Tools for identifying predatory journals


Predatory journals take advantage of the publishing model, where authors pay article processing charges (APCs) in exchange for open access publication of their articles. These journals collect publication fees but do not offer a proper scientific publishing process, such as appropriate peer review or archiving of articles. They publish anything as long as they get paid. It is important to note though that simply collecting publication fees does not make a journal suspicious, the key issue is the lack of a proper scientific publishing process.

Unofficial lists of predatory journals can be found online, such as the archived version of Beall's list that operated between 2008 and 2017, or the website that gained attention in the spring of 2023. However, these sites cannot be considered reliable because no information is given about the administrators. The lists also do not explain the criteria for classifying journals as predatory or how often the information is updated

Cabells Predatory Reports database

A reliable source for identifying predatory journals is the subscription-based Cabells Predatory Reports database. Cabells currently contains information on over 17,000 publications estimated to be predatory, and about 500 journals are waiting to be evaluated. The journals are systematically evaluated using a specific set of criteria that considers several aspects of publishing, such as the peer review process, publishing practices, and indexing and publication metrics. If a journal has enough shortcomings listed in the criteria, it is added to the database. However, the problem with a database that lists predatory journals is that it is easy and quick to establish such journals, so the database cannot keep up to date. Even if a certain journal is not found in the Cabells database, it may still be a predatory journal.

Publication Forum – JUFO-portal

One way to avoid predatory journals is to use lists of journals that have been evaluated as reliable. The most well-known journal list in Finland is the Publication Forum’s (JUFO) portal, which has been in operation since 2011. The publication channels are divided into three levels (1, 2, 3), and there is also a 0-level, to which a journal can end up for various reasons: a journal may be a predatory journal, but a professional journal that does not meet the criteria for scientific publication can also be placed at level 0. There may also be scientific journals at level 0 that have been published for so little time that the journal's reputation and practices have not yet been established. The placement of journals in the level categories is reassessed at regular intervals. New publications can be added to level 1 continuously, while levels 2 and 3 are evaluated every four years. Quotas are also used at levels 2 and 3.

The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) 

The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) was established in 2003 as a search service for scientific open access journals and articles. The service is funded by supporters such as universities, research organizations, and publishers, and Turku University is among the supporters. It is important to note that DOAJ lists only OA publications, and if a journal is missing from the list, it may be because its publishing policy does not meet DOAJ's criteria for open access publishing.

Gray areas of academic publishing

It is usually possible to identify clearly dishonest or, on the other hand, reliable actors reasonably reliably through listings. However, the gray area of publishing is difficult to navigate, as it can be challenging to identify borderline cases, such as previously reliable publishers whose practices have become concerning. 

The open access publishing model with APC fees can incentivize some publishers to publish as many articles as possible, potentially leading to a lack of time for quality assessment and editorial work as the number of publications increases. 

In the JUFO-portal, individual journals are not evaluated based on the publisher, so even if the journals of certain open access publishers that have rapidly increased their publication numbers have raised suspicions, the classifications of all the publisher's journals cannot be downgraded based on the publisher alone. During the fall of 2023, comments from the scientific community were collected on certain publishers' journals, and based on the feedback, the journals' levels can be re-evaluated. It also seems that the general attention paid to certain publishers has affected their publication volume

The situation is even more complicated when a journal that has raised suspicions have been dropped from one listing but remains on another. For example, Sustainability journal's JUFO classification was lowered from level 1 to level 0 at the beginning of this year, but it is still indexed in the Web of Science database and still has an Impact Factor. The field of scientific publishing has become more complex, so one indicator may no longer tell the whole truth about the quality of a journal.

Journal Citation Reports database

Things that may indicate that a journal's operation is becoming predatory include the rapid increase in the number of articles published. Especially with commercial OA publishers this may indicate that the publisher is seeking to make as much money as possible, possibly at the expense of quality. Other warning signs include a rapid or cursory peer review process or a sharp increase in the acceptance rate. Attention should also be paid to whether APC fees are rising or falling or whether the journal's marketing is becoming significantly more aggressive. Sometimes publication volumes are increased by expanding the journal's publishing areas, and the journal's name may also be changed to a more general one ("International Journal of Science"). 

The Journal Citation Reports database is a useful source for examining a journal's publication history, such as the development of article volumes. The database also provides a wealth of information on citation relationships, the number of OA publications, and various citation indicators. 

Created 20.11.2023 | Updated 20.11.2023