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Predatory Publishing: Understanding & Identifying It

What is a predatory publisher?

A predatory publisher is an opportunistic publishing venue that exploits the academic need to publish but offers little reward for those using their services.

The academic "publish or perish" scenario combined with the relative ease of website creation has inadvertently created a market ripe for the exploitation of academic authors. Some publishers are predatory on purpose, while others may make mistakes due to neglect, mismanagement, or inexperience. While the motivations and methods vary predatory publishers have common characteristics:

  • Their primary goal is to make money (i.e. there will be fees).
  • They do not care about the quality of the work published (i.e. no or little editing or peer-review).
  • They make false claims or promises (i.e. claims of impact factors and indexing).
  • They engage in unethical business practices (i.e. not as advertised).
  • They fail to follow accepted standards or best practices of scholarly publishing (various).

How the scam works

Predatory publisher exploit a new publishing model by claiming to be legitimate open-access operation. Online predatory publishers take advantage of the Gold Open Access model. Under this model publication charges provide publishers with income instead of subscriptions (see our Open Access Guide for more information about publication models).

It's important to realize that Open Access does not make a publisher predatory, their bad behavior does.

Predatory publishers make false claims (such as quick peer-review) to lure unwary authors into submitting papers. While sending a predatory publisher a manuscript may see it "published" there is no guarantee that it underwent peer review, is included in indexes like Web of Science and Scopus, or that it will be available in a month much less in five years.

What's the harm?

Predatory publishers do authors a disservice by claiming to be a full-service publisher. Remember, as an author you are providing a valuable product and legitimate publishers provide valuable services to protect your work. Some of the dangers of publishing with a predatory publisher are outlined below:

Your work may be subject to sub-par peer-review

The peer-review system isn't perfect but there is general consensus that papers that undergo peer-review are better for it. If you plan to seek promotion or tenure you want to make sure you are publishing in a place that values your work and is willing to devote time and resources to improving it.

Your work could disappear

One of the advantages of publishing with a responsible publisher is that they make commitments to preserve your work. Opportunists looking to make a quick buck are not going to care if your paper is still available in 5 years, much less tomorrow. This situation is the stuff of nightmares if you plan to go up for tenure or promotion.

Your work will be hard to find

Some predatory publishers advertise that they are included in well-known databases like Web of Science or Scopus when they are not. Since MCPHS subscribes to hundreds of databases, including Scopus, this is easy to check. While most predatory journals will probably be covered by Google Scholar your work won't be as visible if it's missing from other research databases.


Finding out you've been the victim of a scam is never fun. While the repercussions of publishing with questionable publishers is still largely unknown there have been a few documented cases where it has hurt careers.

Read more about it

Grudniewicz, A., Moher, D., Cobey, K. D., Bryson, G. L., Cukier, S., Allen, K., Ardern, C., Balcom, L., Barros, T., Berger, M., Ciro, J. B., Cugusi, L., Donaldson, M. R., Egger, M., Graham, I. D., Hodgkinson, M., Khan, K. M., Mabizela, M., Manca, A., … Lalu, M. M. (2019). Predatory journals: No definition, no defence. Nature576(7786), 210–212.

Berger, M., & Cirasella, J. (2015, March 18). Beyond Beall’s List: We need a better understanding of predatory publishing without overstating its size and danger. Impact of Social Sciences.

Cobey, K. D., Lalu, M. M., Skidmore, B., Ahmadzai, N., Grudniewicz, A., & Moher, D. (2018). What is a predatory journal? A scoping review. F1000Research7, 1001.

About this guide

This guide is just that, a guide. Ultimately it is up to each author to make the final decision on where to publish and to decide what they expect from their publishers.

This guide is based on Megan N O'Donnell's Guide Understanding Predatory Publishing at Iowa State University. She would like to give special thanks to Eastern Michigan University Library's Guide on Predatory Publishers which served as a starting point. The graphic icons used on this guide are from icons8. Reuse of the icons requires a link back to icons8.

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