Predatory or unethical publishing is typically defined as publishers or journals who have employed deceptive or questionable processes to profit from publishing scholarly works. Some of these practices include:
Defining or identifying unethical journals or publishers has involved controversy and complex issues.
For more information about the issues, please see A quick overview of deceptive publishing issues section.
The old adage, "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is" can be helpful to keep in mind when evaluating journals.
The following are by no means a complete list of all criteria to consider, but are common red flags. For information about more thorough evaluation criteria, please see the Resources for researchers section.
The following resources include links to information on evaluation criteria, best practices and membership lists for open access publishers, the archived Beall's list, and a database of retracted articles.
Think, Check, Submit offers a checklist for assessing journals or publishers. While the Principles of transparency and best practice in scholarly publishing were developed for publishers to determine membership criteria, the Principles of Transparency are a nice list of criteria to consider when evaluating journals.
These resources offer information on publication ethics and best practices for publishers; the information can be useful in understanding current open access publishing practices. Where open access publishers offer easily accessible member lists, these links have been provided.
An anonymous source has posted an archived copy of Beall's original list of predatory journals to make it accessible online after Beall took it down. The information is not being regularly updated.
Retraction Watch offers a fascinating look at the publication process and research ethics through a blog and database tracking articles that have been retracted from scholarly journals for a variety of issues.
Librarian Jeffrey Beall coined the term predatory publishing to refer to publishers who use deceptive practices to profit from author publication fees, without offering traditional editorial and publishing services associated with reputable open access and subscription journal publishers. Beall formerly made a list of publishers he deemed predatory available on his blog, but pulled the list down in early 2017 after threatened lawsuits from publishers and a research misconduct case based on his list.
A source identified only as a postdoctoral researcher at a European university has revived Beall's list of predatory journals in an online, archived version. This source has stated that those involved with the project probably don't have time to maintain the list. As things change with publishers over time, the archived list will become outdated if not maintained.
An alternative approach to developing blacklists of unethical publishers has been to try to develop lists of publishers that meet criteria for transparency in their business and peer review processes. Cabells Scholarly Analytics publishes a list of these types of journals, but access to Cabells is subscription only and can be quite expensive. Cabells also developed its own blacklist of publishers after Beall pulled his list, and offers access to this list through subscription.
Another version of a whitelist is to look at open access publisher associations' lists. Publisher associations have criteria for membership. Looking at a list of publishers/journals who are members of a reputable publisher association shows which publishers/journals have met the criteria. For open access publisher associations, the criteria are also available online and can be helpful in choosing a quality publisher or journal.
Issues with both the whitelist and blacklist approach is that maintaining either type of list is time consuming, difficult to keep current, involves some level of subjectivity in journal inclusion, and, particularly in the case of blacklists, may involve litigation threats. Additionally, the terms blacklist and whitelist are problematic, and help perpetuate the use of racist language.
Some have advocated more of a due diligence approach, where authors assess journal or publisher credentials before submitting research for publication. In this approach, authors do not depend on an external list that may or may not be current or accurate, but instead evaluate journals based on a variety of criteria. This approach is more individualized, as a researcher/author may have some criteria that are more important to them than others, and can tailor an assessment to these criteria.
Issues with an evaluation approach is that responsibility is put on authors. Publishing issues and evaluation criteria may not be something a researcher understands, and may take time to master. This approach is not necessarily easy, can take some amount of time, and may require some training or education on the issues of predatory publishing and how to evaluate.