Thing 20: Avoiding Deceptive, Unethical, Predatory and Vanity Publishing

Image: “Banner header attention caution” by geralt via Pixabay (CC0)

Some argue that the breakdown of trusted information sources is one of the major challenges faced in the 21st century (Gray, 2017). This view is influenced by the growth in deceptive, unethical and predatory publishing practices occurring online. As victims, academics and their institutions, often experience financial and reputational damage from unethical scholarly publishing.

Getting Started

When the time comes to consider suitable scholarly publishing outlets for your research, we highly recommend undertaking due diligence to select quality sources. Becoming vigilant and regularly updating your knowledge of scholarly publishing outlets to assess their quality, is a means to avoid publishing traps and pitfalls.

A predatory publisher has been defined as a type of scholarly publishing company established primarily to collect Article Processing Charges (APC) and provide very fast publishing without peer review or even checking grammar or spelling. They often spam academics with requests for submissions and reviews and requests to join their editorial boards (Shen & Björk, 2015).

Warning Signs

Key characteristics of deceptive, unethical, predatory and vanity publishing practices can comprise:

  • spelling and grammar errors, along with distorted images on the website;
  • advertising fake metrics e.g. Global Impact Factor (GIF)
  • a journal website with an overly broad scope;
  • language that targets authors rather than readers;
  • promises of rapid publication;
  • a lack of information about retraction policies, manuscript handling or digital preservation;
  • manuscript submissions by e-mail;
  • taking copyright ownership of material (usually theses);
  • hijacking journal titles, establishing duplicate websites and using business names that are like respected publishers;
  • organizing conferences to collect funds from presenters and participants without peer review or a formal program
  • promoting non-existent conferences;
  • adding academics to editorial boards without permission; and
  • unexpected fees after accepting submissions

The following site monitors problematic publishers:  Distraction Watch.

“Characteristics of predatory publishing practices” – original graphic by Tanja Ivacic-Ramljak (Liaison Librarian (Learning & Teaching), Veterinary & Agricultural Sciences). Click image for full screen.


There is no single and absolute authority to determine the best or worst scholarly publishing outlet.

There are many useful resources to help evaluate suitable publishing outlets for your scholarly research. The usefulness of serials directories such as UlrichsWeb, Scimago and SHERPA/RoMEO will depend upon your scholarly publishing requirements and field.

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has members worldwide from all academic fields. Membership is open to editors of academic journals and others interested in publication ethics. If you find the COPE logo on a journal’s website, it is an indication that the journal has been critiqued by COPE as a prerequisite for membership. Together with Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA), Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), and World Association of Medical Editors (WAME), a minimum criteria has been set that journals will be assessed against when they apply for membership of the respective organisations; here is a link to the full criteria on principles of transparency and best practice.

Try This

We recommend the following sources for critiquing any publisher that has approached you with an invitation to publish your research:

  • Cabell’s Scholarly Analytics includes a whitelist of over 11,000 journals and a blacklist of “likely deceptive or fraudulent academic journals” for selected disciplines.
  • PubsHub is a database of submission criteria for peer-reviewed medical journals and congresses. The database contains information on 6,000 medical journals.
  • The openly available resource Think Check Submit. Follow this checklist to make sure you choose trusted journals for your research.

Other useful criteria are available from:

We encourage you to contact your Liaison Librarian for further advice.

Learn More

Author Mills

Stromberg, J. (2014). I sold my undergraduate thesis to a print content farm: A trip through the shadowy, surreal world of an academic book mill. The Slate. 

Growth in Predatory Publishing

Clark J., & Smith R. (2015) Firm action needed on predatory journals. BMJ. 350 (Jan16_1): h210

Beall J. (2012) Predatory publishers are corrupting open access. Nature. 489(7415): 179-180.

Shen, C., & Björk, B.-C. (2015). Predatory’ open access: A longitudinal study of article volumes and market characteristics. BMC Medicine

Xia J. (2015) Predatory journals and their article publishing charges. Learn Pub. 28(1): 69–74.

Predatory Conferences

Pai, M., & Franco, E. (2016, updated 2017). Predatory conferences undermine science and scam academics. Huffington Post Blog.

Byard, Roger W. (2016) The forensic implications of predatory publishing. Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology 12.4: 391-393.


Dadkhah, Mehdi, Tomasz Maliszewski, and Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva. (2016) Hijacked journals, hijacked websites, journal phishing, misleading metrics, and predatory publishing: actual and potential threats to academic integrity and publishing ethics. Forensic Science, Medicine, and Pathology 12.3: 353-362.

Fake News

Gray, R. (2017). Lies, propaganda and fake news: A challenge for our age. [online]

This post was written by Lisa Kruesi (Faculty Librarian, Health & Life Sciences), Satu Alakangas (Liaison Librarian (Research), Law) and Sarah Charing (Liaison Librarian (Research), Architecture, Building & Planning). Original graphic by Tanja Ivacic-Ramljak (Liaison Librarian (Learning & Teaching), Veterinary & Agricultural Sciences).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *