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Western Carolina University

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What is a predatory publisher?

In 2014, a Harvard researcher submitted an article entitled, "Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs? The surgical and neoplastic role of cacao extract in breakfast cereals." No, this was not part of his regular scholarly agenda, to be followed by a study of whether Trix were indeed for kids. Instead, Dr. Shrime was testing suspicious journals and their practices.  He wrote the article by using a random text generator (i.e., the article is complete gibberish, though the bibliography references real articles), created fake co-authors with phony credentials, and submitted the article to 37 journals. 17 journals offered to publish the article in return for a $500 "processing fee."  Read more about Shrime's sting operation, including the entire Cocoa Puffs article, here.

To find the 37 journals, Shrime looked no further than his email inbox; the publishers had been aggressively contacting him with offers to publish his work.  The publishers of these journals are often dubbed "predatory" or "bad faith." The journals often have very academic titles that sound a lot like familiar scholarly publications, which makes it difficult for scholars to discern the difference between high-quality Open Access journals (which will sometimes have author fees) and the bad faith variety. Though these practices are often seen in Open Access journals, unethical practices can occur with traditional publishers as well. This guide for this task will help you identify and avoid bad faith publishers.

Identifying predatory publishers.

Tips:

  • A Google search for the journal or the publisher's name will often reveal any controversy surrounding a journal.
  • Take a look at the publisher's address for possible red flags (for instance, a shopping mall on a small island in the Pacific may be an odd location for an American science journal).
  • Beware, in the case of predatory publishers, the journal’s website will often have deceptive information such as fabricated impact factors. Here are some additional options for evaluating the journal or publisher in question:

Directories:

Use these to guide you to more reputable Open Access sources.

Watchlists and Review Sources

Avoiding Predatory Publishers

1. Adopt a "don't call me, I'll call you" approach. Bad faith publishers get their reputation in part by their aggressive recruiting methods. Find your own publication venues unless you are contacted by an editor of a familiar publication.

2. Use directories and watchlists such as the ones listed on this page.

3. Ask a colleague or your subject librarian. Your colleagues may already be familiar with the pros and cons of a specific journal. Your librarian can help you vet a particular publisher.