12 December 2019

Knowing whether the scientific papers you read online are from trustworthy outlets is a hard call to make for anyone. Largely unknown a decade ago, illegitimate or predatory journal journals collectively publish more than 400,000 studies each year. These journals may offer to rapidly publish research findings, often at a lower cost than legitimate journals, but do not provide quality controls such as peer-review.  Readers may be tricked into thinking content published in predatory journals has been vetted, when that isn’t usually the case.

There are dozens of checklists to help researchers and readers to identify predatory journals, and websites that name legitimate and illegitimate journals, but these are not consistent with one another. Agreeing on what a predatory journal is, and defining its features is important. Without a clear definition we can’t support health-care providers, researchers, patients, or other readers in knowing how to avoid predatory journals.

To address this, an international team of researchers set out to agree on a definition of what a predatory journal is. Stakeholders from around the world spent two days together deciding on what it is that defines these predatory journals. This rare coming together of academics, publishers, funders, patients, and librarians has resulted in a clear definition that will help create a roadmap to tackle the threat of predatory publishing.

The agreement was clear that predatory journals put profit ahead of scholarship. They can be characterized by the following:

  • False of misleading information
  • Not following best editorial or publication practices
  • Not being transparent
  • Aggressive, indiscriminate solicitation (usually by email) to publish in their journal

“Agreeing what a predatory journal is as a community is an important step in addressing the growth of these problematic journals. Money from all across the globe is supporting work published in predatory journals; this is really wasteful“ said Dr. Kelly Cobey, Publications Officer at The Ottawa Hospital, adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa and co-author of the study.

“In an era of fake news, a clear definition of predatory journals is essential,” “said Dr. Manoj Lalu, Associate Scientist and Anesthesiologist at The Ottawa Hospital, Assistant Professor at the University of Ottawa and co-author of the study. “This will help patients and the public determine whether the scientific paper they read about on social media is from reputable source, or not.”

“The public has access to these journals. A person can Google their medical condition and find an article that looks exactly like a reputable journal published it. But its content could be completely false, could give people false hope or direct them to untested treatments.  We can’t just stand by and let that happen. It’s our responsibility to act.,” said Agnes Grudniewicz, Assistant Professor at the Telfer School of Management, University of Ottawa and co-author of the study.

“Predatory journals may ‘prey’ on researchers for their manuscripts. Researchers may also knowingly publish in these dubious outlets to add publications to their CV as they look to advance their career. Stopping the flow of manuscripts to predatory journals requires that we reconsider the system of incentives and rewards used in the academic community. Our current metrics do not promote transparency or best practice “ said Dr. David Moher, Director and Senior Scientist, at The Ottawa Hospital.

Full reference:  Predatory journals: no definition, no defence. Nature. Vol 576, pp 210-212; 2019