Antony Ley (Information Policy Officer at Griffith University) & Gary Allen
When considering whether a journal publisher is legitimate, researchers have in the past often focused on whether the publisher is predatory. While this is important, there is a more important question: is the journal credible or is it junk?
Increasingly junk-type publishers clog up the academic ecosystem with journal papers of generally low to no value. These include publishers that produce credible articles alongside questionable work. Consequently, basing a decision on title and reputation isn’t reliable. Supposedly quality publishers that churn out junk are driven by quantity rather than quality. The more journals they establish and the more articles they publish, the greater their profits via article processing charges (APCs). Screening such publishers for being predatory can prove difficult and can lead to debatable results, when the more pertinent issue that may be easier to determine is whether they are making a useful contribution to the body of academic knowledge.
Predatory publishers have used a range of deceits to disguise themselves as credible publishers. For example, a hijacked journal creates a counterfeit website that pretends to be the website of a legitimate scholarly journal. This predatory publisher then solicits manuscript submissions from researchers for the hijacked version of the journal and pockets the money.
However, predatory and junk-type publishers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and researchers likewise need to become increasingly savvy to sift through the chaff.
Recently we were asked to provide advice for a researcher regarding the legitimacy of a journal. They had been invited by email to guest edit a special issue of an open access journal published by MDPI. A quick scan of MDPI’s professionally presented website showed that the publisher had a range of journals with impact factors of 3+ and 4+. It was based in Basel, Switzerland and had membership of a range of organisations including: the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE); the Directory of Open Access Journals; and the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers.
So a superficial check might conclude it was a safe publisher to engage with.
However a quick web search showed some researchers questioning the standards of this publisher. This lead to an even closer inspection of the journal’s website revealing that Education Sciences had more than 60 special issues planned. Another of MDPI’s journals has more than 300 special issues planned (with more than 4,000 articles already published in 12 issues in the first six months of 2020). This high volume of special issues and articles is a clear distortion of acceptable publishing standards. In the time it took to write this piece these numbers surged even higher. When you calculate the amount of money per article the total revenue involved here is astounding.
As noted by Alan Finkel in 2019, researchers need to focus on quality over quantity. Confronted by so many special editions, researchers should seriously question the quality of a title.
We advised the researcher that the University should not support this publisher as it had displayed highly questionable publication practices.
The quality and legitimacy of journal publications is an important consideration for researchers who are considering publishing or editing. It is also something potential employers and grant-funding-bodies are now checking when reviewing CVs. Careful forensic examination is increasingly required to confirm a publisher’s and journal’s credibility. The Think, Check, Submit checklist can help. We need to assess the value and legitimacy of journals and publishers on a continuum between high quality at one end and predatory at the other. There are many journals that though “peer reviewed” and not predatory, should be avoided for being junk-type publications with distorted publishing standards that pollute academic knowledge.
As appointment/promotion and grant-review boards catch on, the important question here is: are you harming your career by allowing your name and intellectual efforts to be associated with them?
This post may be cited as:
Ley, A. & Allen, G. (30 July 2020) Questionable publishing practice? Are you harmed? Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: