Is your email box full of dubious-sounding offers to publish articles with very quick turnaround time — but only for a fee? Increasing numbers of “predatory” online medical journals solicit manuscripts and charge publication fees without providing peer review.

“Predatory journals entice prospective authors by implying their work will be disseminated in a legitimate venue, but fail to provide any peer review or sound editorial oversight,” says James Giordano, PhD, chief of the neuroethics studies program at Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC.

A recent paper identified 13 evidence-based characteristics to distinguish predatory journals from legitimate ones.1 Ninety-three predatory journals, 99 open access, and 100 subscription-based journals were analyzed. Some findings include the following:

  • Many more predatory journals’ homepages contained spelling errors and distorted or potentially unauthorized images, compared to open access journals and subscription-based journals.
  • Thirty-one predatory journals promoted a bogus impact metric (the Index Copernicus Value) compared to three open access journals and no subscription-based journals.
  • Nearly three-quarters of predatory journals listed editors or editorial board members whose affiliation with the journal was unverified. This was the case for only two open access journals and one subscription-based journal.

“One of the primary ethical concerns is that such journals essentially engage in a ‘pay-to-publish’ solicitation scheme,” says Giordano.

Many legitimate open access journals incur publication charges in order to defer production costs. However, such journals are well-indexed, and ascribe to the standards and guidelines of the Council on Publication Ethics or other steering bodies. “Such credentialing reflects the extent and quality of the editorial and review process,” explains Giordano.

Even if researchers are sufficiently skeptical of predatory journals, readers might be deceived. “Some believe the editorial and review processes to be on par with the current standards and guidelines for scholarly publication,” says Giordano. Many of the journals have names that are almost identical to legitimate, trusted publications. “Predatory journals are essentially being deceptive, and may dilute the professional integrity of the field,” says Giordano.

Due Diligence Needed

Eileen F. Baker, MD, FACEP, medical director of the ethics curriculum at University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences in Ohio, says the “publish or perish” mentality is a contributing factor to the success of predatory online journals.

Thousands of medical journals exist, each competing for the time and attention of clinicians. “The age of electronic journals, electronic publishing, blogging, and ‘fake news’ now confuse the issue of what constitutes a legitimate journal,” says Baker.

Peer review is an important component of legitimacy, says Baker — but even premier medical journals are subject to scrutiny.

“From accepting advertising to publishing manufacturer-sponsored studies, the ethics of what counts as ‘predatory’ becomes rather murky,” says Baker.

Before online journals existed, the dubious practice of “ghost writing” had long been an ethical concern, she says. Physicians are approached by pharmaceutical manufacturers or other companies to attach their names to an already-written article that endorses the company’s product.

“The impulse to build one’s resumé in this manner should be resisted,” says Baker. “Yet, authors still succumb to other temptations.” These include data manipulation or outright fraud.

“Solicitations from predatory online medical journals add to the mix of ethical quandaries,” says Baker. It may be difficult to ascertain if a journal is a “real,” peer-reviewed publication or a sponsored publication.

Giordano suggests searching the journal online, noting whether it is indexed and which indexing sources list the journal. “Engage in some due diligence about the purported editorial board,” he says.

Simply Googling “predatory journals” and specifying the discipline can provide listings of those journals that have been identified as predatory, adds Giordano.

The bottom line, says Baker, is that potential authors should be very wary when solicited by an online entity. “Being asked to submit material to a journal of which you have never heard, especially in a field in which you do not specialize, is cause for pause,” she says.

REFERENCE

  1. Shamseer L, Moher D, Maduekwe O, et al. Potential predatory and legitimate biomedical journals: can you tell the difference? A cross-sectional comparison. BMC Medicine 2017; 15(28): DOI: 10.1186/s12916-017-0785-9.

SOURCES

  • Eileen F. Baker, MD, FACEP. Medical Director, Ethics Curriculum, University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences, Toledo, OH. Email: uhemsdoc@earthlink.net.
  • James Giordano, PhD, Chief, Neuroethics Studies Program, Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, DC. Phone: (202) 687-1160. Fax: (202) 280-1378. Email: james.giordano@georgetown.edu.