How to Spot Predatory Science

4 min read
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First Published: 
Apr 2020

Key Learnings contained in this article:

The Rise of Predatory Science

Trying not to fall victim to predatory science is becoming a skill in its own right.

Not only are the number of predatory journals increasing but predatory science has started to expand into predatory conferences as well. It is now harder than ever to find authentic routes to publish or present your research results.

Predatory journals are scam publishers that charge authors fees upfront but fail to provide the service they promise. Such predatory journals may publish work without any editorial or peer review process, and some even take payment without ever publishing the work.

In their infancy, predatory journals were generally easy to identify; however, the websites of predatory journals are now more sophisticated and professional, requiring you to look beyond grammatical errors or poor-quality images that previously would have raised suspicion. The website may post lists of their publications but on further investigation you may find that the journals are empty or filled with stolen or plagiarised articles.

The saying “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” applies here too. Watch out for low article processing fees. They may charge you with further fees later on, may not index in databases so your article will be difficult to find, or your article may disappear entirely if they do not have an archiving policy.

We have previously outlined six ways to identify a predatory journal. These six steps and checklist still hold true, helping you to protect your scientific reputation. There are journal evaluation tools and existing lists of predatory journals to help identify predatory journals if you are still unsure after using the checklist. The American Medical Writers Association (AMWA), the European Medical Writers Association (EMWA), and the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) have also released a joint position statement on predatory publishing, which you may find useful.

The Emergence of Predatory Conferences

The latest evolution in predatory science is the growing number of predatory conferences. Predatory conferences are typically run by organisations that are for profit, charging fees without providing any of the typical services. These conferences are typically poorly organised or in some instances, may not even take place. The conference may not implement peer review and they often funnel accepted papers to known predatory journals.

Often predatory conferences will have an elaborate title to try and attract presenters using words like “international”, or they may use a name that is very similar to that of a prestigious conference. The conference organisers will typically send unsolicited emails to encourage authors to submit proposals and register. These proposals are often accepted in a very short time frame.

How to Recognise and Avoid Predatory Conferences

Check the name of the conference

A common sign of a predatory conference is to use words such as “international” or “global” to attract as many presenters as possible. Others will use similar names to those of established and respected conferences. Watch out for conferences that state they are “international” but the majority of organisers or attendees are from one country.

Always check the website thoroughly

Although the websites of predatory conferences are becoming more professional, a tell-tale sign is mistakes in both spelling and grammar. The language may also be inappropriate for that of an academic meeting.

Beware of broken links or links that loop you back to the homepage. These suggest that the content is limited and not as expansive as the scam organisers may be trying to depict. The event may also be promoted as a holiday rather than an academic or scientific event.

Check the organiser’s contact information

The event organiser’s details should be easily accessible. If it takes time for you to find contact details then alarm bells should be ringing. Furthermore, you should try and make contact to check the contact details are correct. Be wary of conferences that use free email addresses, such as a Gmail address.

Check whether anyone you know has been to the conference

Have others in your field heard of the conference or have they attended it? Hearing their recommendations is one of the best sources of feedback you can get. If it is not a well-respected conference or your academic peers have not heard of it, then you should be thinking about whether this is a legitimate conference, and investigate further.

Check the scope of the conference

Look at the conference program, is it broad covering a large number of topics? Broad scopes are used to scam as many people as possible. Be careful of conferences that combine a number of unrelated topics into a single conference with no clear purpose.

Are the fees higher than you would expect for a non-profit or association organised conference? Fees can vary dramatically for conferences; however, predatory conferences often charge high fees to maximise their profits. It is important to be wary of high fees and investigate further.

Check whether the conference is included on a list of known predatory conferences

Check the conference details against the Caltech Library list of questionable conferences to see if it has been mentioned.

The key to spotting predatory science is research, research, research. If something about a journal or conference doesn’t feel quite right, it may be best to avoid it and the potential for a costly mistake.

Get the Predatory Journal Checklist

Ensure the credibility of your chosen journal and protect the integrity of your research. Use our comprehensive guide to steer clear of predatory journals and confidently publish your findings.

Emma Donadieu
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