There was a dramatic rise in the number of open access journals published beginning around 2012, many of which are focused on the fields of science, technology, engineering, and medicine. Due to the ease and low cost of publishing online, many of the new journals were from unknown publishers, some of which were labeled “fake” or “predatory” as they did not deliver the quality and service expected, while collecting substantial fees from authors. This problem was well documented a special issue of Nature, The Future of Publishing in March 2013. The Publication Rat Race: Who Will Bell the Cat? (2013) explains why there was an explosion of “fake” journals appearing in India. 'Predatory’ Open Access: A Longitudinal Study of Article Volumes and Market Characteristics (October 2015) examines the characteristics of these sham journals and concludes that predatory open access issues are "highly contained to just a few countries, where the academic evaluation practices strongly favor international publication, but without further quality checks." The Committee on Publication Ethics has an in-depth discussion of issues relating to predatory publishing as well as proposed interventions and solutions, Discussion Document: Predatory Publishing (2019). A 2021 commentary in Nature, Predatory Publishers’ Latest Scam: Bootlegged and Rebranded Papers has recommendations for greater transparency from legitimate journals in order to combat predatory journals.
Quality is not just an issue for "predatory" or "fake" journals. Each year, there are hundreds of articles retracted by established scholarly publishers. For reports on retractions, read the Retraction Watch blog or search the Retraction Watch database. The following articles provide additional information:
- Retractions: the good, the bad, and the ugly (2020) (LSE blog post analyzing 2,046 retraction records, extracted from the Retraction Watch and major publishers’ websites)
- What a massive database of retracted papers reveals about science publishing's ‘death penalty' (2018) (Science article analyzing over 18,000 retracted papers dating back to the 1970s)
- Major Publisher Retracts 64 Scientific Papers in Fake Peer Review Outbreak (2015) (Washington Post story about the retraction of 64 articles from 10 journals published by Springer)
- Retracted Scientific Studies: A Growing List (2015) (New York Times story prompted by the retraction of an article about changing attitudes towards gay marriage published in Science)
- Publishers Withdraw More than 120 Gibberish Papers (2014) (Nature article about the removal of 120 computer-generated published conference proceedings from IEEE and Springer databases)
Assessing the quality of a journal is important for researchers, scholars, and students in two respects:
- if you are citing an article, you want to be sure it is reliable and authoritative
- if you are publishing in a journal, you want to be sure it is reputable and will provide appropriate publishing services, including peer review
If you are unsure about whether to cite to or publish in a particular journal, use the evaluate criteria below to help determine its quality.
Check out the journal's website
- Are editors listed? Are their institutions listed?
- If you Google the editors, do you find them? If so, are they at the listed institution? Do they hold an appropriate degree for their position on the editorial board?
- Are articles peer reviewed?
- Is the language used on the website grammatical?
- Are author fees and article processing charges clearly listed?
- Is there contact information for the journal, publisher, and/or editors?
- Does the "look and feel" of the website seem genuine?
Read a selection of articles that have already been published
- Who are the authors publishing in this journal?
- What is the quality of the published articles?
- if the quality of the website is low, but the articles appear to be good, could they be plagiarized?
- Is the scope so broad that it would be difficult or impossible to find peer reviewers?