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Klára Šeďová a Daniel Král´.

Predatory journals: Who is the prey and how to resist?

They may sound like something out of an action thriller, but they are not. Predatory journals pose a threat to the careers of ordinary researchers. Promising prompt publication of texts, they bypass proper peer-review processes.

Masaryk University researchers Klára Šeďová and Daniel Kráľ aim to find out why researchers should be aware of this type of long-term fraud. “I heard about predatory journals twenty or even more years ago. And they are still a major problem today,” says Daniel Kráľ from the Faculty of Informatics, whose fields are informatics and mathematics. He likens the publishers to “fake universities” handing out fake diplomas for a fee.

“Authors send their texts to a predatory journal, and they get published unusually quickly. On the other hand, it may take years in reputable journals before a text is actually published because of very thorough peer reviews and several rewrites,” says Klára Šeďová from the Faculty of Arts, an expert in research in education

Fighting predators

Sometimes it is very hard to spot the difference between a predatory journal and a renowned publication, even for skilled researchers. Many of these predatory journals have excellent websites and present themselves in a very trustworthy style. “Their goal is to charge publication fees. They do not care about publishing texts that improve the state of knowledge, like prestigious journals do,” Šeďová adds.

According to Kráľ, this type of fraud is nothing new. “As scientists we often get e-mails with invitations to conferences at very exotic locations that the scientific community has never heard of. Unsurprisingly, the e-mails mention very high registration fees.”

Peer review as a quality fee

Publication fees are common in the academic environment, and predatory journals are not an exception. “Reviewers, who are experts in the topic, must identify any issues in their colleague’s text. Peer review is an essential part of research because it helps improve the quality of these publications,” Kráľ notes. However, predatory journals often do not bother, which may result in the publication of misleading or outright inaccurate scientific information. This may hurt the community as a whole.

No scientific supervision

The quality of texts in predatory journals varies. Not all of them must automatically be bad, Šeďová says. “Some of them might actually be good, but these journals simply do not apply the same level of review of methods and findings, which is what reputable journals are very strict about.”

Recognising a fraudulent journal can be challenging. “They do not have a slogan on the cover saying that they are a predatory journal,” Kráľ notes. “Their offers may sound very attractive, and sometimes even a well-known scientist will be tempted to send them his or her text for publication.”

Know your publisher

Researchers must be very cautious in selecting their publishers, and they must avoid those that obviously bypass transparent and thorough peer-review processes. According to Šeďová, they should ideally publish their texts in journals they actually know. “I have always wanted to have my work published in the journals that I read myself regularly,” she explains. Daniel Kráľ seconds the opinion.

“Researchers are aware of the trends in their respective fields and of the renowned periodicals. In any event it won’t hurt to seek advice from colleagues or librarians.”

Indeed, the library in the Bohunice campus offers a journal evaluation service. Anyone from the university can find out, free of charge, whether the journal they are considering is actually trustworthy or not. 

Librarians against predatory journals

In addition to managing book collections, employees of MU libraries are actively involved in the support of science and research. This includes their active approach towards the nefarious practices of predatory journals. These journals publish academic texts without ensuring the necessary scientific standards of quality. Librarians aim to identify these publishers and warn researchers about the risks of actually publishing in them through individual consultations and online workshops.

How exactly? Through consultations and specialised screening to determine whether a publication meets the definition of a predatory journal. If a researcher has doubts, librarians can offer an evaluation system which focuses on the risks involved. Ultimately, it is up to the author to make the final decision. The specialised service is offered by the library in the Bohunice campus, and it is available to the entire university.