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Magazines > Computers in Libraries > October 2023

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Vol. 43 No. 8 — October 2023


Predators in Our Midst
by William Badke

I got an email recently from a company that publishes a “scientific research” journal. That’s not unusual. I get such emails all the time. But there were numerous red flags.

About the same time, one of our faculty members emailed me that she was planning to submit to an OA journal, but she was a bit concerned about the high APC (article-processing charge) she would have to pay. This made her suspicious about the legitimacy of the journal itself. I did some checking and found that, while the “About us” from the journal was well-crafted, there were indicators that all was not well. Despite my knowledge of the academic publication world, it wasn’t clear to me whether or not the journal was on the level.

Such is the conundrum of today’s OA publishing. While there are numerous OA journals with highly credible track records and strong peer-review standards, OA has also become a bit of a dumping ground for inferior or unscrupulous publications. Let’s distinguish between those.

The inferior works, which are trying hard but fail to meet standards, can be handled best by the scholarly conversation that may help improve quality. The latter, however, are more like that unexpected phone call that ends up with people bankrupt and homeless. They come from predators with malice aforethought.

The marks of the predator

Back to the first email I mentioned at the beginning of this column. It carried so many signs of suspect activity, I turned it into a model for a class on predatory publishing. Without telling you the title or location (these folks are capable of taking legal action), here is what I found:

1. The journal name referred to “scientific research” without any specific discipline. Predatory journals tend to cover a wide range rather than the normally narrow scope of conventional periodicals. When I see something like Journal of the Sciences and Social Sciences, I know it spells trouble. A title like that screams loss of scope and a “We’ll publish anything” attitude.

2. The email provided a London address, which turned out to be a collection of 50 companies on the same floor (offices of convenience?). In any case, the company behind the journal was dissolved in 2015 and now has a new website based in a non-Western country. The Western address was probably there only to lend credence to the journal.

3. Where a journal is indexed is important for credibility. Red flags for me in the email were references to Google Scholar and Ulrich’s. Curiously, ProQuest and EBSCO were also listed, but this was a blatant lie. True, EBSCO did index one of the journal’s articles out of almost 3,000 so far published, but that’s far less than actually being indexed. There was a curious reference to Springer Nature giving high marks to the journal’s open peer-review process, but the referenced article does not mention this journal at all.

4. While the journal does, or says it does, send out articles for peer review, its required turnaround is 12–14 days from submission to publication. No meaningful peer review can possibly happen in that time frame.

The email was a web of misleading and false information, and the journal can safely be labelled as “predatory.” Predatory in what ways? First, there is the level of deception in its claims. Second, its speeded-up peer review can’t possibly be adequate, and the publishers surely must know that. Third, there is an APC (not unusual for OA articles, but certainly, given the deception and shoddy review, a red flag).

Who does it hurt?

Why not just live and let live? There is good academic research and less good. Ultimately, such journals will be weeded out when the major databases don’t index them. Some of their articles might actually be pretty good.

The first challenge is that OA journal articles are on the open web and almost inevitably find themselves in Google Scholar. For the journal we are discussing, Scholar included almost 3,000 articles. We know that students use Scholar a lot, and they are given few clues to discern what might be predatory.

The second is that predation adds to the growing suspicion about scholarship among much of the population. We claim that the scholarly conversation modifies or weeds out inadequacies and errors, while at the same time, our literature pool is adulterated with works that don’t even pass basic requirements for peer review.

Third—and this is the one that troubles me the most—is that predators victimize scholars who struggle to get published. I’ve communicated with several academics in Asia and the Global South who have told me that Western journals won’t publish them, so they have to find journals that will. In the process, they pay high fees and don’t get the level of peer review needed to ensure that their work will have credibility. The journal discussed above was very savvy in this regard. It discounted its fee from $500 to $85, knowing that scholars who have limited funds would be less likely to be deterred by this amount. How, then, do they make money? By publishing 35 journals and blanketing the world with advertisements to attract more authors. Sheer volume generates profits.

Predatory journals hurt the scholarly world, the students who mistakenly use them, and the people who submit articles to them. The most egregious predators offer almost nothing for a fee. Those who publish with them may find their work discounted or not considered valid for use in job promotion and tenure.

Isn’t this discussion just prejudice?

I’ve thought long and hard about whether or not my critique of predatory journals is simply an example of Western prejudice. This is a valid concern. My extensive experience with students and scholars beyond the West reveals many, many talented people with much to contribute. Certainly, they are frustrated by rejections from upper-echelon journals that have high impact factors and high rejection rates. Does resorting to a predatory journal really hurt them in the long run? At least they get their work out there. If they write good articles, maybe inadequate peer review is not as much of a problem as we might think.

That is a reasonable argument, and, no doubt, some articles in predatory journals could make a contribution to our knowledge. I don’t fault these scholars for taking the predatory publication route they did. But settling for a publisher that breaks the rules flies in the face of academia’s reliance on peer review. I have certainly benefited by thorough and even tough reviews of my own work. Without these, I’d have to rely on my own abilities, which usually means I miss things.

I wish that there were more of an effort by legitimate academic societies around the world to develop their own OA publishing infrastructures to produce credible journals. Funding is clearly an issue, as is motivation. We could all benefit from an initiative of international bodies along the lines of the UNESCO Global Open Access Portal (

Working with students

In a time of low levels of information literacy, students often lack the ability to identify predatory journal articles. We can ask them to check journal names with Beall’s List (, which is an archived version of the 2017 list, with limited updating, mostly for changes in links. We can send them to Think, Check. Submit (, though they are unlikely to do so. We can educate them about predatory journals, but we’ll be greeted by a lack of interest.

We could go after Google Scholar, although Google, having long forgotten its earlier motto, “Don’t be evil,” is unlikely to listen. Why should it, when Google is offering a database for free, with little hope of profit? Sure, Scholar could filter out predatory journals, but it won’t unless public outrage reaches a damaging level. I believe that any attempt to regulate or stamp out predation is doomed. It’s like trying to eliminate all crime or declare a war on drugs.

The tried-and-true method of insisting that students must only use our academic databases is certainly an option. While predation is found even in some academic database holdings, it is much more limited. But this is restricting options for students who are working on fairly obscure topics, need up-to-the-minute information, or simply want to know what else is out there. Academic databases should be foundational, but venturing out into more dangerous territory may sometimes be required. For students in countries where conventional databases are too expensive, OA, with an admixture of predatory journals, is the preferred option.

The landscape

If I’ve repeated one thing more than others, it is that we—educators and society—have simply not paid enough attention to examining the implications of our technological advances. We failed with social media, which is half friends conversing with friends and half a cesspool of abuse and misery. We failed when the open web became a vehicle for multiple abuses, yet regulation of technology only goes so far before it becomes censorship. The path we need to take is education.

For many of our students, everything is a website or a post. Students often cannot differentiate between the views of someone not tuned into the facts and significant research based on evidence. The web has become the great leveler, making information amorphous.

Do you know what significant criterion for evaluating informational authority is most often completely missed by my students? It is the question, “Who wrote this?” Qualifications of the author, such as education, expertise, and lack of bias, don’t seem at all significant. A related difficulty is bound up in the Framework concept of “Information creation as a process.” If our students were probing into what processes were involved in bringing this piece of writing into being, they would be better able to evaluate it.

This seems like a long step away from predatory journals, but it is not. If we educate our students about predation in the context of our current reality, which is that our information base is uneven and chaotic, we will be able to help them find criteria to determine whether the “academic information” they find is worth using. The kind of wariness that comes from learning how to navigate the information landscape wisely is much more likely to overcome predation. Let’s teach the landscape in all its beauty and ugliness.

William Badke

William Badke
( is associate librarian at Trinity Western University and the author of Research Strategies: Finding Your Way Through the Information Fog, 7th Edition (, 2021).

Comments? Emall Marydee Ojala (, editor, Online Searcher.