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beware of predatory publishers

December 13th, 2014, by Steve Tronick

Free Journal Articles (Open Access) and Predatory Publishers

Have you tried to download a journal article (particularly one that was just published) that is extremely important for your research only to find that the publisher’s website requires you to pay a high price? If so, you are not alone. While researchers who are members of universities and large companies typically enjoy free access to most journals, many other researchers worldwide do not. Some publishers do not provide free access, even to these subscribing organizations, to articles published within the last 12 months or during the current year.

Certain publishers and governments have taken steps to solve the problem for researchers that lack free access. If you use PubMed (like most researchers), which is provided by the United States National Center for Biotechnology, you will have noticed that a small number of articles are available free of charge. Unfortunately, it is likely that you will have to pay for the article that you really need. However, if this article was published in PLOS ONE, you are in luck! The publisher PLOS is perhaps the leader in efforts to provide all of their articles free to any researcher (or anyone else) with an Internet connection.

This blog article will introduce you to the admirable efforts of PLOS to advance scientific research by offering articles without charge that are published in their journals that cover a wide range of disciplines. It will also inform you of some significant problems associated with Open Access.

Open Access is defined by the open access publisher PLOS as follows (

“Open Access (OA) stands for unrestricted access and unrestricted reuse. Here’s why that matters. Most publishers own the rights to the articles in their journals. Anyone who wants to read the articles must pay to access them. Anyone who wants to use the articles in any way must obtain permission from the publisher and is often required to pay an additional fee. Although many researchers can access the journals they need via their institution and think that their access is free, in reality it is not. The institution has often been involved in lengthy negotiations around the price of their site license and re-use of this content is limited. Paying for access to content makes sense in the world of print publishing, where providing content to each new reader requires the production of an additional copy, but online it makes much less sense to charge for content when it is possible to provide access to all readers anywhere in the world.”

PLOS’ own policy is as follows (

“PLOS applies the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license to works we publish. This license was developed to facilitate open access – namely, free immediate access to, and unrestricted reuse of, original works of all types. Under this license, authors agree to make articles legally available for reuse, without permission or fees, for virtually any purpose. Anyone may copy, distribute, or reuse these articles, as long as the author and original source are properly cited. Additionally, the journal platform that PLOS uses to publish research articles is Open Source.”

More information and resources regarding open access are available from the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Institute (

Unfortunately, the advent of open access publishing has encouraged unscrupulous people to take advantage of authors. This field is generally referred to as predatory publishing. These dishonest publishers use a variety of tricks: articles may be published without complete approval by the authors, authors may have to pay unexpected fees, the journal’s editors may not be professionals and may create serious errors that the author is unable to correct, and the reviewers may not be experts and miss mistakes in a paper that only will be noticed after publication.

Certain publishers that engage in predatory practices are tracked by Jeffrey Beall (, a librarian and Associate Professor at the University of Colorado Denver.

The criteria used by Dr. Beall to define predatory practices are listed here:

Examples include journals that do not list a formal editorial board, journals that hide the qualifications of their editors, and journals that list a false impact factor. Indicating how big this problem is, Dr. Beall’s list of predatory publishers is incredibly long:

That’s currently around 640 journal companies, many with multiple journals, all dishonestly trying to fool you into submitting to them. If you click some of the links in Dr. Beall’s list, you will notice that some of these of these publishers are obviously fraudulent. But some look quite convincing, and researchers could be easily fooled.

I randomly selected a publisher called Academic Research Journals ( and visited their link to their Academic Research Journals of Biotechnology. Note that on the journal’s homepage ( “Journals” is spelled “Journal” - it’s not a good sign if a publisher is unable to correctly spell the name of one of their journals!

Next, I visited the link “Current Issues,” (, which actually lists both past and current issues. Only two issues are listed, June and July 2014 (as of November 2014)! Not a very consistent publishing schedule! To check whether something was wrong with my browser, I visited the “Current Issues” link ( for one of this publisher’s other journals, the International Journal of Academic Library and Information Science. There is more confusion here too - this journal lists issues for January and February 2014.

Manuscripts are submitted via email (, and here is the journal’s fee policy:

"Fees and Charges: Authors are charged a $300 handling fee. Authors may still request (in advance) that the editorial office waive some of the handling fee under special circumstances."('s Guide.htm.)

In summary, Open Access benefits readers by making research findings freely available and enables authors to share their research with a much wider audience. However, the field has attracted many predatory publishers. The ethical problems described here must be addressed and resolved, and readers and authors alike should take great care when dealing with open access publishers and evaluating the quality of research published in their journals. In the meantime, always check Dr Beall’s list before submitting to an unfamiliar journal.

We will keep watching this growing issue and keep you up-to-date.
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