Predatory journals defined: Shedding light on a major threat to scholarship

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


Do the scientific papers you read online come from trustworthy outlets? Largely unknown a decade ago, illegitimate or predatory journal journals 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 they don’t 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 met to define what a predatory journal is. This rare coming together of academics, publishers, funders, patients, and librarians has resulted in a clear definition.

They agreed that predatory journals put profit ahead of scholarship. Predatory journals:

  • Publish false or misleading information
  • Don’t follow best editorial or publication practices
  • Are not transparent
  • Solicit papers indiscriminately (usually by email)

“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 choose to 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 needs a new system of incentives and rewards in academia. Our current metrics promote neither transparency nor best practice “ said Dr. David Moher, Director and Senior Scientist, at The Ottawa Hospital.


Competing interests

BJSM Editor, Karim Khan co-authored this article.

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