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Guide to Science Information Resources: Deceptive or Predatory Publishers

Deceptive or Predatory Publishers: What They Are and How to Identify Them

Integrity Word Art

Researchers have increased demands to publish and now are provided with many avenues of doing so, including open access.  These broader factors have given rise to deceptive or predatory publishers,  or academic, commercial publishers that use questionable practices to solicit, review, and distribute original research. 

Open Access & The Rise of Deceptive or Predatory Publishers.  Open access publishers distribute their information with minimal or no restrictions.  They generally operate by having the costs of publishing be covered by authors who pay a fee to have their research articles published.  A drawback to this is the emergence of publishers that misuse the open access model.  Instead of freely distributing information for the benefit of creating new knowledge, predatory publishers aim to make a profit off authors who are eager to pay for their research to be published. 

The Problem.  New and emerging research heavily relies on established knowledge to inform their studies, so the information it uses needs to be valid and accurate.   Deceptive publishers utilize questionable publishing conduct and ethics in terms of soliciting research, their editorial processes, and utilizing peer review, all of which affect the quality of information being published.  Later studies that are informed by such publications are liable to be based on flawed or inaccurate premises, and may lead to negative outcomes.  An additional problem with predatory publishers is their journals and articles may be found in established indexes and databases as PubMed, ProQuest, and others during the course of a literature review.

Possible Solutions.  Critically appraise an article of interest in terms of content, organization, and writing conventions.  Identify the authors, their affiliations, and credentials which are often provided in an article.  Review the article’s hypotheses, and evaluate the research design and analyses used in the study; see if they are appropriately used and accurate.  Consult with handbooks or ask colleagues about unfamiliar aspects of the study.  Check the references or works cited for completeness and if they consistently follow a given format.  In addition, examine a publisher and journal title and determine whether or not they are established or credible.

A researcher will become cognizant of high impact journals, research organizations, and publishers as he or she reads more literature within their field.  However, some journals with scholarly titles may still have the attributes of a deceptive publication, so let the reader beware.

*Note: 'Deceptive' publishers is the largely accepted term synonymous with 'predatory' publishers; scholarly publishing and communication experts believe the first term accurately describes more of their attributes.

How can I determine if an article or publication I found is reputable?

CautionThe best way to determine that a publication is reputable is to perform due diligence.

Deceptive or predatory publishers do not have set attributes, and 'official' lists do not exist.  Consider the following ways to determine the quality and reliability of a publication in question.

1.  Visit its home page.  

Examine the following information to determine the legitimacy of a journal or other publication; this can often be found through their home page.  For an example, compare the journal Geophysical Research Letters with Journal of Earth Science & Climatic Change.    

  • 'About' page:  identifies the publisher or organization responsible for the publication.
  • Editorial board:  contact information for the editor or editorial staff.
  • Indexing and abstracting sources:  shows the information companies (e.g., Elsevier, ProQuest) or publications (e.g., Chemical Abstracts, Science Citation Index) that index their work
  • Bibliometrics:  bibliometrics such as journal impact factor and other measures of author, citation, or publication influence may be provided (although not all publications have these).
  • 'Browse Issues:'  determine the frequency and consistency of publications, and also see the quality of published articles.
  • Contact information:  is complete information provided, such as a name, address, and phone number, or is it only a general email address?

2.  Consult with UlrichsWeb (FAUNet ID required).

UlrichsWeb often provides the following information about a publication:

  • Start year:  when the journal started being published.
  • Refereed:  indicates if a title is peer-reviewed.
  • Abstracting and Indexing:  identifies information companies and publications that provide information about a publication or abstracts of its articles.
  • ISSN:  has the journal been assigned an ISSN?
  • Status:  is a journal still being published, or has it ceased?
  • Content type:  describes the audience or intent of the publication. 

3.  Check the journal title, if it is an open access journal, with a reputable open access organization or web page.

4.  Ask around.  Ask your colleagues where they publish or what they use, as well as the journals they thought were questionable.  Librarians can also provide insight and information.

What are Deceptive or Predatory Publishers?

University of Manitoba Libraries (2016). Identifying predatory publishers [Video]. YouTube. 

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