Predatory Publishers: The role of science librarians

For a class on Science and Engineering Librarianship, my team-mates and I delivered an informative presentation on predatory publishers. I focused on awareness and education, as well as evaluation tools and strategies available to librarians. Our presentation covered the history of predatory publishing, how predatory publishers & journals are identified, the impact of predatory publishing on the sciences, its impact on the Global South, and the role of science librarians.

First, what is predatory publishing?

  • “A predatory publisher is an opportunistic publishing venue that exploits the academic need to publish but offers little reward for those using their services.” - Iowa State University.
  • Predatory publishers publish in many formats.
  • Predatory publishing came from the phrase “predatory open access journal” - coined by Jeffrey Beall, Scholarly Communications Librarian at University of Colorado in 2010.
  • You may hear it called “write-only publishing” or “deceptive publishing”.
  • No standardized definition.

“Predatory journals and publishers are entities that prioritize self-interest at the expense of scholarship and are characterized by false or misleading information, deviation from best editorial and publication practices, a lack of transparency, and/or the use of aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation practices” (Grudniewicz et al., 2019).

The role of science librarians

Awareness & Education

I will introduce some useful resources and offer some ideas on how we, as future science librarians, can be part of the solution to predatory publishing.

First, how can we educate ourselves?

I recommend the Association of College & Research Libraries resources:

➔Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Scholarly Communication Toolkit: Evaluating Journals

➔From ACRL: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Predatory Publishing but Were Afraid to Ask

They have the Scholarly Communication toolkit Evaluating Journals that covers recognising predatory and vanity journals. If you want to dive deeper, read the ACRL conference paper “Everything you ever wanted to know about predatory publishing but were afraid to ask,” which covers a lot of the complexities of this issue.

Next, when searching for more information, using “predatory” is not enough. Try searching with unethical, deceptive, pseudo-scientific, fraudulent, vanity, and so on, as well.

Alternative terms to search with to find information on predatory publishers

Tools to help students and researchers

What tools can you use to help students and researchers evaluate publications to avoid publishing in an untrustworthy journal?

Think. Check. Submit.

The go-to tool is Think. Check. Submit. Ready to use materials are available to librarians, covering each step a researcher should take before deciding where to publish: Think ⇒ Check ⇒ Submit.

The Think Check Submit poster - think part

This user-centred, multilingual, campaign is produced with the support of a coalition of scholarly communications publishers and organizations – and not just representing the West either:

Think. Check. Submit. Contributing organizations:Think Check Submit contributing organizations
Check covers the following:

❏ Do you or your colleagues know the journal?
❏ Can you easily identify and contact the publisher?
❏ Is the journal clear about the type of peer review it uses?
❏ Are articles indexed in services that you use?
❏ Is it clear what fees will be charged?
❏ Do you recognise the editorial board?
❏ Do the editorial board mention the journal on their own websites?
❏ Is the publisher a member of a recognized industry initiative?


The CRAAP test.

A cartoon of a young scientist examing a poo emoji under her microscope

Another journal evaluation tool that is helpful for educating students, answers an essential, and deep, question: Are the journal’s articles a bunch of . . .?! The CRAAP test.  With its catchy name, it would not be challenging to create an enticing, information literacy campaign around this test to prevent junior researchers from publishing in predatory journals.

The Craap testevaluation questions

The CRAAP Test was developed by Sarah Blakeslee, Librarian at California State University, Chico.


WAME: Identifying Predatory or Pseudo-Journals

A third evaluation tool developed by The World Association of Medical Editors (WAME) is quite detailed and is directed towards education institutions, librarians, and so on ➔ Identifying Predatory or Pseudo-Journals

 Identifying Predatory or Pseudo-Journals WAME algorithm

Other ways to help: Managing email spam & leveraging AI

I’d like to briefly introduce two other ways librarians might help scientific researchers deal with predatory publishers. - Managing academic email spam & leveraging AI

Managing email spam

Please read the quote from the scientist I interviewed for an earlier science librarianship assignment. Note her irritation:

“I get emails every single day from predatory publishers. It is totally shocking. There are a ton of them. Many are asking for publications for journal topics that I know nothing about even!”

Michelle Hilts PhD, FCCPM, Senior Medical Physicist, BC Cancer Agency

If predatory publishers seek submissions through Academic email spam, why don’t we help to limit the contact predatory publishers have with researchers via email?

“Physicians and institutions should develop strategies to optimize e-mail communication and management with focus on minimizing the volume of unsolicited e-mails” (Wood, K. E., & Krasowski, M. D. 2020).

I agree with this quote from the academic and practising physicians Wood & Krasowski and believe there is a role for librarians to play alongside IT departments here.

Leveraging AI

Could there be a role for AI as well? The Health Sciences Librarian at the University of Florida, Ariel Pomputius (2019) writes that the best available method for recognizing predatory publishers is subjective analysis by humans. But, in the near future, AI will be able to identify misinformation apart from authoritative sources.

However, she continues,

"Librarians should advocate for transparency on how machine learning determines what constitutes misinformation or predatory publishers, because evaluating information resources and teaching others to do the same is a librarian’s role.” (pp. 373-374)

I will leave you with those thoughts on the future of science librarianship and predatory publishers.


Selected resources

ACRL. (2020). Scholarly communication toolkit: Evaluating journals. Association of College and Research Libraries.

Beall, J. (2017). What I learned from predatory publishers. Biochemia Medica, 27(2), 273–278.

Berger, M. (2017). Everything you ever wanted to know about predatory publishing but were afraid to ask. At the Helm: Leading Transformation, 206–217.

Blakeslee, Sarah. (2019). Literature reviews: The CRAAP test. Meriam Library.

Grudniewicz, A., et. al. (2019). Predatory journals: No definition, no defence. Nature, 576(7786), 210–212.

Ojala, M., Reynolds, R. & Johnson, K.-G. (2020). Predatory journal challenges and responses. The Serials Librarian: 1-6. doi: 10.1080/0361526X.2020.1722894

Pomputius, A. (2019). Putting misinformation under a microscope: Exploring technologies to address predatory false information online. Medical Reference Services Quarterly, 38(4), 369–375.

Teixeira da Silva, J. A., Dobránszki, J., Tsigaris, P., & Al-Khatib, A. (2019). Predatory and exploitative behaviour in academic publishing: An assessment. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 45(6), 102071.

Think. Check. Submit. (2020). Think. Check. Submit.

Understanding Predatory Publishers. (2019). Iowa State University - University Library.

Winker, Margaret A., & Laine, Christine. (2017). Identifying predatory or pseudo-journals. WAME: The World Association of Medical Editors.

Wood, K. E., & Krasowski, M. D. (2020). Academic e-mail overload and the burden of “Academic Spam”. Academic Pathology, 7, 237428951989885.

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