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5 Predator publishing or fake science? A case series of 75 unsolicited emails received from ‘predator journals’
  1. Drew Dagens
  1. Royal Air Force, Centre for Aviation Medicine, UK


Objectives The rise of ‘fake news’ has achieved notoriety in the popular press over the last few years. In the scientific press a similar problem, known as ‘predator publishing’ has arisen. There is currently great debate about the nature and extent of ‘predator publishing.’ An informal consensus would suggest that junior academics are inundated by requests for articles from journals of dubious quality. These same early career academics are thought to be particularly vulnerable to the pressure to ‘publish or be damned.’

Relatively little data is published on the quantitative extent of this problem or its effect on Evidence Based Medicine. Here is described a case series of 75 sequential journal requests received by a postgraduate student over a 4-month period in response to a short letter to Critical Care regarding a fungal assay. The 75 paper requests were analysed for features that might make them be considered ‘predatory.’

Method 1) 75 consecutive unsolicited email requests from publications requesting article submission were collected and analysed.

The emails were all received to the personal email account of an English-speaking MSc student over a three-month period.

Most cited this researcher’s recent academic publications.

2) The following data was extracted from each email:

  • Journal name

  • Publisher

  • Was the journal fee paying?

  • Was the journal registered with PubMed? Medline?

  • What article processing charges were there?

  • ISSN

  • Impact factor (Web of Science)

3) Suggestions that the publication may be a ‘predator journal’ were sought:

  • Was the email overly flattering in tone?

  • Was the journal relevant?

  • Did the journal permit email submissions?

  • Was the journal on ‘Beal’s list’ of predatory publications?

  • Was the journal on the BIH ‘whitelist’ of Open Access Journals?

4) In addition, invitations to speak at conferences/to become an editor were collated

Results 75 emails were analysed. The emails requested submissions on topics as varied as ‘archives of animal husbandry and dairy science,’ and ‘Current Trends in Civil and Structural Engineering.’

The majority (65%) were from 5-6 publishers who have been described as ‘predator publishers’ elsewhere.

  • All 75 journals were fee-paying

  • Only 4 were registered with MEDLINE

  • 23 has selected citations on MEDLINE

  • 10 could not be found on PUBMED

  • The mean average requested APC was $1690

  • Only 44 journals clearly displayed ISSN numbers.

  • 33 of the email requests were phrased in language that could be described as effusive or sycophantic.

  • Only 25 bored any relevance to the original article submitted to critical care.

  • 50 of the journals accepted email submissions.

  • Only 2 of the journals appeared on the BIH ‘whitelist’

  • 58 appeared on ‘Beal’s list,’ a well-known archive of ‘nuisance or ‘predator’ publications.

  • 20 speaking requests, 5 editorial invitations received.

Conclusions This case series describe email requests to publish received by a junior academic over a 4-month period. During this short time the researcher received over 75 requests. The majority were from a small number of publishers, all of which have been accused of producing ‘predatory journals’ in the past. The vast majority appeared on easily accessed ‘blacklists’ and only three appeared on commonly used ‘white lists.’

The evidence of this case series suggests that junior academics are exposed to ‘predator publications.’

However, these papers are so easily identified as suspect that it is hard to imagine anyone being genuinely fooled by them. It would be wiser to acknowledge to remove the passive ‘predator’ description and acknowledge that these journals are co-produced by the scientific community.

Perhaps it is time to make a paradigm shift and move from calling from the phrase ‘predator journals’ to the more appropriate ‘fake science.’

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