Predatory journals: How to recognize them?

Predatory journals: How to recognize them?

Thu May 04 16:13:00 CEST 2017

Publishing in prestigious scientific journals is one of the main criteria for assessing scientists and the workplaces at which they work. It is usually connected with a lot of financial rewards and subsidies. However, the introduction of both a citation database and the blacklists that are to be guarantors of the label “prestigious scientific journals” are inadequate. The need thus arises to look for further ways to find out what is and is not a so-called predatory magazine. Particularly in the situation where a known source for the assessment of predatory nature, the Beall List, has not be available since 15 January 2017. Jeffrey Beall did not explain why that happened. It is not clear when (and if at all) the list will be restored again.

J. Beall devoted himself to the parasitic relationships in science and research from 2010, and for this purpose he has created blacklists of scientific journals and publishers suspected of predatory practices. Opinions about the practices that interfere with mutual trust among scholars were inter alia introduced in June 2016 at the Conference of the Institute of Ethnology of the CAS Parasitic Relations in Academic Publishing, critically analysing the development of predatory journals and their associated publishers as the unintended consequence of open access.

In the case of Beall's lists, this was virtually the only source that could be used to verify the possible predatory journal or publishing house. However, some Beall's decisions did not meet with positive responses because they were controversial and biased, as confirmed by last year’s study Predatory journals in Scopus byMartin Srholec and Vít Macháček from the think-tank IDEA CERGE-EI at the Economics Institute of the CAS.

This year’s, already the sixth study Inside Beall’s List created with the support of the Strategy AV21again discusses the issue of predatory journals. The established databases of the type Scopus and Web of Science or “blacklists” like Beall’s List simply do not suffice. They are either overly benevolent and index also the predators or, on the contrary, too strict, and they also dismiss magazines that do not deserve it. Inclusion in the Scopus database is crucial from the perspective of the Czech scientific environment for obtaining points in the governmental evaluation of the results of the research institutions – the so-called coffeegrinder.  

Beall’s list – strict arbitrator

“Whereas in the previous analysis we mapped the penetration of predatory journals into the Scopus citation database, the current study looks for additional criteria for classifying periodicals on the Beall’s list, because it is possible that this famous blacklist indexes some magazines wrongly,” explains Martin Srholec.

Jeffrey Beall at the Conference of the Institute of Ethnology of the CAS Parasitic Relations in Academic Publishing” (Photo: Stanislava Kyselová, CAS)

According to Vít Macháček, Jeffrey Beall was the first to record the rise of predatory journals and began to draw attention to the unfortunate phenomenon. "His blog was also the only, at least somewhat, systematic source of information. On the other hand, he was rightly criticized that his decisions were based largely on intuition.”

But with the closing of Beall’s blog, the problem of a predatory nature definitely does not disappear. In addition, the number of magazines accused of being predators increases and there is a need to look for new, more precise criteria for their determination.

A new view

The methodology of the selected research is described by the co-author of the study, Vít Macháček. “We used two criteria to determine the scientific relevance of magazines within the Jeffrey Beall list. The first is the Scimago Journal Ranking (SJR), which measures the citation of the journal among researchers. The second was the share of the authors in the journal who come from countries with an advanced culture of evaluation of scientific work.”

In the analysis of Beall’s list, 240 journals suspected of being predators were examined. After considering the SJR and the proportion of authors from “developed” countries, the journals were divided into several categories, the most important of which are: “main suspects of being predators” (172 journals) and “disputed decision” (34). 

In the next analysis, it was found that the vast majority of disputed journals are published by only two publishers, namely Frontiers Research Foundation and Impact Journals, which have a high SJR and a large number of authors from countries with an advanced culture of assessment publish in them.

How does the Czech Republic stand?

In the share of results in potentially predatory journals, the worst among OECD countries is South Korea (5%) and Slovakia (1.9%). In the original study, the Czech Republic with a 1.3% share came in as the seventh most affected OECD country.

The persisting differences between the most advanced countries and the others are highlighted by the fact that after removing the magazines published by Frontiers and Impact Journals from the “predator” category the number of remaining “predatory” journals drops rapidly in the countries of Western Europe. Whereas in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark and Belgium, there is even a drop of more than four-fifths, it only marginally declines in the Czech Republic and Slovakia (1.1% and 1.8%, respectively).

Besides the money, which predatory journals draw from the science budget, also the good reputation of research is at stake. “The Czech Republic is perhaps the only country that does not use expert panels for quality assessment. The expert meanwhile will recognize the predatory output at first glance. Moreover, in the Czech Republic, the assessment of science almost exclusively relies on the Scopus-type citation database. This coffee grinder needs to be changed,” concludes Martin Srholec.

special interactive application was also created for the study, which allows a search for the individual journals.

Prepared by: Department of Academic Media of the CAO of the CAS
Photo: Stanislava Kyselová, CAS and Pixabay