Are we thinking about predatory publishing the wrong way? Our image of predatory publishers is that they are scammers, acting deceptively and fooling unsuspecting researchers into paying money to publish in what they think is a peer reviewed journal that adheres to widely adopted industry practices, only to provide no peer review whatsoever. While that certainly does happen (hopefully less and less as awareness of this phenomenon grows and tools to prevent it are adopted), there is more to the picture here. It is increasingly clear that there are authors who knowingly choose to publish with these sorts of outlets, with a full understanding of the journals’ poor practices and lack of anything resembling peer review. This is a deliberate choice being made, and given some incentive structures, one that actually makes sense.
We know that the work of some researchers is simply no good. It doesn’t hold up under scrutiny, is poorly designed, or in the worst cases, is meant to prop up absurd conspiracy theories or hairbrained hypotheses. For this sort of “researcher,” the choice to publish in a journal that does no review is a necessary one. No legitimate journal will have them.
But these are not the only patrons of such journals. We must then ask the question, why would a different class of researchers, those doing legitimate research (of varying quality), also choose to publish in predatory journals?