The cross-industry initiative Think Check Submit lists questions that researchers can ask when navigating journal websites in order to identify trustworthy peer-reviewed journals. The checklists are useful for not only researchers but all stakeholders, including institutions, funders, and peer reviewers. The Think Check Submit team now want to hear from you from now to 28 September 2018, in a 10-minute online survey, so as to further improve its worldwide campaign.
Need for journal verification
New journals appear every day. Some journals are subscription only (charging members for year-long access or charging readers for per-article purchase), and some are Open Access and give the public free access to their articles. Some Open Access journals are free for authors, and some charge authors a fee after the peer review process and article acceptance, so as to make the work free for readers.
However, some journals use misleading tactics to collect a fee but not provide quality (or any) peer review. Yet, authors who have been cheated this way cannot resubmit the work to a "proper" journal, because it has technically already been published. High fees may be charged if an author wants to withdraw a submitted paper. These unethical journals (not always Open Access ones) have been variously labeled predatory, misleading, questionable, fake, pseudo-, deceptive, illegitimate, and scam journals. "Predatory" is the common name
because such journals often prey on early career researchers through spam emails. However, some researchers may purposely publish in unethical journals because they lack rigorous peer review and publish quickly, and their names may sound like reputable ones (highlighting the importance for employers/funders to check candidates' publication lists carefully).
As mentioned, an unethical journal may have a title that is very similar to that of a respected journal, and sometimes the title is the same but the website URL is different (hijacked journals). An unethical publisher may also legally purchase a legitimate journal but now runs it in an unethical way. An unethical journal may lie about its fees, indexing status or metrics, peer review process, and/or editorial boards and editorial board members
. In a high-profile first-of-its-kind case, the United States Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit in August 2016 against the head
of OMICS Group, iMedPub, and Conference Series companies (based in India but with an office in the US) for deceptive business practices. The Federal Trade Commission won a preliminary injunction (temporary court order) in November 2017
There have been attempts to protect researchers from publishing in unethical journals. A controversial watchlist of unethical journals called Beall's List was popular for a few years but was suddenly taken offline in January 2017. It was independently revived as two websites. One anonymous group formed the website called Stop Predatory Journals
(listing alleged unethical journals, hijacked journals, sites with fake indexing or metrics generation, and unethical publishers). An anonymous researcher reposted and attempted to update a cached/archived version of Beall's List
(listing alleged predatory publishers and journals). However, both revived websites are not kept up-to-date and even the owner of the latter site cautions against outdatedness and directs people to use the checklists at Think Check Submit
to identify trusted journals.
Most recently, a watchlist/blacklist
of 8300 journals and a safelist/whitelist
of ~11,000 journals were produced by Cabells and are available for a fee. Because journals may not be on either list, lists tend to go out of date quickly, and there may be false-negatives and false-positives, it is ultimately the responsibility of the researcher to perform due diligence. Basically, any possible target journal that a researcher has not used before must be checked with the Think Check Submit
criteria. The same applies for verifying titles on whitelists approved by universities, associations (eg, in nursing
and in business
), and even government agencies
Trusted indexes that apply the stringent Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing
and are mentioned in the Think Check Submit guidelines are the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE
) and the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ
). These groups also have additional criteria for journal indexing, as well as a complaints/investigation procedure to respond to community alerts of possible unethical practices.
Peer reviewers watch out
The second week of next month is international Peer Review Week (10-15 September 2018), when the value of peer review will be celebrated and good peer review practices promoted. Some warnings need to be given too. Peer reviewers, and especially early-career researchers hoping to become peer reviewers, should be careful of spam emails. Such spam often comes from unethical journals trying to mislead authors with flattering statements, and with the aim of collecting fees without quality peer review. An amusing blog recounts an author's attempt at seeking revenge with a fake "Star Wars" paper.
Such spam can also scout for new reviewers and editorial board members. Before accepting an invitation to be a peer reviewer, use the steps recommended in a relevant infographic for peer reviewers from the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). The first step is to check the journal is a legitimate journal using the Think Check Submit criteria.
Be extra cautious if the email asks for very fast peer review times, the topic of an abstract or paper sent to you is not in your area, or if the peer review seems too simple (eg, just a reply form with a few boxes to tick). In addition, periodically search for your own name online to check you have not been included on any peer review or editorial board lists without your permission, and demand to be removed from those lists.
Spread the word
Given the educational and practical importance of the Think Check Submit campaign, you can help warn your colleagues about authoring and reviewing for unethical journals. Ask your department, institution research office, or institutional library to add a URL link to the campaign website (www.thinkchecksubmit.org) and use the educational materials they provide (eg, slides, posters).
You can also play a part in improving the Think Check Submit initiative by giving your feedback in their short online survey, and asking your colleagues to complete the survey too. Let the team know how their tool could be more effective in helping more people in the future. A notice has also been posted on Twitter which could be retweeted: https://twitter.com/thinkchecksub/status/1027928688703287296.
Dr Trevor Lane
Education and Engagement Consultant
Note: Edanz Group is a corporate associate member of COPE, and Dr Trevor Lane is an individual associate member and Council Member of COPE. COPE is a founding and contributing organization of Think Check Submit, and Edanz Group has provided translations for Think Check Submit.
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