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Predatory Publishing

Learn how to identify and avoid predatory publishing opportunities and other scams directed at scholars.

Defining Predatory Publishing

Predatory publishing and other scams targeting scholars use deceit to get what they want. Sometimes they want money, but they also want prestige and content. These scams target scholars as authors, editorial board members, conference presenters, and conference attendees.

Deceit is the defining characteristic of these scams.

The following behaviors do not mean that an opportunity is predatory:

  • Charging fees to authors or conference attendees
    • Many reputable publishers and conferences charge fees to authors or attendees. For a long time, some publishers have charged authors for services like indexing or color printing. It is also common now for open access journals to charge authors fees to support publication of the journal on an open access basis, or for hybrid journals to charge authors fees to make their own individual articles available on an open access basis. For more information on open access fees, please consult the Libraries' Open Access guide. Most reputable publishers will apply one of the Creative Commons licenses to any article published with an author-paid open access fee. If yours does not have such a policy, that should make you suspicious.
  • Having a low impact factor or no impact factor at all
    • Lack of an impact factor can just mean that a journal is new or not well known. Impact factors are not comparable across disciplines. Generally speaking, journals in the sciences are more likely to have impact factors and are likely to have higher impact factors than journals in the humanities. Impact factors also tend to be lower in smaller fields. For more information on the biases of impact factors, please consult the Libraries' Citation and Journal Measures guide.
  • Not engaging in peer review
    • There are many reputable publishing opportunities for scholars that do not involve peer review. For example, many of the most prestigious American law journals are student-reviewed, rather than peer-reviewed. It is also common for academics to publish in professional or trade publications that are not peer reviewed in order to reach the practitioner audience. The trouble comes when an opportunity says it is peer-reviewed but it is not. Watch out for deceit surrounding peer review. Real peer review takes time. When an opportunity promises peer review in a matter of a few days, that's probably a deceitful promise.

Using Your Network

Personal connections and recommendations are always the safest way to assess an opportunity.
  1. Look for a trusted colleague who has a connection to the conference, journal, or publisher.
  2. Confirm that connection independently (e.g., on the colleague’s website in addition to the publisher’s).
  3. Check in with your colleague about their experience.

Caution: It’s easy to import your biases into this decision when you rely on your networks.

When You Don't Have a Personal Connection

If you are not able to evaluate an opportunity using your network, there are checklists you can use to help you evaluate it yourself. The trouble with checklists is that predatory journals can be pretty good at gaming the system. On the flip side, many suggestions for identifying predatory opportunities will also lead you to avoid non-predatory opportunities with newer publications, new ways of sharing scholarship, or publishers and organizers from outside the U.S.

Successful predatory offers may make scholars think they are not predatory by:

  • Having a respected scholar on the editorial board or giving a conference keynote: This scholar may also be a victim of the scammer or may not really be associated with the opportunity at all.
  • Working with a familiar publishing company: Even when a publishing company is reputable, its individual journals may still engage in predatory practices.
  • Sending last-minute requests because “someone dropped out”: Scammers expect scholars to be suspicious of last-minute conference invites or publication offers, so they provide deceitful excuses to explain this.

Think. Check. Submit. is a checklist developed by scholarly publishers. It can help you protect yourself, but it doesn't protect you on its own. You still need your own common sense. It's also important to watch out for bias when using Think. Check. Submit. For example, the checklist item “Is the publisher a member of a recognized industry initiative?” is quite limiting, because the initiatives listed are primarily based in North America and Europe.

Some groups also create lists of predatory publishers and conference organizers using criteria like those in the checklists. These lists, too, should be used with caution. Cabell's Predatory Reports is a subscription product providing this service. The Penn State Libraries do not subscribe to it.