his past year, when an undergraduate biology student at
the University of the Fraser Valley approached dean of science Lucy Lee for $2,000 to publish a paper in an academic
journal, Dr. Lee had immediate concerns about the request.
She’d had a bad experience with the journal in question,
the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public
Health, while doing a review for the publication. She discovered a lack of rigour in some of the journal’s articles, was
alarmed at its many retractions and corrections, and had concerns with the journal’s practice of publishing an “
acknowledgement” issue with a very long list of reviewers to make it
The publisher, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI),
churns out nearly 160 scholarly journals a year, many of them of mediocre
quality, according to Jeffrey Beall, an associate professor and librarian at
the University of Colorado Denver, and one of the world’s leading experts
on what he calls “predatory” open access publishing. Each week, MDPI
and other questionable publishers hound Dr. Lee by email, asking her to
review submissions that she considers shoddy. Mr. Beall has called this
particular environmental publication a “pretend journal.” So when Dr.
Lee next saw the biology student, she alerted her to the potential problems and redirected her to more credible scholarly publications, such as
FACETS, a Canadian open access journal.
Predatory and mediocre journals are based on the model of open
access publishing in which authors pay fees to have their work published
online. However, unlike legitimate journals, they bombard academics
with spam emails, accept almost all submissions and overstate the rigour
of their peer-review processes. They also often conveniently neglect to
mention publication fees until late in the process.
In other cases, authors are complicit in the scam, publishing nu-
merous articles in these questionable journals to earn quick and easy
academic credit at their institutions. “There are some predatory journals
that specialize in that, charging only $200 or $300 for publication,” says
Mr. Beall. This compares to fees of $1,500 or more for most of the large,
reputable open access publishers. “If you need academic credit, the market
provides a solution,” he says, adding: “Universities are particularly suscep-
tible to these ethical breaches and predatory practices.”
the world of scholarly publishing is in serious trouble.
The number of predatory journals has skyrocketed in the
past three to four years, leading to a tidal wave of poor-quality research being published. Beall’s List, the popular blacklist website compiled by Mr. Beall, contains more than 1,200 publications
and 1,000 publishers that he calls potentially predatory. Five years ago,
there were only 18 publishers on the list.
In 2014 alone, publishers launched approximately 1,000 new journals. Distinguishing the unethical, pretend journals from the real ones
is becoming increasingly difficult as scams get more sophisticated and
publication standards fall. Bad journals range in quality from mediocre
to outright frauds, and researchers are advised to stay away from them.
It hasn’t always been this bad. Legitimate open access publishers, such
as the Public Library of Science (PLOS) and BioMed Central, began about
20 years ago as the Internet expanded. They contained few restrictions on
access to scholarly work, in contrast to traditional models in which subscribers, mainly libraries, pay fees for access to journal content. Thanks to PLOS
and other big, credible publishers, open access models changed the culture
of scholarly publishing for the better, making research more accessible. But
open access models also opened the doors to scam artists and mediocrity.
“The barriers to launching a new operation are few and low,” Mr. Beall
says. “All you need is a website and the money starts rolling in. People are
copying the model from friends and uncles, because they see how easily
they’re making profits.” Predatory journals are run less like multinational