Science - August 13, 2018

How to avoid fake journals

Roelof Kleis

An international study has revealed that unsuspecting scientist are at risk of become the victims of fake journals. Here is how to reduce that risk.

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According to an article published in last Wednesday’s Volkskrant, around 300 articles by Dutch scientists appear in a large international study into fake scientific journals. The newspaper article was based on a study by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The fake journals, which are mostly open access, swindle scientists by publishing their articles for a fee without any form of quality assessment.

Whether any, and if so how many, Wageningen scientists have published papers in such journals, either consciously or unknowingly, was not disclosed. According to information specialist Ellen Fest (Forum Library), it is difficult to make a sensible estimation. ‘Our system only includes peer-reviewed articles in journals that are kept track of by the large bibliographical databases of organisations such as Scopus and Web of Science. Fake journals are not included there. Such publications are only included in our database Staff Publications when the scientists register them manually.’

It is not all as black and white as it may seem.
Ellen Fest, information specialist Forum Library

Besides, according to Fest, the distinction between real and fake is not always easily made. ‘Which journal is fake, and which isn’t? You could also question the quality of the peer reviews of some peer-reviewed journals. It is not all as black and white as it may seem.’ Nearly two years ago, she wrote a blog post in which she warned about the practices of ‘predatory publishers’. The main tips are given below.

All things considered, Fest thinks that the number of victims among WUR scientists is minimal. ‘Even though scientists are often spammed by emails from such publishers. In that sense, it is a burden. But I find it much more disturbing that the articles from those fake journals can be found on the internet. There is a risk that unsuspecting students and PhD candidates will use this kind of articles in their work.’

How to recognise a fake journal

1. Ask an experienced colleague whether they know the journal. And the devil is in the details, says Fest. A real-world example is the Journal of Plant Biochemistry & Physiology. Does it sound familiar? It very well might, as its name is really similar to the real journal Plant Physiology and Biochemistry. The latter is published by Elsevier and has an impact factor of 2.7, whereas the former is published by the infamous Omics International and is a fake.

2. Check whether the journal is included in the Directory of Open Access Journals. The journals on that list satisfy certain quality standards.

3. Check whether the journal’s claims are true. Fake journals often claim a certain impact factor. Whether it is true can easily be checked on either Journal Citation Report (Web of Science) or Journal Metrics (Scopus). The website Think.Check.Submit has a checklist that can help determine the reliability of journals.

Additional reading (in Dutch):