Individuals in many different disciplines and professions have expressed concerns about predatory publishing practices. The topic of predatory publishers first appeared in the nursing literature in mid-2014. In the 5 years since then, several research studies and numerous warnings advising nurse authors about the problems of predatory journals have been published. Despite all that has been learned and shared, many nurses are not aware of the problems and concerns with predatory publishing practices.
The term predatory has been applied to those publishers who circumvent widely accepted, traditional measures designed to ensure a level of credibility and quality in professional publications (Cobey et al., 2018; Oermann et al., 2016). Although other problems are associated with predatory publishers, most notable of the transgressions is that predatory publishers bypass a rigorous peer review process; thus, publications in these journals have not been scrutinized by individuals who have relevant expertise (Beall, 2016b; Edie & Conklin, 2019). The lack of peer review has resulted in articles that may contain typographical and grammatical errors, but these are much less concerning than publications that report research results not based on appropriate statistical analysis or those that have not received approval for protection of human subjects.
The likelihood that nursing students and nurses will come across articles published in predatory journals is very high. One reason for this is the ease and frequency with which individuals search for all kinds of information via familiar and widely accessible search engines, such as Google™, for example. These common search engines do not provide individuals with a means to identify information they should approach cautiously because it may lack credibility or emanate from a disreputable source. Nurses have reported using Google to search for information even when other organizational resources are available to them, including support in the form of a librarian or more focused databases, such as CINAHL® or MEDLINE® (Yoder et al., 2014). But even if nurses and nursing students limited searching for evidence about patient care to databases that are suitable and more appropriate for that task, it is possible they would also find articles published in predatory journals. Manca et al. (2017) demonstrated that articles published in predatory journals have been found in PubMed®.
Further complicating this problem is that nursing students and nurses may not be able to tell by looking at an article that it has been published in a predatory journal. Many articles published in predatory journals take on the appearance of a legitimate publication by including an abstract and presenting information in what appears to be a logical sequence, often following the accepted introduction, methods, results, and discussion (IMRAD) format (Oermann, et al., 2017). Even if no “red flags” were noted while reading the article, one may not know what peer review, if any, the article underwent before being published. There are very few discernable clues in the title of a predatory journal that warn nursing students and nurses to avoid it. There is no list of predatory journals that one can use to identify all the journals that should be avoided. For all these reasons, it is imperative that nurse educators develop strategies to teach nursing students and nurses how to assess an article for publication in predatory journals.
The purpose of this article is to provide nurse educators with an overview about predatory publishing practices they can use to teach prelicensure through graduate nursing students or nurses in clinical practice about this problem. In addition, an active learning strategy is also provided that may reinforce knowledge and allow nursing students or nurses to become more independent in identifying potentially disreputable sources of information. It is hoped that as more nurses become aware of the concerns associated with predatory publishing practices, the result will be a “well-informed community of scholars and practitioners who are prepared to discern that which is credible from that which is not” (Oermann et al., 2018, p. 9).
Predatory Publishing Practices
The Internet provides billions of people across the globe easy access to information that was previously either difficult for them to access or simply inaccessible. This access to all kinds of information is an important and positive advancement and is described as “open access.” With open access, readers do not pay for information. The cost of publishing in open access media is paid, at least in part, by authors or the institutions they represent, and fees for publication sometimes are covered in the provision of external funds supporting the scholarly work. Unfortunately, this open access to information has been exploited by some individuals who are motivated by profit and who may be unaware of, or do not appear to be committed to producing, a reputable, credible product. As it relates to the dissemination of information in professional publications, the term predatory has been used to describe those individuals and organizations that promise a product, which at least superficially resembles a more legitimate article or journal, in return for a fee that is provided by the author (Beall, 2016a).
A discussion of the costs associated with publishing in professional journals may not seem important for nurse educators trying to teach nursing students and nurses about reputable sources of information. Yet, because predatory publishers benefit financially from money provided by the author, it is important that nurse educators have some baseline information about this topic. The practice of paying for the costs associated with publication vary. Many reputable professional nursing journals do not charge authors any fees to have an article published either in print or electronically. But Solomon and Björk (2012) noted that in some cases, authors have contributed to the cost of publishing and this was an accepted practice to reduce the cost of a subscription. With regard to open access journals, many reputable open access journals require authors to pay for their article to be published. Some researchers have described that this fee, sometimes known as an article processing charge (APC), varies depending on, among other criteria, the subject matter of the journal, whether the publisher is a commercial or nonprofit publisher, the country of the publisher, and characteristics of the journal such as impact factor and indexing (Solomon & Björk, 2012). Shen and Björk (2015) reported that predatory journal APCs were lower than APCs of credible, reputable journals. It is difficult to use APCs to identify a predatory publisher.
Predatory publishing practices differ from conventional, credible publishing practices in several ways. Some of these differences are summarized in Table 1. The most important difference between credible, reputable publishing practices and predatory publishing practices centers on the peer review process. Reputable publishing practices depend on peer review, a process whereby experts critically appraise a manuscript for adherence to time-honored principles around clarity and quality of the writing, methodology, human subjects approval (if appropriate), and that conclusions are supported by data. Traditional, widely accepted and practiced peer review is a double-blind peer review— that is, neither the author nor the reviewers are identified to the other.
Comparing Features of Reputable and Predatory Nursing Journals
Conducting a peer review of a submitted manuscript is a service to one's profession and requires that the reviewer dedicate time and attention in the review. Predatory publishers promise a rapid turnaround time for peer review, offering to complete a peer review in days rather than weeks (Oermann et al., 2018). But peer review takes time and often cannot be conducted in a matter of days. Individuals with expertise in a particular topic or methodology conduct peer reviews around other work and, as such, are rarely in a position to complete a review days after it has been requested.
It should be noted that there are newer developments in the peer review process that differ from the traditional double-blind peer review, and these are being implemented in reputable journals. Newer peer review processes may involve unblinding reviewers and authors or permitting authors to recommend reviewers with expertise in the topic, methodology, or statistical analysis. In these situations, the peer review is transparent, meaning readers can read the names of the reviewers, their comments, and the authors' response to the review.
Active Teaching–Learning Strategy to Teach Nursing Students and Nurses to Assess a Journal for Credibility
Nurse educators can help nursing students and nurses assess a journal for clues that the journal may be from a predatory publisher. To begin this educational activity, nurse educators can create a table similar to the example provided in Table 2. Nursing students and nurses can work independently, in pairs, or in small groups, or this can be a class activity. They should have access to computers or mobile devices and the Internet to look for information about the criteria in the left-hand column of Table 2 on the website of a credible professional nursing journal and a suspected predatory nursing journal.
Table for Nursing Students' and Nurses' Use to Compare Reputable and Suspected Predatory Nursing Journals
Next, nurse educators should identify one familiar, reputable professional nursing journal to use for comparison and identify one that may be considered a predatory journal. Because of predatory publishing business practices, journals may appear and disappear from the Internet (Oermann et al., 2016). Thus, it is impossible and may be unwise to create and maintain a list of predatory journals in nursing or any other discipline. Nevertheless, Manca et al. (2017) identified 87 predatory journals and publishers in neurosciences. One of these journals can be used for comparison with a credible journal for this active teaching–learning activity. Or nurse educators can identify a predatory journal from the multiple e-mail requests for manuscript submissions that arrive on an almost daily basis. Lewinski and Oermann (2018) reported that many of these e-mail solicitations for manuscripts are from predatory publishers.
Gleaning Information From the Journal's Website
Nurse educators should be prepared to help students and nurses search for information on the journals' websites. Information about peer review may be found in several different sections of the website, including, “About This Journal,” “Aims and Scope,” or “Information for Authors.” Nursing students and nurses should be encouraged to explore the websites and to read author guidelines; because this activity will be new for many, it is important to allow sufficient time for this activity.
Interpreting Information From the Journal's Website
Nurse educators should also be prepared to help students interpret the information gleaned from the journals' website. It may be difficult to identify a potential predatory nursing journal because the information provided on the journal's website often includes phrases such as “peer-reviewed” and other promises of quality, such as indexing information and impact factors. These claims add to the appearance of legitimacy, but they do not guarantee quality or credibility. In some cases, nursing students or nurses may be unable to determine whether a journal is predatory or not. In these cases, a consult with a librarian who supports nurses may be warranted, as these individuals may be able to offer an opinion as to a journal's credibility.
Nurse educators, nurses, and nursing students can also assess the reputation of an open access journal by searching the journal's name in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). The DOAJ lists open access journals that are considered high quality because the journal's processes are aligned with a number of criteria deemed to reflect best practices in publishing (DOAJ, 2019a, 2019b). The International Academy of Nursing Editors (INANE) provides access to a list of nursing journals that are available in print and electronic forms, which have been similarly assessed for processes that are aligned with best practices in publishing. INANE's stated mission is a commitment to the highest quality in nursing publications (INANE, n.d.).
Although Manca et al. (2017) demonstrated that articles published in predatory journals have been found in PubMed, this should not be interpreted as an indictment of PubMed and nurse educators should not assume that articles accessed in PubMed are of low quality. Williamson and Minter (2019) discussed concerns about the quality of articles found in PubMed and a related assumption that that if a publication is available via MEDLINE, that can be interpreted an assurance of quality. However, Williamson and Minter disputed the assumption that quality can be inferred just because an article is published in MEDLINE.
Drawing Conclusions About the Reputation and Credibility of a Journal
Ultimately, nursing students and nurses must decide whether a journal is a reputable, credible source for information that can be used to support patient care. This decision may be made in collaboration with a nurse educator, a librarian, or colleagues. In the event that nursing students and nurses have evidence of a low-quality nursing journal published by a predatory publisher, that journal should be avoided.
Nursing students, nurses, and even nurse educators may find it frustrating that it can be difficult to identify journals published by predatory publishers. But like so many other situations in health care, publishing practices, both reputable and disreputable, are dynamic. Some nursing students and nurses may not find learning about predatory publishing practices valuable. But this information is essential to safe, high-quality nursing care; therefore, it is as important as learning about other clinical topics.
Most of what is written in the nursing literature about predatory publishing practices has been directed toward nurse authors, but it is important that all nurses are aware of the problems associated with predatory publishing practices. Nursing students and nurses in practice are likely to find articles published in these low-quality journals as they search for evidence in support of patient care. Unless nursing students and nurses in practice are taught about the features of credible, reputable journals and how journals published by predatory publishers fall short in these hallmarks of quality, it can be easy to fall for the boastful claims promised by many predatory publishers. Therefore, it is essential that nurse educators teach nursing students and nurses about predatory publishers and that these journals should not be used to make decisions about patient care.
Nurse educators can begin to teach nursing students and nurses about predatory publishing practices by using a table to compare information from high-quality and low-quality journals. It is important to note that in some cases, it will be difficult to judge the journal's quality. In these cases, nurse educators can consult with a librarian or check the journal's name in a curated list of higher-quality journals on the DOAJ or INANE websites.
- Beall, J. (2016a). Open-access and web publications. In Oermann, M.H. & Hays, J.C. (Eds.), Writing for publication in nursing (3rd ed., pp. 379–393). New York, NY: Springer.
- Beall, J. (2016b). Predatory journals: Ban predators from the scientific record. Nature, 534, 326. doi:10.1038/534326a [CrossRef]
- Cobey, K.D., Lalu, M.M., Skidmore, B., Ahmadzai, N., Grudniewicz, A. & Moher, D. (2018). What is a predatory journal? A scoping review. F1000 Research, 7, 1001 https://dx.doi.org/10.12688%2Ff1000research.15256.2 doi:10.12688/f1000research.15256.1 [CrossRef]30135732
- Directory of Open Access Journals. (2019a). Frequently asked questions: How do we define ‘open access journal’, ‘quality control’, ‘research journal’ and ‘periodical’. Retrieved from https://doaj.org/faq#definition
- Directory of Open Access Journals. (2019b). Principles of transparency and best practice in scholarly publishing, January 15, 2018. Retrieved from https://doaj.org/bestpractice
- Edie, A.H. & Conklin, J.L. (2019). Avoiding predatory journals: Quick peer review processes too good to be true. Nursing Forum, 54, 336–339. doi:10.1111/nuf.12333 [CrossRef]30802310
- International Academy of Nursing Editors. (n.d.). About INANE. Retrieved from https://nursingeditors.com/
- Lewinski, A. & Oermann, M.H. (2018). Characteristics of e-mail solicitations from predatory nursing journals and publishers. The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 49, 171–177. doi:10.3928/00220124-20180320-07 [CrossRef]29596704
- Manca, A., Martinez, G., Cugusi, L., Dragone, D., Dvir, Z. & Deriu, F. (2017). The surge of predatory open-access in neurosciences and neurology. Neuroscience, 353, 166–173 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroscience.2017.04.014 doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2017.04.014 [CrossRef]28433651
- Oermann, M.H., Conklin, J.L., Nicoll, L.H., Chinn, P.L., Ashton, K.S., Edie, A.H. & Budinger, S.C. (2016). Study of predatory open access nursing journals. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 48, 624–632 https://doi.org/10.1111/jnu.12248 doi:10.1111/jnu.12248 [CrossRef]27706886
- Oermann, M.H., Nicoll, L.H., Chinn, P.L., Ashton, K.S., Conklin, J.L., Edie, A.H. & Williams, B.L. (2018). Quality of articles in predatory nursing journals. Nursing Outlook, 66, 4–10 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.outlook.2017.05.005 doi:10.1016/j.outlook.2017.05.005 [CrossRef]
- Shen, C. & Björk, B.-C. (2015). ‘Predatory’ open access: A longitudinal study of article volumes and market characteristics. BMC Medicine, 13, 1–15 https://doi-org.proxy.lib.duke.edu/10.1186/s12916-015-0469-2 doi:10.1186/s12916-015-0469-2 [CrossRef]
- Solomon, D.J. & Björk, B.-C. (2012). A study of open access journals using article processing charges. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 63, 1485–1495 https://doi-org.proxy.lib.duke.edu/10.1002/asi.22673 doi:10.1002/asi.22673 [CrossRef]
- Williamson, P.O. & Minter, C.I. (2019). Exploring PubMed as a reliable resource for scholarly communications services. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 107, 16–29 dx.doi.org/10.5195/jmla.2019.43330598645
- Yoder, L.H., Kirkley, D., McFall, D., Kirksey, K.M., StaBaum, A.L. & Sellers, D. (2014). Staff nurses' use of research to facilitate evidence-based practice. American Journal of Nursing, 114(9), 26–38 https://doi.org/10.1097/01.NAJ.0000453752.93269.43 doi:10.1097/01.NAJ.0000453753.00894.29 [CrossRef]
Comparing Features of Reputable and Predatory Nursing Journals
|Feature||Reputable Professional Nursing Journal||Predatory Nursing Journal|
|Aim and scope of the journal||Limited; aims and scope focused on a specific aspect of nursing (i.e., clinical practice or research or nursing education); journal title reflective of aims and scope||Broad; aim and scope of the journal often extend beyond one aspect of nursing (i.e., midwifery and clinical practice); Journal title may not reflect aims and scope of journal|
|Peer review process||Described as a peer-reviewed journal (see “About This Journal” or “Aims and Scope”); peer review process further described (i.e., double blind) in “Author Guidelines” or “Information for Authors”; expected length of time for peer review is several weeks or longer but may not be stated; expected length of time to publication, if manuscript is accepted, may or may not be described||May or may not be described but if stated, rapid peer review process is promised; predatory publishers also promise short time to publication|
|Quality or character of the journal's website||Professional tone; no spelling or grammatical errors; manuscript submission only via a submission service||May be more professional or may be in an informal or “friendly” tone; statements include spelling or grammatical errors; word choice may seem awkward or strange; may state manuscripts can be e-mailed to editor|
|Editor/editorial staff||A nurse (or maybe another health care professional if journal readership is interdisciplinary)||Widely variable and may not include a nurse|
Table for Nursing Students' and Nurses' Use to Compare Reputable and Suspected Predatory Nursing Journals
|Journal/Website Feature to Be Assessed||Reputable Nursing Journal Title||Suspected Predatory Journal Title|
|Aims and scope of the journal|
|Peer review process|
|Quality or character of the journal's website|