Oct 4, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

While fake news may be plaguing the mainstream, a similarly themed issue is infiltrating the academic sector: Predatory journals. A recent Nature article highlights this issue, along with why putting an end to the phenomenon is essential to scientific scholarship.  

What are Predatory Journals?

“Predatory journals are easy to please,” says Nature. “They seem to accept papers with little regard for quality, at a fraction of the cost charged by mainstream open-access journals. These supposedly scholarly publishing entities are murky operations, making money by collecting fees while failing to deliver on their claims of being open access and failing to provide services such as peer review and archiving.”  

While it’s easy to assume that predatory journals would primarily be aimed at research originating in the developing world, Nature’s findings indicate that authors from developed countries are equally if not more vulnerable to predatory journals. In fact, in a  rigorous study of 2,000 biomedical articles from more than 200 suspicious journals, investigators from Nature concluded that more than half originated from high- and upper-middle-income countries.  

Even worse? Predatory journals “are becoming increasingly adept at appearing legitimate,” reveals Nature -- making it harder for authors to avoid them.  

Addressing the Issue

According to Nature, “Whether authors are being duped or are overzealously seeking to lengthen their publication lists, this represents enormous waste. Just the subset of articles that we examined contained data from more than 2 million individuals and over 8,000 animals. By extrapolation, we estimate that at least 18,000 funded biomedical-research studies are tucked away in poorly indexed, scientifically questionable journals. Little of this work will advance science. It is too dodgily reported (and possibly badly conducted) and too hard to find.”  

While it seems clear that predatory journals are unethical, Nature asserts the same of publishing in them for a simple reason: People who agree to participate in studies do so based on the expectation that their participation will benefit others. The use of animals, meanwhile, is rationalized in the same way. Work published in predatory journals, however, is not positioned to advance science and therefore falls short of fulfilling these justifications.  

Concludes Nature, “We believe that publishers, research institutions and funders should issue explicit warnings against illegitimate publishers and develop cohesive recommendations on publication integrity together...We need to cut off the supply of manuscripts to these illegitimate outfits….If not, predatory journals will continue to erode the integrity of scientific scholarship.”

Read more about natural science scholarship.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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