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Researchers Must Be Wary of Predatory Journals

Many faculty members at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and elsewhere are likely inundated with requests to contribute articles to journals—none of which they’ve ever heard of. When I started receiving such requests, I was first surprised; then I became skeptical. As the requests kept pouring in, I created a folder in my email named “Fake Journals?” and recently I started saving some of them. I later learned that although some requests come from fake journals, most were from what are now termed “predatory” journals. Two recent articles in the New York Times provide details about the practice.

Predatory journals exact a fee from would-be contributors. Legitimate, open-access journals do this when published articles are made available free of charge to readers. But the latter follow the ethical and procedural requirements for publication: peer review as well as competent editorial review. Predatory journals, on the other hand, have no peer-review process, accept anything submitted and publish only online.

Researchers as Prey
These are money-making schemes, preying on unsuspecting authors.

As one of the Times articles notes, the names of these (predatory or fake) journals are close to the names of legitimate publications, so “some researchers have been tricked into submitting papers.” In my experience, such journals sometimes identify a previously published article of mine in trying to attract my attention, saying something like “We would like to follow up on your previous article, [title,] to see whether you have additional thoughts on the topic.”

Two widely published bioethics colleagues of mine asked my opinion about requests they had received. In one case, the journal’s message cited an article that the colleague and I had co-authored. In the other incident, my colleague was initially taken in by the name of the journal, which resembled that of a well-known, legitimate publication.

Ignoring the Dangers
Not all faculty members who submit articles are unwitting dupes. From the Times: “Many faculty members…have become eager participants in what experts call academic fraud that wastes taxpayer money, chips away at scientific credibility, and muddies important research.”

I was amazed to learn that in recent years more than 10,000 such journals have appeared, almost equaling the number of legitimate journals. It’s no wonder my inbox is flooded daily with requests from them.

I now have about 140 such requests in my “Fake Journals?” folder. Sometimes it is easy to tell immediately where the request is coming from, as it’s written in ungrammatical English. The message is almost always a giveaway, since no legitimate journal would begin with a phrase such as “Greetings for the day.”

Here are a few samples of requests for articles I’ve received since I started my collection:

  • From a journal called Jacobs Journal of Clinical Trials, the message begins “Hope you are doing well.” Then it says, “Considering your previous contribution, we are inviting you to contribute to any of [sic] research article, review, case report, short communication for our upcoming issue ‘Ethical Issues in Health Care Research.’” I had never contributed an article to this journal, but I have published in a well-known legitimate journal called Clinical Trials.
  • Another request begins as follows: “Greetings from!!!” and continues with this garbled sentence: “On the behalf of our Editorial office taking privilege to inform you that we are in the process of releasing Christmas issueby the end of December Month, as we are releasing an Issue for special occasion we would like to invite you to contribute your valuable articles towards our journal.”
  • One from the Journal of Nuclear Medicine, Radiology and Imaging begins again with the hope that I’m doing well, and goes on to say: “We have contacted you before through mail might be of technical problem you did not receive it, hence we are taking liberty to reminding you once again regarding our previous invitation to submit.”
  • Another correctly names an article I previously published. It begins, “Warm Greetings from Medica Press Journal,” and continues: “We accept any form of research that travels your mind. Mini-Review on your article titled ‘Conflict of interest and bias in publication.’, is welcomed if research is not ready to submit” (punctuation as in the original message).

Although various forms of research do “travel my mind,” such research would not find its way to this journal or the numerous others named in these requests.

The Price of Predatory Journals
Most inquiries seek articles for the publication of which the author must pay a considerable sum. Others ask about willingness to serve on a journal’s editorial board or to present a keynote address at a conference. One such message addressed to “Dr. R Ruth” says that the journal had previously sent a message asking me to deliver a keynote address at a conference—“But we didn’t get any response from your side because of your busy schedule.” The journal was right about my schedule; how did its editors know? One of the Times articles says that academics invited to such conferences pay a “hefty fee” to be listed as presenters—“whether you actually attend the meeting or not.” Gina Kolata, the Times journalist who wrote the articles, attended one putative “convention.” She wrote: “The only venue was a small windowless room on the sixth floor of a hotel undergoing renovation.” A handful of people were in the room, and “most who were listed on the program were not in attendance.”

My advice to early-career researchers: “Author beware!” And if you are even remotely thinking of padding a resumé with a publication in any of these journals, you would be foolish to do so. More-senior colleagues will ferret out the fakes―and the practice can ruin your reputation.

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Ruth Macklin, Ph.D.

Ruth Macklin, Ph.D.

Dr. Macklin is distinguished university professor emerita at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She is the 2014 recipient of The Hastings Center’s Henry Knowles Beecher Award, which is given in recognition of a lifetime contribution to ethics and the life sciences.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Geoffrey Kabat January 24, 2018, 3:59 PM

    Excellent overview of predatory journals. You make me regret having deleted the many, many such letters I have received in the past few years. Some of the “howlers” were truly worth keeping. You put them to good use!

  • Florence Schreibstein February 15, 2018, 7:51 AM

    Great article about fake journals. I’d rather use the word fake than predatory. The Library has tools to help authors make good decisions regarding where to publish. We can be reached at askref@einstein.yu.edu, Phone 718-430-3104, Text 718.407.0761