them.

So Anders, you regularly warn researchers for questionable publishers, so called predatory publishers, how can they be characterized?

– It’s a publisher, or a specific journal, who lack suffient quality control. They are launched without any academic connection, by entrepreneurs mostly interested in making profit by publication fees. They also have a flawed or non existing peer review process and do publish anything for money.

How can you, as an individual researcher, find out that you’re in contact with a predatory publisher?

– This kind of publishers send emails to individual researchers and offers them to submit papers. That’s a first warning – if you’re contacted directly, be aware!

And this could also be an expensive experience?

– Well, they may charge $400, which should be compared to maybe $1,500 in established journals. However, it’s not worth anything and it’s a bad way of disseminate your research. You will be associated to an unserious business and your article will not be found in the major databases.

Who reads this type of journals?

– The journals are found in Google, so the readership is quite random.

As a staff member at the library, how do you get in contact with these publishers?

– Researchers sometimes contact us for advice when they have been approached. If so, we can tell them that these publishers should be avoided.

Is this phenomenon with predatory publishers more common these days?

– Yes, it is. However, the more researchers are aware about the existence of predatory publishers, the less money they will make. If you are unsure, please contact us at the library. We have a quite good knowledge about this, and we’re also happy to visit your department to talk about this issue.

Anything else you would like to add?

– They also offer researchers to be members of the editorial board – to collect names that give the journal a serious appearence. Sometimes they even add names of researchers without asking them. So, do google your name from time to time to find out if your name is used without proper consent.

At last, three rules of thumb to find out if a journal is serious or not:

  • Are you familiar with this journal or publisher? Do your colleagues know them? If not – be aware!
  • Is the journal member of any industry association? If so, that is most likely a sign of quality.
  • Is the journal included in databases like Medline or Web of Science? If not, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s an unserious publication, but you better take a closer look into the journal.

Read more about questionable publishers and strategic publishing in general. Spread the message: print our poster on questionable publishers and put it, e.g., near a coffee machine!

The text, written by Sofia Stridsman, was originally published in KIBladet issue 4, 2015, in Swedish. The text was slightly adapted to this blog.

Carl Gornitzki (on leave)

Librarian with focus on systematic reviews.