The Ongoing Problem of Predatory Journals

In late September, the number of predatory journals on the Journal Blacklist surpassed 12,000. For context, the number of journals on the list has tripled since the list was established in 2017.

While issues of integrity, ethics, and tenure bubble to the surface in any discussion of predatory journals, it’s important to remember the potential practical impacts. That is, the potential for harm when the outcomes of a flawed study spread into the clinical, research, and policy arenas.

This danger arises not only through the initial publication of the article (which may have low initial visibility due to the lack of quality of the journal), but via references to these studies in the legitimate scientific literature, “citation contamination.” In the same way ill-gotten profits can be spent in the open after being passed through legitimate businesses, these articles gain legitimacy by being cited in established publications and databases. These associations enable the dissemination of these studies far beyond the level offered by their initial publication in the sub-standard journal.

The Scholarly Kitchen published the findings of a study to determine the impact of citation contamination and found that, while the percentage of contaminated citations is relatively few, the sheer volume of output by the predatory journals makes that percentage significant. The author indicates that 36% of one predatory journal’s articles had been cited in the legitimate literature.

What should researchers/editors/writers do?

  1. Understand the threat predatory journals present to your research and your reputation. At the end of July, AMWA-EMWA-ISMPP* released a joint position statement on predatory publishing and its “threat both to researchers publishing the results of their work and to the peer-reviewed medical literature itself.” You can read the full statement in Current Medical Research and Opinion here.
    *AMWA – American Medical Writers Association
    EMWA – European Medical Writers Association
    ISMPP – International Society for Medical Publication Professionals
  2. Proactively research a journal before submitting your research for publication. Unfortunately, journals are bought and sold, so don’t assume a journal you found legitimate last year still meets your standards this year. Do a little research before subsequent submissions to rule out big changes.
  3. Closely review any published research you consult for development of your own research and publications. Eschew the use of research published in predatory journals.

If you mentor researchers, editors, or writers who are new to the field, you occupy a key position in the fight against predatory publishers. That’s not to imply that professionals at any point in their career are immune to the problem of predatory journals (and conferences). But it is to say that the ease with which one can garner a first publication via one of these journals can obscure the decision-making process of a new professional without specific knowledge about the peer-review and publishing processes. By educating your new colleagues about these processes and the threats posed by predatory forces in these industries, you safeguard not just a reputation or a career, but also the integrity of research, public policy, and clinical practice.


Leave a Reply