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Stop Predatory Publishers Now: Act CollaborativelyStop Predatory Publishers Now

David Moher, PhD; and Ester Moher, PhD
[+] Article, Author, and Disclosure Information

This article was published at www.annals.org on 2 February 2016.

From Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and Privacy Analytics, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Disclosures: Authors have disclosed no conflicts of interest. Forms can be viewed at www.acponline.org/authors/icmje/ConflictOfInterestForms.do?msNum=M15-3015.

Requests for Single Reprints: David Moher, PhD, Clinical Epidemiology Program, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, The Ottawa Hospital, General Campus, 501 Smyth Road, Room L1288, Ottawa, Ontario K1H 8L6, Canada; e-mail, dmoher@ohri.ca.

Current Author Addresses: Dr. D. Moher: Clinical Epidemiology Program, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, The Ottawa Hospital, General Campus, 501 Smyth Road, Room L1288, Ottawa, Ontario K1H 8L6, Canada.

Dr. E. Moher: Privacy Analytics, 251 Laurier Avenue West, Suite 200, Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5J6, Canada.

Author Contributions: Conception and design: D. Moher, E. Moher.

Drafting of the article: D. Moher, E. Moher.

Critical revision of the article for important intellectual content: D. Moher.

Final approval of the article: D. Moher, E. Moher.

Ann Intern Med. 2016;164(9):616-617. doi:10.7326/M15-3015
© 2016 American College of Physicians
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Predatory publishers and journals are morally corrupt businesses that circumvent the fabric of scientific publishing. This commentary discusses how to identify and avoid them and help bring them down.

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Editorial and Publishing Groups’ Collaboration to Promote Journal Transparency
Posted on February 7, 2016
Margaret A. Winker, MD, and the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME) Executive
Secretary, WAME
Conflict of Interest: None Declared
Moher and Moher(1) decry the problem of “predatory” journals, their characteristics, possible reasons for existence, and potential ways to eliminate them or promote them to legitimate publications. They make some potentially useful suggestions but also protest the lack of action to address the existence of such journals on the part of publishers and editor organizations including the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME). However, the “predatory” journal criteria they cite include a collaborative effort of the sort they recommend.

The criteria for “predatory” publishers used in the lists they cite(2) help to illustrate some of the challenges in identifying “predatory” journals and recognize two documents published by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), one of which is Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing. The latter document(3) was created and published as a collaborative effort by COPE, WAME, Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), and Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA). These Principles were developed because of concerns not only about “predatory” journals but also about the overlap of some characteristics used to define “predatory” journals with those of small newly founded regional journals whose editors may have little support or publishing experience. Conflating the two types of journals undermines legitimate journals that seek to support research in underrepresented parts of the world. Such journals may differ in appearance from established journals in high income countries, but that does not make them “predatory”.

There has been extensive debate in the publishing and editorial community about whether “predatory” is the correct term, about Jeffrey Beall’s motivations in creating the criteria, and whether other predatory practices should be included in the definition.(4) WAME member editors have debated the issues in their listserve and in sessions in the WAME International Conference of Medical Journal Editors, New Delhi, October 2015. One author has proposed an approach to applying these policies in practice.(5)

It is clear from these publications and discussions that while some journals undoubtedly are “predatory”, objective comprehensive criteria to differentiate “predatory” from legitimate journals are elusive. The Principles were developed for just this reason—an affirmative set of criteria for legitimate journals that if adhered to enhance transparency for authors and readers. Our Transparency Principles represent the sort of effort that Moher and Moher propose. We can all agree that greater transparency by legitimate journals and author education about these issues will help address the serious problem of “predatory” journals.

Author Information: Margaret Winker, MD, is Secretary, WAME. The WAME Executive comprises Rod Rohrich, MD, President; Lorraine Ferris, PhD, LLM, Past President; Tom Lang, MA, Treasurer; as well as MW.


1. Moher D, Moher E. Stop Predatory Publishers Now: Act Collaboratively. Annals Intern Med Published online February 2, 2016. doi:10.7326/M15-3015

2. Beall J. Criteria for Determining Predatory Open-Access Publishers. Scholarly Open Access. 3rd Edition, January 1, 2015. https://scholarlyoa.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/criteria-2015.pdf Accessed February 3, 2016.

3. Committee on Publication Ethics, Directory of Open Access Journals, Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association, World Association of Medical Editors. Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing. Last modified June 22, 2015. http://www.wame.org/about/principles-of-transparency-and-best-practice Accessed February 3, 2016.

4. Anderson R. Should We Retire the Term “Predatory Publishing”? The Scholarly Kitchen. May 11, 2015. http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2015/05/11/should-we-retire-the-term-predatory-publishing/ Accessed February 3, 2016.

5. Clark J. How to avoid predatory journals—a five point plan. BMJ Blog. Jan 19, 2015. http://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2015/01/19/jocalyn-clark-how-to-avoid-predatory-journals-a-five-point-plan/ Accessed February 3, 2016
Form umbrella portals for legitimate journals in order to stop unethical and predatory publishing
Posted on March 16, 2016
Amitabh Sagar
Military Hospital Dehradun
Conflict of Interest: None Declared
Dear Sir,
I read with great interest the article " Stop Predatory Publishers Now: Act Collaboratively" . Unethical and predatory publishing will cause unacceptable damage to the scientific material and community in the long run. One of the solutions that can be worked out is formation of a single or limited umbrella portals of publishing which will contain multiple journals . The authors will have to enter only through single umbrella portal which will later take them to a common system of journal selection like in the Medknow system of "journal on web" or lead to individual journal sites. The selection of journals on the system can be decided by the administrator group based on journal reputation, duration of presence in the publishing space, physical verification of offices , indexing with databases like PubMed, Scopus etc. This will exclude the frauds masquerading as genuine journals and gradually establish a quality benchmark for authors to know where to publish.
Stop predatory publishers now: act collaboratively
Posted on July 13, 2016
Mark Clemons, Miguel de Costa e Silva, Sasha Mazzarello, Matthew Clemons, Brian Hutton
University of Ottawa
Conflict of Interest: None Declared
We read with interest the article by Moher and Moher addressing the need to control the pervasive rise in predatory publishers.1 In their article, they note strategies to block email messages from these publishers at both the individual and the institutional level. Unfortunately, our own experience with blocking spam has been less than successful.2,3 To explore our individual ability to block predatory spam emails, we collected all electronic spam messages sent to an academic medical oncologist (MC) over a three month period between January 21 and April 21, 2016; in total, 590 spam messages were received. These emails were broadly categorized into potential predatory journal invitations (n=191; 33%), conference invitations (n=109; 18%) and other information (e.g. advertisements, surveys, journal newsletters) (n=290; 49%). The messages received from predatory publishers were forwarded to two research assistants to assess: (1) whether or not an unsubscribe function was present; and (2) if present, how long it took to unsubscribe from each journal, as well as whether or not a confirmation notice of unsubscription was received.

Of the 191 emails received from potential predatory publishers, 109 (57%) contained an unsubscribe function. Among those 109 messages, the average time required to activate the unsubscribe function was 17 seconds (range 2 to 127 seconds). Two types of unsubscribe functions were observed. The first category, present in 53% of the 109 emails, consisted of an unsubscribe link within the message; once clicked, a web browser opened to a website that contained further information on the steps required to unsubscribe. Of the 58 emails that were part of this category, confirmation of successful performance of the unsubscribe function was only received for 18 (31%) cases. In the second category observed in the remaining 47% of messages, the note from the sender indicated that, in order to unsubscribe, the recipient had to directly email the sender and make such a request. As these emails were sent by the research assistant and not the original recipient, we do not know the impact of this unsubscribe process.

The increasing amount of time wasted on the tasks of reading and deleting spam is well recognized Several things are evident from our own (albeit small) study. First, approximately half of all the emails from predatory journals do not have an unsubscribe function. Second, even when a “process” to unsubscribe appears to be present, it is rarely possible to tell whether efforts to unsubscribe have been successful. As clinicians and researchers, if we are to develop strategies to effectively block messages from predatory journals, these will likely need to be implemented at the institutional level. Otherwise, it seems that strategies to prevent such spam from individual recipients will be limited and increasingly frustrating.


(1) Moher D and Moher E. Stop Predatory Publishers Now: Act Collaboratively. Annals of Internal Medicine 164[9], 616-617. 2016.

(2) Mazzarello S, Fralick M, and Clemons M. A simple approach for eliminating spam. Current Oncology 23[1], e75-e76. 2016.

(3) Mazzarello S, Clemons M, Graham ID, Joy AA, Smith S, Jacobs C. Third-party online surveys-science, selling, or sugging? Current Oncology 22[3], 182-3. 2015.

(4) Moher D and Srivastava A. You are invited to submit.... BMC Medicine 13[180]. 2015.

Author's Response
Posted on July 26, 2016
David Moher, PhD, Ester Moher, PhD
Ottawa Hospital
Conflict of Interest: None Declared
We thank Winker and the WAME executive for pointing out all of the collaborative work they are doing with other players in the area of predatory journals, particularly around issues related to identifying them. Winker and WAME also make an important point about the grey zone of new and emerging legitimate journals that can fall into and erroneously become “blacklisted”. We make this very point in our commentary.

Whatever the appropriate definition attributed to predatory journals, which like many other definitions will be imperfect [1,2], we think our central point remains. There is a large and growing number of highly suspect journals publishing all kinds of biomedical research, from randomized trials to case reports, where suitable peer review is not undertaken. This is problematic for a host of stakeholders, from researchers to patients. To the best of our knowledge, few academic institutions and have policies, or provide guidance, to avoid these journals. Likewise, we are not aware of many funders advising their grantees to avoid disseminating their research in these sources.

There is a faulty perception in the biomedical research community that predatory journals do not impinge on the legitimate world of biomedicine. There are now a growing number of cases where this is happening. Academic recruits and researchers seeking promotion and tenure are including publications in predatory journals as part of their research portfolio. Our own ongoing research indicates that predatory journal authors publishing research sponsored by granting agencies, such as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, can deposit their predatory publications in PubMed Central, after which is becomes almost impossible for the average person searching to distinguish between legitimate publications and those published in predatory journals.

We hope WAME and others continue to collaborate and help develop guidance and educational outreach on how to stop these journals and publishers, without inappropriately stopping legitimate journals that differ in appearance. To date, we have seen very little action, but we are optimistic: shining a light on this topic is the first step in developing a progressive solution.

1. Moher D, Cole CW, Hill GB. Epidemiology of abdominal aortic aneurysm: the effect of differing definitions. Eur J Vasc Surg. 1992 Nov;6(6):647-50
2. Goodman SN, Fanelli D, Ioannidis JPA. What does research reproducibility mean? Sci Transl Med. 2016 Jun 1;8(341):341ps12

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