Members of the academic publishing industry—authors, publishers, peer reviewers—are held accountable for maintaining ethical practices. However, it isn't always easy keeping others on the straight and narrow. Whether in search of financial or personal gain, a collective of bad eggs do exist within the industry, attempting to bait-and-switch unsuspecting authors.
Predatory publishers, publications, conferences, and even indices have begun proliferating in the past few years amid the increase of open access publishing – offering a “pay-to-play” model with benefits one can’t possibly refuse, of which authors are falling prey.
Let’s discuss predatory journals and publishers:
Predatory Journals and Publishers
So, let's say an author stumbles upon this brand-new, full-service Open Access journal. It looks stellar – cheap and convenient. Nice. But, hold on. This journal might be untrustworthy or, in industry terms, predatory.
Profit > Quality
Predatory journals do not care about research quality; rather, they care about netting a quick profit through various Article Processing Charges (APCs). These publishers may even willingly take unpolished work, especially if their journal offers in-house peer review and/or copy editing services. Be cautious of journals that guarantee acceptance after paying a fee, lack review transparency, and offer a single-day turnaround for publication. Although this all sounds wonderful, it is not sound publishing practice. If it seems too good to be true . . . it is.
Little White Index Lies
Some of these predatory publishers also promise inclusion in top indices, like Web of Science™ or Scopus®, or claim fake impact factors. With the stringent criteria exercised, prestigious indices can see right through the unethical behavior of predatory journals. If an index is charging a fee to have work considered for inclusion, it should not be trusted. No credible index is going to charge a fee for inclusion, consideration, or acceptance.
Some predatory journals offer express release dates, promising to publish your work within a few days. Again, on paper this sounds great. However, if they are offering this quick turnaround, it is not likely that the work is being properly peer reviewed. Also, in some cases, these predatory publishers will accept your APC money, of course, and then proceed to hold your manuscript, never actually publishing it. Why? Because they don’t actually have the necessary process and procedures to support publication.
Let's cover how authors can counteract unethical practices and improve the overall body of knowledge in their respective field.
New predatory journals pop up daily; however, known predators can be fleshed out with online "whitelists" or "blacklists,” which help to identify what journals are or aren't being forthright.
Whitelists keep track of trustworthy open access journals throughout the academic publishing industry. It’s simple to pick out whitelist journals – publications indexed, hosted, or directly affiliated with any of the following organizations are considered to maintain utmost ethical quality:
- Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)
- Open Access Scholarly Publishers’ Association (OASPA)
- Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)
- INASP’s Journals Online
- African Journals Online
While trustworthy journals, as well as publishers, do fall outside of whitelist classification, it’s still fair to be wary of non-whitelist entities.
Blacklists keep track of "questionable scholarly open-access standalone journals.” These blacklists are updated on a regular to semi-regular basis, keeping authors in the loop on select publishers caught committing suspicious activities. Beall's List is seen as the foremost example, having been in operation since 2008.
When in doubt, use blacklists to your advantage. If prospective journals, or publishers, make an appearance, be wary.
Handle Revisions Yourself
Don't blindly entrust your rough draft with "full-service" publications, as the downside far outweighs the upside. It is always good to have a preliminary review and copy editing performed on your work prior to submitting it to any publication.
Through services such as English language copy editing and/or scientific and scholarly editing, offered by eContent Pro®, authors can increase the quality and integrity of their work. Here's a rule of thumb – each revision brings your manuscript one step closer to acceptance.
Don’t Underestimate the Value of Peer Review
Peer reviews are valuable, providing authors with constructive criticism based on their work’s overall body of research. Each peer review, facilitated by an expert who is knowledgeable in their field, can truly shine light on the shortcomings—as well as the strengths—found in any scholarly work. This information then allows for quality revisions that only improve your manuscript. This is why entertaining the possibility of publishing your work with a publication or publisher that does not value the peer review process, or isn’t transparent about their processes, can be EXTREMELY risky.
From there, it's about submitting your manuscript to a trusted publication, preferably journals appropriate for your research's subject matter. Journal recommendation services, such as eContent Pro’s, among others, exist to streamline this process.
Recommendation services let expert journal selectors read through your manuscript and provide support in matching it to the most suitable journals across a select list of reputable publishers. These experts will then isolate the most relevant journals for your manuscript, saving authors a lot of time that could be invested elsewhere – like getting started on their next project.
What to Look for When Seeking a Reputable Publisher
The publisher should have:
- A clear ethics and malpractice statement.
- A transparent peer review process with average turnaround times.
- Real ISSNs and ISBNs that do not contain odd characters or lengths.
- Inclusion in credible indexing and/or abstracting databases.
- Publication fees charged ONLY for open access, which are not expected to be paid until after the peer review process has been completed and the manuscript is accepted for publication. There should be no submission-level fees.
- A manuscript submission system, not requiring material to be submitted via e-mail.
- Affiliation with one or more ethical organizations such as the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).
- A high-quality website.
- Journals that have editorial boards listed.
Also, no credible journal will have an Index Copernicus Value (ICV), as this is a questionable journal metric often used by predatory journals. You will not find an ICV on the website of a legitimate journal.
As a publisher, it's paramount to maintain ethical standards throughout every stage of the publishing process. What does that entail? Essentially, avoid "predatory" activity.
It's every publisher's duty to keep its staff educated on what is or isn't considered unethical conduct. Any negligence will be traced back to the publication, resulting in potentially irreversible damage to the publisher's reputation.
Learn how to identify and crackdown on unprofessional practices early on, rather than letting poor behavior spiral out of control.
Do's and Don'ts
- Don't advertise services that cannot be delivered with utmost quality.
- Don't make deadline, service, or resource guarantees that cannot be fulfilled.
- Don't let monetary factors influence editorial decisions.
- Don't discriminate based on gender, race, sexual orientation, political stance, etc.
- Don't tolerate conflicts of interest, such as unauthorized reviewer/author contact.
- Do establish a system to report, review, and assess internal misconduct.
The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)
When in doubt, feel free to consult COPE, the industry's foremost reference on proper, ethical conduct. Dating back to 1997, this committee offers resources/tools, such as flowcharts, eLearning courses, and webinars, to help editors and publishers maintain ethics within their own workplace.
COPE’s Core Practices act as a cost-free guideline that provide academic editors with steps, alongside accompanying resources, to uphold integrity “through policies and practices that reflect the current best principles of transparency.” Members can also access the committee’s ethics audit tool, using it to conduct in-house audits on their own editorial policies. Qualified candidates can apply online to become a member at any time, establishing themselves as a trustworthy, whitelist candidate in the process.
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