Beware the predators!

Roger Watson |

What they say sounds good, but it isn’t.

Beware the predators
If you receive an email offering an opportunity to publish in a peer-reviewed journal or speak at a conference that sounds too good to be true, trust your instincts and delete it.

Roger WatsonI receive approximately 100 emails each week inviting me to publish an article or present a keynote at a conference. I recently did not respond to email for 10 days, and my inbox collected more than 400 messages. After deleting invitations to submit a manuscript or speak at a conference, only 150 emails remained.

If you are receiving numerous invitations to publish or present, you may be one of many who have attracted attention from “predatory publishers” in recent years. In 2012, there were fewer than 20 such publishers. At last count, the tally is nearly 1,000 and rising.

What’s a predatory publisher?
A predatory publisher is, loosely speaking, a company—a group of people—offering inexpensive peer-reviewed, open-access publishing in a high-quality online international journal but not delivering on its promise. In fact, most of what these criminal organizations offer is fictitious. Certainly, the prices they charge for open-access publishing substantially undercut usual costs, but at what cost to you, the author? Frankly, the price can be enormous in terms of reputation.

The same predators who offer cheap online publishing are part of a growing industry that offers top speaking slots, alongside other high fliers in the recipient’s field, at prestigious-sounding conferences in romantic venues. These conferences do not exist. The cost can be enormous in terms of money, reputation, and self-esteem. If you take the bait, pay the conference fee, and book a flight and hotel, you arrive at the designated venue with a few other bemused characters asking where the conference is. You’ve been conned.

How to recognize predators
It’s remarkably easy to spot predators. But enough people who are desperate to get published fall for the con, so predators keep offering their deceptions. What should you look for?

Predatory offers to publish or present all start with abjectly sycophantic salutations, inevitably including “Greetings” and often “Greetings of the day.” Some remark on your esteem and an expression of solicitude relating to your health or happiness usually follow. Predatory publishers often acknowledge a contribution you have made to another journal and then invite you to offer them your next article.

Take it from me, a longstanding academic editor: Publishers of reputable journals will not tout for submissions in the manner predatory publishers do. It’s true that credible journals may reach out to people with certain expertise when looking for an article on a specific topic or invite a well-known author to publish with their journal. But journals that are legit aren’t cold-calling for “your next article.” If the invitation you receive is out of the blue and from a source you don’t recognize, it’s likely from a predator.

Next come some lies about the organization’s high-profile editorial board, its rigorous peer review process, and its low article processing charge (APC). Then comes the clincher­—assurance of a rapid route to publication. There are variations on this theme, but the gist is inevitably the same. If you receive an email with this kind of content, delete it immediately.

Predatory conferences use similar hyperbole to lure you in. You are invited to speak at a conference, with the email sometimes implying that you have already submitted something to them. They will tell you that your valuable contribution has already been accepted and will be given star billing. The email is inevitably festooned with prestigious-looking logos and a picture of an exotic location—perhaps in the United States, Far East, or Southeast Asia. (Rarely are these conferences in your own country or hometown.)

Marketing techniques that predators use are often less than professional. For example, male prospects may receive invitations from attractive female conference organizers with exotic names. Again, take my word. While reputable organizations do advertise conferences, they never use this kind of marketing. Legitimate organizers will merely advertise the conference name, theme, venue, date, and other relevant information. If you are invited to present a keynote at such a conference, your conference fee will be waived, and your transport and accommodation will be provided.

Variations on a theme
A particularly pernicious aspect of the predatory publisher business is the “hijacked journal.” Criminals replicate existing journal websites or reactivate old journal websites so they are indistinguishable from genuine ones. They then advertise and provide links to these sites, purporting them to be authentic. The unwitting academic proceeds to submit his or her manuscript via the website and, in doing so, is asked for an APC. Assuming the offer to be genuine, the recipient pays the charge, providing credit card information, and never hears from the “journal” again. The scholar has been duped. The article will never be published, the money will never be recouped, and personal financial information has been given to criminals. I know of someone who recently lost US $600 this way.

Another trick predators use is to hijack profiles of senior and prestigious academics, claiming them to be editors of their journals or members of their editorial boards. The scholars may not realize they are listed on the websites of predatory journals until colleagues alert them. Unfortunately, they find it impossible to have their names removed. Predators don’t respond to correspondence unless they think you are going to publish with them. Incidentally, I recently discovered that I was “honored” this way by a predator who listed me as a Scientific Committee Member for a conference at a very good university in Turkey. Such an honor I can do without.

This brings me to other false assertions of predators. They usually claim to have offices in prestigious locations; Washington, D.C., is popular. But the addresses they publish are not real. Often, they are for offices that can be hired by the hour. The real location is probably in South Asia, the Middle East, or the Far East.

Providing false journal metrics is an increasingly common tactic of predators. Knowing that academics are obliged to publish in journals with high impact factors, predators simply make them up. Following the dictum “if you’re going to lie, make it a big one,” they claim impact factors that exceed any notion of reality. I once had to correct a colleague in the Middle East who told me he had published in a nursing journal with an impact factor of 14. At the time, no nursing journal had an impact factor higher than 3. Crestfallen to learn he had been duped, he was unable to have the article withdrawn from the journal, thus precluding him from publishing it elsewhere.

What can I do to protect myself from predators?
You can do a lot. First, read up on them. If you don’t believe some of what I have stated above—and many people don’t—it is easy to verify. Some people express sympathy for the predators, observing that they probably provide employment for poor people in less developed parts of the world. So do drug cartels in Latin America.

Make it your practice to ignore most email invitations to publish articles. The same goes for conferences if the invitation does not include provision for travel and accommodation. Beyond that, if something looks suspicious, it probably is. If you are in doubt, seek advice from an experienced colleague.

Know the appropriate journals in your field, and confine yourself to those when submitting manuscripts. Check out journals you are unfamiliar with very carefully. Likewise, know and confine yourself to your own conference circuit. Check out unfamiliar ones.

Remember the following:

  • Except for exceptions I’ve mentioned, prestigious journals do not invite you to submit manuscripts.
  • Predatory journals do not conduct peer reviews.
  • Predatory journals make false claims about impact factors and editorial boards.
  • If you publish with a predatory journal, your work will be in the public domain and cannot be published elsewhere. Your article will not be retracted.
  • Publishing in predatory journals harms your reputation, your university, and your field of study.
  • Universities are increasingly taking disciplinary action against academics who publish in predatory journals.

Adopt these rules:

  • Never publish in a predatory journal.
  • Delete all emails you receive from predatory journals.
  • Never correspond with a predatory publisher.
  • Warn colleagues who probably receive the same emails not to respond or publish with predatory publishers.
  • Compile your own list of preferred journals and conferences for publishing and presenting.
  • Keep abreast of developments and policies in academia and your university about predatory publishers.

Finally, don’t despair. It is actually quite easy to verify a journal is legitimate. Check to see if a journal appears on the Clarivate Analytics lists of journals with impact factors, Web of Science, or Emerging Sources Citation Index. Or check Medline, PubMed, Scopus, and CINAHL. If the journal is a bonafide open-access, pay-to-publish journal, it should be listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals. RNL

Roger Watson, PhD, RN, FRCP Edin, FRCN, FAAN, professor of nursing at the University of Hull in the United Kingdom and a frequent visitor to Australia and China, where he has visiting positions, is editor-in-chief of JAN and editor of Nursing Open. His Reflections on Nursing Leadership blog, “Connecting continents,” appears frequently in the magazine.

Resources from Journal of Nursing Scholarship (Sigma member login required):

Quality of Author Guidelines in Nursing Journals

Where Should You Share?

Study of Predatory Open Access Nursing Journals

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