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Quality and Open Access
A common misconception about OA is that it entails anyone being able to post anything they want to the Internet. In reality, scholarly OA journals function on peer review models that mirror the variety and rigor of traditional print journals. The "open" refers to the free availability of research to the public, not to the removal of the review process that has been the basis of scholarly publishing for three centuries. Open access is in every way compatible with rigorous peer review.
What is key to know is that so-called "predatory" publishing has existed for long before open access. However, because open access is becoming the dominant model for all new journals, predatory publishers are following that trend as well.
When people say "predatory" in relation to publishers, they generally mean journals deliberately taking advantage of academics by publishing their work without providing any of the actual vetting and quality control expected of academic writing. They may provide the veneer of doing these things in their advertising and web presence in order to mislead authors. In practice, it may be difficult to distinguish a predatory journal from one that is just new and emerging. In addition, some very established publishers with well-respected journals may have practices that could be described as "predatory."
What follows are some signs ranging from strong negative indicators (i.e., those that indicate likely predatory behavior) to other negative indicators that may indicate problematic issues with the journal whether it is predatory or not.
Significant Warning Signs
The following should be taken as signs to treat a journal or publisher with significant suspicion of being a predatory journal:
- Guaranteed publication (explicit or implied). For OA publications, specifically guaranteed pending payment of a fee.
- Guaranteed fast peer review (indicates there is none or it is not substantial).
- No editorial/advisory board, or fake people on the board, or people listed without their permission (difficult to know but check the board member's personal websites to see if they list the affiliation).
- Requires payment of a submission fee before peer review.
- Abnormal number of new journal titles started in a short period by the same publisher.
- On the "removed" list at DOAJ, with a listed reason of suspected editorial misconduct.
- Solicits submissions from you even though your research does not fit the scope.
- No editorial policies listed.
Other Negative Signals
The following may suggest reasons to be suspicious, although they can be true of non-predatory journals, even good ones.
- Vague editorial policies or missing key policies (if this is because it is a new journal, this may have to do with a lack of editorial experience).
- Incredibly broad scope covering a wide range of disciplines.
- Online discussion via a web search indicates problems (searching the journal name plus "reputation" often gets good results).
- Publisher or journal name, or description, implies a relationship to a more prestigious publisher or institution that really has no relation to the journal.
- Soliciting reviewers that do not match article topics well.
Other Common Problems
These problems are often seen even in specific journals by large publishers that are otherwise reputable and may have other journals that have very strong practices. You will likely want to avoid these regardless of the publisher reputation.
- Minimal/cursory peer review.
- Pushing reviewers to recommend authors cite more publications from the same journal (or editorial requests to do so) -- sometimes justified based on content, but some journals do this to game impact metrics.
- Charging unnecessarily high amounts for article processing charges (APCs) for open access publication.
Signs to Look for in Quality Journals
Not every good journal in the field will have these things, but they are positive signs:
- Journal membership in a legitimate publisher's association (cross-check the association website to verify).
- Listed in DOAJ and re-verified post-2014. Even better, if it has the DOAJ Seal, it indicates high quality journal practices.
- Listed in a journal reputation/prestige study, if one exists for the discipline or subfield.
- A strong impact metric compared to journals with a similar disciplinary scope (note: impact metrics vary significantly by disciplinary citation patterns, so comparing across fields is not a good idea). Note: impact metrics are not reliable in the humanities and arts, and in other disciplines strong journals in smaller subfields will naturally have lower metrics.