7.6.3Authors of publications in questionable journals

Studies have shown that the majority of authors who publish in questionable journals are mainly inexperienced researchers coming from the Global South, although more experienced researchers and researchers from Western countries are also represented (Shen & Björk, 2015; Xia et al., 2015). One of the most controversial questions is to what extent these authors are themselves aware that they have submitted to a questionable journal: are they victims who have been misled about the true nature of the journal or have they deliberately submitted to an ‘easy target’, hoping to boost their publication counts? Kurt (2018) presents the results of a survey, showing that some authors are aware of the questionable nature of the journal in question, whereas others are not. In the latter group, there are different factors at play, with pressure to publish being identified as the main factor for researchers from Western countries.

Eykens et al. (2019) have investigated some aspects in greater detail for the set of publications found in the yearly ECOOM screenings. First, the findings show that publications in questionable journals are not just the result of lack of experience on the part of the authors: between 2004 and 2016, the proportion of senior authors in questionable publications was greater than 50% each year, and in 8 publication years greater than the proportion across all peer-reviewed publications. For publications with three or more authors, a junior author occupied the first position in the author list in 75% of the cases; this might be an indication that, at least in some cases, the leading author did not have sufficient research experience to distinguish genuine journals from questionable ones. On the other hand, in some fields in our data, alphabetical co-authorship is the norm and no hierarchy can be deduced from the order of authors in that case. In some cases, authors published in journals that were cognitively quite distant from their own field of research; this, too, may be a factor that contributes to getting ‘tricked’ into publishing in a questionable journal.