How to Identify a Questionable OA Journal

We are at a crossroads in scholarly communications. The scholarly journal as we know it is possibly an outmoded format. We are no longer reliant on the mail to deliver print copies of discrete issues to be housed in libraries or in academics’ offices. Most academic libraries don’t purchase print journals anymore. Articles are available online before the print production of an issue and the issue becomes a mere formality. However, there are some key pieces of the journal production process that we need to protect, most importantly peer review. The peer review process is the mechanism that differentiates scholarly publishing from “fake news.” Without peer review, how do we know fake science from real science? The system is imperfect. Flawed science still is published but without it, what do we have?

Enter open access. Open Access is, at its roots, a great thing. Make information free! Release the fruits of scholarly inquiry from the bonds of subscription costs and paywalls! Increase access! Make research findings available to the indigent! Put government sponsored researchers in the hands of the taxpayers!

An open access model emerged in the last decade which places the cost of publishing onto the author or the author’s institution. The author pays an open access fee to an open access journal or a hybrid open access/subscription journal and their article is then freely available to all. The publisher in this model has a new way to make money no longer reliant on subscriptions. So what happened next? Abuse. Abuse in the form of so-called “predatory publishers.”

What is a predatory publisher? A predatory publisher is an exploitative publisher who charges authors to publish in their open access journals without putting manuscripts through the rigors of peer review, which is a mainstay of scholarly publishing. And they are proliferating and spamming researchers for publication submissions via email solicitation.

The outcomes of predatory open access has been looked at in a few well-known investigations, notably the “Bohannon study” and the “Dr. Fraud experiment.” In the first study, 60% of open access journals accepted an entirely bogus “Mad Libs” style article for publication and in the latter,  33% of journals identified as predatory (see Beall’s List, below) offered editorship (and in several cases an editor-in-chief position) to a fake applicant, sight unseen, just for the asking. These are just two examples of the hazards of predatory publishing: nonsense articles and nonsense editorial boards.

Let’s be clear though. There are many quality open access journals. So how do we tell the difference?

Here are some basic tools to help navigate:

Directory of Open Access Journals: This is the best list of credible validated open access journals available. Note that in the Bohannon study, however, eight of these titles also appointed “Dr. Fraud” editor.

Beall’s List: List of “predatory publishers” established by librarian Jeffrey Beall from the University of Colorado. Criticized for being hypervigilant, Beall stopped maintaining the list in January 2017. An archived version of the list can be found at

Think Check Submit checklist: A site which highlights some red flags you should check, such as: does the publisher belong to the expected organizations? Do you recognize names on the editorial board?

And how do we in general identify journals in our field in which to publish?

One way to identify a journal which might be interested in your article is to do a search in PubMed on your broad topic and identify journals which have published related articles. Note that PubMed has recently been criticized because predatory journals are sneaking in the back door by publishing individual articles in PubMedCentral (PMC). You should investigate further using the checklists above.

Another way to identify a high quality journal is to look at journal metric sites such as the Journal Citation Reports or Scimago Journal Rankings.

These and more tools can be found on the Library’s guide, “Scholarly Communications: Where to Publish?” maintained by Scholarly Communications Librarian, Jovy O’Grady. [NOTE: as of August 2021, Scholarly Communications and Content Librarian is Jeanette Aprile who can be reached at japrile at nymc dot edu.]

Please contact the library if you would like help in identifying candidate publications for your research. Also remember another “green” form of open access publishing is to submit your pre-publication manuscript to Touro Scholar, the Touro-NYMC institutional repository.