LIBRARY INSIDER: Is this journal predatory? Check indexing and metrics


What is a predatory journal? Select as many as apply:

  1. A sub-standard journal that lures researchers into submitting articles for a low fee.
  2. A journal that provides no quality control or other author services.
  3. All open access journals.
  4. A fake journal using a legitimate journal’s name and/or URL to gain money or data.
  5. A journal website posing as an academic journal.

If you chose A, B, D and E, you have a good understanding of predatory journals. While they are not necessarily dependent on “open access” publishing, that business model introduced the Article Processing Charge (APC) paid by authors, enabling predatory behavior to emerge and flourish.

The careers of researchers publishing in predatory or substandard journals that are not acceptable within academia are at risk of damage from the lack of dissemination of the content as well as the association with such a journal.

Data continues to show increasing numbers of predatory publishers and associated journals and conferences. Recent studies (Shen 2015; Moher 2017) surprised many with the finding that the majority of authors are from wealthier nations, including the United States, demonstrating that authors from highly regarded educational institutions can be fooled by dubious publishers. Many U.S. National Institutes of Health-funded investigators have inadvertently published results in predatory journals. Moher 2017 found that the most frequent funder in these sub-standard or predatory journals was the NIH. As a result, the NIH released Notice Number NOT-OD-18-011, “Statement on Article Publication Resulting from NIH Funded Research.” In this federal notice, “Authors are encouraged to publish papers arising from NIH-funded research in reputable journals.”  

It can be time-consuming to distinguish between reputable and non-reputable journals, but we can minimize this by checking two quality signals journals emit. The indexing services and the impact metrics cited by the journal are the key to quickly identifying predatory or subpar journals at a glance.

Journals are indexed in research databases, searchable at an article level by author, topic, keyword and other fields depending on specialization and purpose. What databases do you favor for research? Any journal you consider should be found in those databases or indexes. There often is a link to “Indexing” or similar wording.

Do you use Humanities Abstracts? PubMed? ERIC? EconLIt? INSPEC? Look for icons or links to these and other legitimate indexing services.  In a predatory journal, you may instead find directories, social sharing sites (and library catalogs). NOTE: every predatory journal will proudly state indexing in Google Scholar and display the Google logo. However, Google Scholar is a search engine and as such, includes even predatory journals in its retrieval. Disregard Google Scholar when distinguishing between predatory and reputable journals. 

The draw of impact metrics in legitimate academic research publication holds true for predatory journals as well. What metrics are important to you as a researcher or an author?  Most researchers are familiar with the Web of Science Journal Impact Factor, but there are three additional validated metrics promoted by competing major publishers. Elsevier developed CiteScore for use in Scopus, as well as SNIP, (Source Normalized Impact per Paper). SRJ from Elsevier gives extra weight to big-name journals.

Beware: Predatory publishers  use other  metrics and badges. Avoid journals displaying metrics from Index Copernicus; JIFactor; Global Impact Factor; Cosmos Impact Factor; Citefactor and many others too numerous to display!

For more information and tools for selecting a journal for publication, check the HSLS Scholarly Communication Guide-Publishing  for the Schools of the Health Sciences, or the ULS Subject Guide to Illegitimate & Predatory Publishing for all other Schools at the University of Pittsburgh. Of course, ask your HSLS or ULS  librarian for help if you are unsure about the status of any journal you are considering for publishing any content.

Andrea M. Ketchum is a HSLS Research and Instruction Librarian and Scholarly Communication Liaison.