I just wanted to take a moment and write you a long overdue thank you letter for your services to scientific world. Your previous submission was outstanding and innovates all of us.
In last few years I have known you; you have been an incredible inspiration to me and all the young researchers on how to carry ourselves in this great research world.
Well, if that didn’t give me a big head! I recently received this email which went on to invite me to submit an (academic) article, promising me a discount on publishing costs if I submitted within the next few days.
Junk mail is nothing new, of course, but I’m getting increasing numbers of emails from journals I’ve never heard of,
begging inviting me to publish something with them, or even to join their Editorial Board.
Maybe some of these journals have good intentions. Maybe they offer opportunities to researchers who need publications to secure continued funding. Or maybe they take researchers’ money and ruin their reputations by accepting anything, no matter the quality. There’s a term for that: predatory publishing.
Here are a few websites with information about predatory publishing:
University of Cambridge article on how to spot predatory publishers
Stony Brook University article on how to decide if a journal is legitimate
The Stop Predatory Journals site maintains a list of suspect journals and publishers
Academic publishing is in flux just now, with a rise in “open access” publishing. Here, the author pays to publish and readers can access the article free of charge. This is in contrast to the “old, traditional” journal system where individuals and academic libraries pay (sometimes eye-watering amounts) to access the papers. I’m not going to condemn a journal simply because it asks the author to pay, but I’d put a question mark over whether the author gets something in return.
Signs to beware of
The journal approaches you unsolicited. Established journals receive far more submissions than they can publish. They have to choose which high-quality papers to accept. They certainly don’t need to go looking for more papers.
The journal says flattering things about you. Why does their opinion of you matter? They should judge the quality of any submission you send them, not whether you’re eminent already.
Even though you’ve not come across the journal before, its name looks similar to other journals in the field. Maybe they hope unwary authors will confuse them with another journal with a higher reputation. For example, there might be two well-known journals covering widget research: one called Trends in Widgets and the other Current Widgets. An email from Current Trends in Widgets or Trends in Current Widgets or… you get the drift… might catch you off guard.
The email requests submissions within a very short deadline – maybe 1-4 weeks. Why the rush? Is there only going to be one issue? This takes me back to my first point that reputable journals have an excess of submissions, so they certainly don’t need to go seeking them in a hurry.
The prose may be idiosyncratic. Of course there may be language variations depending on where the journal is based, but odd phrasing is worth a second look.
The journal covers an unusually wide range of topics. For example, it’s not common for a journal to seek articles on public health, molecular biology and surgical techniques.
There are a couple of other signs that may be common to scam emails in general. I’m not sure whether these are myths or true, but I’ll note them here.
I’ve heard that scam emails are deliberately produced with plenty of typos in order to “weed out” more discerning potential victims. Something else I’ve heard is that you shouldn’t try to unsubscribe from such emails. Either the “unsubscribe” link takes you somewhere unsavoury, or all you’ve done is confirm that your email address works.
Here’s a selection of quotations from emails I’ve received from journals to illustrate my points above. I’m not naming any journals since I don’t want to end up arguing over the legitimacy of individual titles.
Hope you are doing well!
An odd greeting for a professional email
We would like to invite you to join the Editorial Board of our newly launched journal “xxxx”.
Uh, why are you asking me? Do you know who I am? (Said in a confused tone, not a pompous one)
If you are interested, kindly send your Updated CV, Recent color photograph, Short biography (150 words), Research interests, Professional details (Department, University and Telephone number).
Ooookay, so you’re inviting me to join your Editorial Board, but you don’t already know who I am, where I work or what I do?
Start each day with a grateful heart.
The purpose of this email is to inform you that we need articles for upcoming issue. We request you to support with one article to publish in our Journal. Due to lack of support from Eminent people like you we are unable to release our next issue.
(Bolding above is mine) Not that you’re trying to guilt me into doing something, perchance?
Acceptance Notification: within 4 – 10 days after Submission
Do they have peer reviewers working round the clock? Doing a decent peer review of an article requires a close reading, evaluation of, well, everything in the paper and formulation of a recommendation, suggestions, concerns etc. Peer review is generally done in your spare time, and I certainly wouldn’t neglect my day job in order to do it.
This one was from a conference invitation, but it made me laugh:
Our research team had a glance on one of your publication titled “xxxx” which is very impressive
So they could tell at the merest glance that they wanted to invite me to the conference
I’ll end up with the sign-off I got from one of the emails:
Have a nice and healthy day ahead!
I’m almost sure that’s not actually a threat…
This article from Wheeler in 1989 bemoans how the pressure to publish promotes disreputable science. It’s been 30 years since that article was published, and the issue of predatory journals isn’t mentioned. How times change, I suppose.
If you have any tips or information to share, I encourage you to leave a comment below.
Post-post edit: It seems The Pathologist beat me to it with their recent article, Anatomy of a Predator.