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Guest article: Avoiding predatory publishers

Some open access publishers charge an article-processing charge (APC), or other fees, that cover the range of publishing services that they provide, and this is a legitimate business model. These services may include: peer review; indexing journals so that articles are discoverable and citable; and preservation. Underpinning these services, trustworthy publishers will implement the policies and practices needed to reach high standards in publication ethics.

Deceptive or predatory journals charge authors but have no intention of providing the services or practices expected from a trustworthy publisher. As a result, potentially valuable research outputs are published, but cannot easily be found and are at risk of being lost. Authors that realise they have been tricked into submitting their work to a predatory publisher may then face a large retraction fee if they want to withdraw their article. These authors are likely to struggle to be able to publish their research in a more trustworthy journal that will not publish work that has already been published. What's more, the presence of a predatory journal on their publication list could permanently damage their academic reputation.

One response to the problem of predatory publishing has been compilation lists of journals and publishers to avoid. This appears, at first glance, to be a simple solution, but such lists are difficult to maintain and risk an inherent bias. They can also be subjective and include publishers that apply reasonable basic processes but lack resources for the best editorial or technical standards, but which have no intention to deceive.

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Supporting researchers and librarians

Think.Check.Submit. provides a completely different approach, by raising awareness among librarians and researchers and by giving them the tools that they need to make an educated choice on which publishing venue is the most appropriate for their work. Stakeholders from across the scholarly publishing sector founded Think.Check.Submit. in 2014 and continue to breathe life into the initiative. 

When researchers arrive at the website, they can select from one of two checklists — journals, or books and chapters — which guide them through a series of steps.

Step one challenges the user to stop and think. It reminds them that with more research being published worldwide it can be challenging to choose where to publish. It encourages the user to look out for the characteristics displayed by predatory publishers. These include hidden information on the policies of the journal, no information about publication charges, and claims about fast times from submission to publication.

Step two focusses on transparency because many predatory publishers do the opposite of the recommendations laid out in the Principles of Transparency. The first set of questions is about the identification of the journal. For example, do you or your colleagues know the journal, and, if so, is the journal name the same as or easily confused with that of another?  Predatory publishers are known to mimic reputable journal and publishers’ websites and mislead potential authors and readers about the journal’s origin or association with other journals. 

Another set of questions relates to the guidelines provided to authors on the publisher’s website, for example, does the publisher have a clear policy regarding potential conflicts of interest for authors, editors, and reviewers?  If not, this is an important warning sign because a trusted publisher should make its policies clearly visible on its website.

The final set of questions is about the publisher’s membership of recognized industry initiatives, including the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). A “no” to this question is another red flag because the industry initiatives listed carry out stringent checks on a publisher’s integrity before accepting a publisher as a member.

Researchers are advised to submit their work only if they are comfortable with the answers to most or all of the questions in the checklist.

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Evaluation skills

Think.Check.Submit. cannot solve the problem of predatory publishing alone, but it is providing a unique resource that researchers can use themselves and librarians can use in supporting them. Preparing to publish a research output can be daunting, especially if it is for the first time, and our tools are helping researchers build up their journal and publisher evaluation skills. Many libraries link to the website, and librarians use the checklists when training and supporting their audience in publishing their research. Research is undertaken across the world, so Think.Check.Submit. provides over forty translations of the checklists. These are a testament to the worldwide support for the initiative because all the translations have been provided by volunteer researchers and librarians.

Think.Check.Submit. exists because of the support of nine industry organizations [1], one of which is COPE. These organizations not only support the Think.Check.Submit. website and its administration, but provide representatives to the committee, providing a wide spectrum of knowledge from across scholarly communication to ensure that it remains relevant to the needs of researchers.

Lorraine Estelle, Think.Check.Submit.
[1] Contributing organizations: Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), INASP, ISSN International Centre, of European, Open Access Publishing in European Networks (OAPEN), Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA), International Association of STM Publishers (STM) and UKSG

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Related resources

Submitting a guest editorial or opinion piece to COPE

We welcome guest editorials and opinion articles regarding research and publication ethics from COPE members. Please read the COPE guest editorial guidelines before submitting your article.