7.6.1‘Predatory’, ‘fake’ and questionable journals


Open access (OA) publications are publications that are distributed online and are free to consult and reuse. This stands in contrast to traditional scholarly publishing, where the reader or their organization pays for access to the literature. Among several other OA business models, there is the ‘author pays’ model, in which the author pays a certain sum to the publisher, who in exchange makes the publication openly available.

Unscrupulous publishers can abuse the ‘author pays’ model by deliberately not carrying out all the tasks that are expected of them, while maximizing profit. Typically, predatory publishers and journals exhibit problems relating to one or more of the following areas:

  • Integrity: does the journal or publisher pretend to be something they are not? This includes issues like fake ISSNs, pretending to be non-profit when that’s not the case, and causing confusion with a legitimate (high-profile) journal.
  • Peer review: does the journal or publisher have an adequate peer review system and editorial board?
  • Fees: does the journal or publisher communicate clearly and correctly about any fees?
  • Access and copyright: does the journal or publisher have adequate (open) access and copyright policies and are these enacted in practice?
  • Business practices: does the journal or publisher conduct its business appropriately and honestly?

The above list is based on Cabell’s blacklist criteria, which in addition also distinguish criteria relating to publication practices, and indexing and metrics. Taken together, these problems may lead to waste of funds and resources, poor quality research being given a false aura of reliability, and/or good quality research being available for a limited time or not at all. Since at least some items on the list relate more to low quality than deception (Eriksson & Helgesson, 2018), we opt to refer to these journals as ‘questionable journals’ instead.