Predatory Medical Publishing Puts Ethics in Spotlight

Sep 30, 2016
Robyn Butcher

The Canadian medical publishing world has been shaken with the news that an international publishing conglomerate with a questionable reputation is entering the Canadian market. The OMIC Group purchased its’ second Canadian publishing house, Pulsus Group, following its’ purchase of Andrew John Publishing last year. Controversy has arisen over OMIC’s practices around gaining scholarly submissions and its’ peer review process, while collecting publishing fees. The company is currently being sued by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for deceptive publishing practices. The Toronto Star article ‘Canadian medical journals hijacked for junk science’ provides details on these events and commentary from the medical research community. 

Guidelines for Selecting Scholarly Journals

Our family medicine library has compiled a helpful guide on discerning the validity and standards of medical journals, whether you are a seasoned researcher or disseminating your first article.

What are predatory journals?

Predatory journals are journals that claim to be open access and academic, but charge a large publication fee without providing any standard peer review, editorial, or publishing services. Some predatory publishers will publish low quality journals; others will collect publication fees and not publish anything at all. According to Jeffrey Beall, a librarian and expert on predatory journals, the number of predatory publishers has increased from 18 in 2011 to 923 in 2016.

What are the dangers of publishing in a predatory journal?

Loss of copyright

Many predatory publishers will require you to sign over the copyright of your research. If you try to withdraw from the process too late, they will own your research. Regaining copyright control in order to publish in a legitimate journal may require legal assistance.

Lack of academic credibility

Predatory journals are not considered true academic journals. They will have low or non-existent impact factors, they are not indexed in any of the major databases, and some of the journals also publish plagiarized articles.

How can you tell if a journal is predatory?

Large publication fees are not necessarily an indicator that a journal is predatory – many legitimate open access journals do charge a fee. Here are some ways to assess whether a journal is legitimate:

Unsolicited email

Predatory journals and publishers will send unsolicited emails requesting you to submit an article, or invite you to be on the editorial board. Oftentimes, the journal will not exactly match your research interests. Legitimate journals may also send out calls for submissions, but all requests by email need to be thoroughly investigated, especially if you are unfamiliar with the publisher.

Non-Indexed/ Fake metrics

Predatory journals may claim that they are indexed in major databases such as PubMed or Web of Science – do a quick search in the database to verify. They may also claim to have an Impact Factor – this can be verified in Journal Citation Reports. Be wary if they cite a metric system with which you are unfamiliar as it is probably one they made up themselves.

Publisher’s Website and Practices

Be aware that predatory publisher websites have become more sophisticated and often look professional. Some warning signs/indicators:

If the journals are truly open access, all issues should be accessible.
Are there actual articles or are the journals just empty shells?
Are there more than one or two issues available?
Is the publisher’s owner also the editor of the journals?
Are all the journals by the publisher within the same discipline? There are a few big publishers (i.e., Taylor & Francis, Springer, Elsevier) that publish a huge range of disciplines, but most newer publishers start small before expanding.
What is the publication schedule? Are they all “edited volumes”? The more irregular the schedule and the more special issues, the likelier the publisher is predatory.

Check the blacklist and whitelist

Jeffery Beall has a list of predatory journals and publishers that is continuously being updated.

The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) has a list of open access journals that must meet specific criteria.

NB: neither of these lists is definitive/infallible. Beall’s critics feel that his criteria are too hard, and others feel it is too lenient. DOAJ doesn’t check its list closely – being on the list does not automatically mean the journal is legitimate. However, not appearing on the DOAJ list is a strong warning sign.

Ask your librarian

Verifying this information can be time-consuming and challenging. If you have been contacted by a publisher to submit an article, or you are unsure if you should submit to a certain journal, please contact Robyn Butcher, DFCM librarian at: