It happens every day. A new email pops up in a researcher’s in-box from a journal with a seemingly familiar name and an invitation to publish a research paper, present at a meeting or, perhaps, serve on an editorial board.
Like many of her colleagues, Marian Hannan, DSc, MPH, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and editor in chief of the ACR’s journal, Arthritis Care & Research, receives such email solicitations at least once per week and promptly sends them to her virtual trash bin.
“The messages are usually effusively complimentary, with such introductions as ‘It is our extreme pleasure to invite you …,’” Dr. Hannan says, calling these messages phishing scams. “They also typically have misspellings and incorrect grammar, things you just wouldn’t see in any correspondence from a reputable publisher.”
Recognize the Scam
The term predatory publishing was coined by a librarian at the University of Colorado who maintained a website and blog (that have since been deactivated) providing critical analysis of open-access publishers that met the criteria of being predatory. These publications often have a scholarly sounding title that can be very similar (in name only) to respected journals. The scheme is generally the same: receive an invitation from an unknown editor or editorial assistant to publish an article online with little or no peer review or editing and often with a fee for publication that is often sent after the author provides their research for publication. Variations of this scheme continue to pop up, all targeting scholarly researchers.
Predatory publishing itself has become the subject of scholarly investigation. Earlier this year, a well-known study, published in Nature and discussed in other publications including The New Yorker, invented a fake scientist who applied to serve on the editorial boards of 360 journals, including indexed journals with official impact factors, as well as journals suspected to be predatory. The researchers found that the journals deemed predatory were more likely to accept the fake scientist on their editorial boards.
Acknowledging the reality of predatory publishing is not a new trend. In 2005, a group of MIT students created a program, called SCIgen, to create “nonsensical computer-science papers with realistic-looking graphs, figures and citations” in response to their frustrations with predatory publishing practices. One notable fake article from the program was published, illustrating their point.1
So why, more than a decade after open discussions have emerged within academia about these predatory publishers, are they still out there?