Industry Voices—Recognizing the dark side of publishing: Predatory publishers

A medical researcher conducting an experiment using a microscope
Here are some tips for recognizing a predatory publisher. (ESB Professional/Shutterstock)

You’re excited that a new journal has accepted your first article for publication. You paid $500 for the privilege of being published, but you believe it was worth it to gain recognition and deepen your résumé. Your sense of pride plunges, however, when just three months later the journal ceases publication and the website where your article can be accessed disappears. You realize that you’re the victim of a predatory publisher.

Predatory publishers take advantage of unsuspecting authors who want to disseminate information to their colleagues. These publishers claim their online journals contain peer-reviewed articles and are backed by a well-respected editorial board. In reality, however, they are a sham that exists solely to make a profit.

The number of predatory journals is growing, although the exact number is unknown. In 2011, a mere 18 predatory publishers were identified; by 2018, that number had skyrocketed to 8,699. In addition, a 2016 study by Marilyn Oermann of Duke University and colleagues reported 140 predatory nursing journals from 75 publishers. Many journals only published one or two volumes and then either ceased publishing or published fewer issues and articles.

Detecting predatory publishers

Predatory publishers often have online platforms that appear to be legitimate. They create names that “sound” reasonable, such as Open Journal of Nursing, and send emails to solicit authors. Be suspicious if you receive an email invitation to publish in a journal unfamiliar to you. Ask these questions to reduce your risk of becoming a victim of predatory publishing:

  • Is the journal listed in MEDLINE, CINAHL, the Directory of Open Access Journals, or the Nurse Author & Editor and International Academy of Nurse Editors directory?
  • Who is the publisher, and can the publisher be contacted?
  • Is a professional association linked to the journal?
  • Who is the editor, and can the editor be easily contacted? Are the editorial board members associated with respected organizations? Note that in some cases editors and board members may not know they are listed as being associated with the journal.
  • Does the journal specify a peer review process?
  • If there is a fee for publishing, and does it seem reasonable?
  • Can you verify a listed impact factor?
  • Are you or your colleagues familiar with the journal?
  • As is the case elsewhere in life, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

What are the costs of predatory publishing? More importantly, how do you avoid becoming a victim of what Linda Laskowski-Jones, MS, APRN, ACNS-BC, CEN, FAWM, FAAN, editor-in-chief of Nursing 2019, calls “the dark side of publishing”?

The high cost of predatory publishing

Authors submitting to predatory journals pay fees (from a few hundred to thousands of dollars) as part of what is referred to as an article processing charge (APC) fee.

In some cases, authors may not know they need to pay an APC until after the article has been accepted and they’ve signed a copyright agreement granting all rights to the publisher. At that stage, authors find either they can’t withdrawal the article or have to pay another high fee to do so.

However, the costs of predatory publishing go beyond money. Once an article appears in a predatory journal, a reputable journal won’t publish the work.

“The researcher’s hard work has been wasted, and the findings are lost to clinicians, researchers, and others who could have benefited from the information,” Laskowski-Jones says.

Don't be a victim

You can act to avoid being a victim of predatory publishers. In addition to the steps listed here, see whether your organization’s library subscribes to Cabell’s International blacklist of predatory journals, which is based on an analysis of established factors.

Free lists are also available, but these sites’ administrators are typically anonymous because they fear harassment by publishers on the list. Another excellent resource is the checklist available on the Think. Check. Submit. website.

Be aware

Predatory publishing doesn’t just affect your own work. Unsuspecting researchers may access articles that lack appropriate peer review and/or are of low quality. These researchers then unknowingly perpetuate the data by, for example, citing the work in reference lists or including the article in integrative or systematic reviews, which can affect the validity of the conclusions.

On the other side, nurses, other healthcare providers, risk managers and attorneys must carefully check articles, including the reference list, for accuracy.

Laskowski-Jones adds, “Carefully check references of published works that will be used to change practice or serve as supporting documentation for a lawsuit.” Nurses and other healthcare providers have a responsibility to disseminate their research and clinical expertise, but they should take care that dissemination occurs through a reliable, valid publication outlet.

Georgia Reiner is a Risk Specialist for Nurses Service Organization (NSO) in the Healthcare Division of Aon’s Affinity Insurance Services, Inc.