Newswise — Scientific research and publishing over the past decade has experienced some substantial transformations—and not in a good way. Disturbing recent reports include the levy of the largest animal welfare fine in history on a major antibody producer (Lowe 2016), fake reagents being sold in China (Cyranoski 2017a), and the wealth of improprieties in publishing and peer review (e.g., fake peer reviews) (Cyranoski 2017b). 

An in-depth analysis and discussion of predatory publishers began in earnest in 2012, when Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado, Denver, published an article in Nature titled “Predatory Publishers Are Corrupting Open Access” (Beall 2012). These predatory publishers are dishonest and lack transparency. They aim to dupe researchers, especially those inexperienced in scholarly communication. They set up websites that closely resemble those of legitimate online publishers and publish journals of poor or questionable quality. Many purport to be headquartered in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, or Australia, but really hail from Pakistan, India, or Nigeria.

Open access in publishing began with the very best of intentions. The Public Library of Science (PLoS) initiative began in 2000 with an open letter by Harold Varmus, Patrick Brown, and Michael Eisen, urging “scientific and medical publishers to make published research available for distribution through free online archives” (PLOS 2017). In essence, open access was originally intended to ensure free, worldwide access to scientific publications. In what Mr. Beall calls “gold (author pays) open access” (Beall 2017), predatory publishers mercilessly solicit publications from scientists, often promising peer review and publication in wildly unrealistic time frames with no mention of the hidden fees associated with these “services.”

One theory for the rapid growth of predatory journals is that there is a market for these journals, namely the need for scientists, particularly in India, to get tenure and promotion (Beall 2012). But, as Beall pointed out, scientists are not without blame, as many are willing to pay to get shoddy science published, potentially diminishing the value of reputable published articles (Beall 2012). In a 2015 article, Cenyu Shen and Bo-Christer Björk with the Hanken School of Economics in Finland noted that the number of articles published in approximately 8,000 predatory journals has increased from approximately 53,000 in 2010 to nearly a half-million in 2014 (Shen and Björk 2015). These authors concluded that “problems caused by predatory journals are rather limited and regional” with most of the predatory publishers and authors of manuscripts in these journals found in Asia and Africa (Shen and Björk 2015).

From personal observation and the comments and writings of colleagues, young, inexperienced scientists with a significant pressure to publish to keep their jobs or get promotions are the most common victims of predatory publishers. As a result, one might wonder how to know if a journal is the product of a predatory publisher. From 2008 through early 2017, Beall maintained a website containing a list of “potential, possible, or probable” predatory publishers. Beall has not commented on the reason for taking down the site in January 2017, but an article published by Retraction Watch hints that he may have received legal threats from some of the publishers (Oransky 2017). Without guidance from Beall’s list, some tips to help identify potential predatory publishers include:

  • Journal/publisher websites that are unprofessional in appearance with many typos and grammatical errors;
  • Poorly-written email invitation letters to publish in a given journal;
  • Absence of journal indexing in MEDLINE;
  • Absence of a journal impact factor in Thomson Reuters Journal Citation reports;
  • Absence of information about publishing costs in a given journal; and
  • Promises of unrealistically fast time for peer review and publication. We’ve seen promises of peer review and publication in one week in solicitations that continually fill our Inboxes.

Also, we are not aware of predatory publishing issues with journals or publishers affiliated with North America and Western Europe scientific societies. As such, look to your professional society journals, such as SOT’s Toxicological Sciences, for safe publishing consideration. [Editor’s Note: In a 2016 editorialToxicological Sciences Editor-in-Chief Gary W. Miller shared his perspective on predatory journals and cautioned scientists to be diligent in not only avoiding publishing in them, but in recognizing their use as sources or citations in other published research (Miller 2016).]

Finally, it also may be a good idea to do an internet search of your own name to see if anything suspicious appears. In doing a search of his name, a colleague found that he was on the editorial board of a predatory journal of which he was completely unaware!

Safe and happy publishing!

Authors: Mary Beth Genter, PhD, DABT, ATS, and Rosonald R Bell, MSc, PhD, DABT, SOT Councilors


Beall, J. 2012. “Predatory Publishers Are Corrupting Open Access.” Nature 489:179.

Bealle, J. 2017. “What I Learned from Predatory Publishers.” Biochemia Medica 27:273–278.

Cyranoski, D. 2017a. “The War against Counterfeit Science.” Nature 545:148–149.

Cyranoski, D. 2017b. “China Targets Fake Peer Reviews.” Nature 546:464.

Lowe, D. 2016. “Trouble at Santa Cruz Biotechnology.” Science Translational Medicine in the Pipeline Blog, May 23. Accessed July 20, 2017.

Miller, GW. 2016. “The Literature of Science.” Toxicological Sciences 153(1):2–3, doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfw131. Oransky, I. 2017. “Why Did Beall’s List of Potential Predatory Publishers Go Dark?” Retraction Watch, January 17. Accessed July 20, 2017. 

PLOS. “The PLOS Story.” Accessed July 20, 2017.

Shen, C, and BC Björk. 2015. “‘Predatory’ Open Access: A Longitudinal Study of Article Volumes and Market Characteristics.” BMC Medicine 13:230, doi: 10.1186/s12916-015-0469-2.