How To Identify and Avoid Predatory ‘Scholarly’ Publishers
Predatory publishers are becoming more and more prevalent in academic and scientific publishing, preying as they do upon the need for an increasing number of hopeful investigators to publish their research both early and frequently to ensure career opportunities. A predatory publisher is one that exists primarily to generate profit, not promote and disseminate high-quality scholarship. A predatory publisher may be a vanity press that charges authors for editing, printing, marketing and distributing a scholarly monograph, but in fact does no more than print the book, eliminating the editorial rigour, peer-review practices and valuable marketing strategies of reputable academic presses. It may, on the other hand, be a single journal or a publisher producing several journals, with the predatory aspect again lying in the extraction of fees from authors without providing the peer review, editorial and preservation practices that maintain high standards. Both subscription and open-access journals are susceptible, but the latter are the most popular den for such predatory publishers, some of whom produce reputable publications as well as disreputable ones. Even conference presentations and proceedings can be the focus of unscrupulous publishing activities, so it is essential when you are choosing a good home for your research-based writing to know how to identify and avoid predatory publishers.
The following list briefly itemises characteristics that are often indicative of predatory publishers and should trigger suspicion, further investigation and perhaps avoidance.
• An unprofessional or unscholarly website. Indications of this include poor and informal writing, inappropriate content with an abundance of errors, a lack of clarity or specificity about the publisher’s goals, scope, editorial board and review practices, and a home page designed to solicit authors, not interest readers.
• Recently published monographs, journal issues or individual papers that do not maintain a high scholarly standard. If the research and writing the publisher produces do not appear to have undergone thoughtful peer review and revision or careful proofreading and copy editing, they probably have not.
• Indications of author or publisher misconduct. Search online for the titles and authors of the publisher’s recent publications to determine whether retractions, plagiarism, self-plagiarism, image manipulation and other malpractices plague the publisher or its authors. Negative reviews might be a bad sign as well, especially when they outweigh positive reviews.
• Falsifications of various kinds. These can be so various as to evade description, but examples might include listing proofreaders who are nonexistent or not associated with the publication, providing fictional or counterfeit impact metrics (the ‘view factor,’ for instance, or the ‘Copernicus value’), misrepresenting editorial and peer review practices, and falsely claiming to have content indexed in reputable services and databases. A general lack of transparency about fees and practices is a closely related problem.
• Promises and manuscript acceptance rates that are not compatible with professional publishing and research standards. If you are told your manuscript will certainly be accepted before you have even submitted it or informed that it will sail through a hasty and unquestionably successful peer review process, be suspicious.
• Unsolicited and perhaps overly flattering or poorly written email invitations asking you to submit a manuscript for publication. This is not common among legitimate publishers – authors usually approach proofreaders, not the other way around – so proceed with caution and always think before you click on email links.
• The lack of a persuasive presence in the databases and lists of legitimate publishers and publications normally used in your discipline or field of study. Inclusion in these resources tends to require some authenticity, but do be aware that new publishers and journals may not yet appear, even if they are entirely legitimate. You might also want to search for the publisher’s membership in publishing associations, societies and organisations, but be careful as you type in the name because predatory publishers often mimic the names and titles of legitimate publishers.
• The lack of a positive reputation among your peers. Ask your colleagues and mentors if they know the press or journal or the authors listed as published or about to be published by the publisher concerned. Your university librarian is likely to be familiar with scholarly publishers of all kinds and the troubles students and faculty might have had with them, so ask for a second opinion.
• Inappropriate fees, though this can be tricky to determine. Top-tier subscription journals can charge large publishing fees, after all, university presses can ask for author contributions towards expensive monographs and open access journals often charge article processing fees to cover valid production, distribution and preservation expenses, so what may be inappropriate is difficult to distinguish. The best strategy is to determine whether the amount you are asked to pay is commensurate with what the publisher promises and, given its publishing record, is likely and able to deliver.
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