Predatory publishers and events

Excerpt from academic spam I received on 2 Feb 2017.
Excerpt from academic spam I received on 2 Feb 2017.

It seemed like such a good idea at the time.

‘Let’s write something on predatory publishing!’ I said.

‘Let’s talk about all that academic spam we get!’ I said.

I even roped in my fab colleague from La Trobe’s Borchardt Library, Steven Chang (@stevenpchang), to write something, too. He was keen. We swapped links on email and Twitter.

Then the groundbreaking resource, Beall’s List, officially went dark. It can still be salvaged in Wayback form (that is, a cached version) but it won’t feature updated information anymore.

For me, not having Beall’s List active is a big blow against the tracking of, and education about, predatory processes in contemporary scholarship. I used it all the time and, though Beall is not without his critics, I found it to be of strong value and an excellent way to build awareness around what constitutes the slimy underbelly of academic endeavour.

Why do we need this kind of thing anyway?

Well, if you’re involved in academia these days, chances are you’ve received dodgy emails – or even old-school letters! – inviting you to publish with Journal of All the Things or present at the Conference of Stuff that Has Nothing To Do with Your Expertise. You may have had a note from a publisher saying how great your thesis is and how they’d like to publish it as a book for you. Jonathan O’Donnell had things to say about some of these fraudulent publishing practices last year.

Many of these opportunities sound too good to be true…because they are. Beware of flattery in academia – it rarely happens without ulterior motives!

The ‘publish or perish’ imperative is still very much alive in today’s academic sectors. With the advent of Open Access and the fetishisation of citation metrics, a perfect storm has been created where there’s profit to be had from offering researchers outlets for publication that fast-track, fake, or bypass traditional peer review processes. While the fight around definitions of ‘quality’ in publication is an ongoing and fraught one, the acceleration of ways to get your work out there has led in some cases to bad scholarly practices.

Why are predatory publishers and conferences bad for you?

Having a publication in a dodgy journal or book is wasting your work. Whatever you may think of the process, your track-record is assessed in terms of consistency of publication (aka steady rate of outputs) and placement in appropriate scholarly outlets. If you’re paying to have your work published or conference abstract approved, chances are that there has been no scholarly rigour in the process whatsoever. Many dodgy publications and events call this their ‘administrative and peer review’ fee and it’s payable on submission.

The predatory meetings/conferences are especially surreal, heinous affairs that have Calls for Papers, will accept your abstract, and demand a substantial registration and proceedings publication fee. They often never take place. Even more bizarrely, sometimes they do:

Researchers who fall for these scams show up at sparsely attended events, and realize that the conference is not at all what they expected and has no prominent speakers from whom they could learn. Worse yet, they realize that the high profile names that seemed to be part of the organizing committee as displayed in the conference website were never there. (Franco 2016 – Predatory conferences)

I thought it might be useful, and cathartic, to share with you what the key danger-signs are for me in working out whether an invitation or approach is suspicious. Julie Bayley (@julieebayley) vented her frustration with predatory publishers more creatively than I do here, and I hope the pushback and calling out of fraudulent practices continues ever upward.

My top 3 danger-signs of dodgy publications or events:

  1. Approaching me out of the blue. I have a certain bundle of expertise and I know what it is. I tend to know who knows about my work (here in Australia and internationally), and I have a wishlist of journals I’ve aimed to publish in, or conferences I’d bother going to. Random journals or conferences with weird generic titles aren’t on my wishlist. I have had out-of-the-blue approaches from journals and conferences, but they are usually publications and events I already know about, or the inviter acknowledges that a colleague/someone I trust had mentioned or recommended me. In some cases, those who extend the invitation flag that they’ve heard about my work through [colleague in common] or have read Research Whisperer or…something. There’s an indication that they have done some background research and want me especially because of what I do.
  2. This one’s associated with the first sign: being approached for ‘world-class research’ in areas that have nothing to do with what I actually research. The number of times I’ve received invitations to contribute to engineering and IT journals (with my dead-set humanities track-record), let me count the ways…
  3. All the emails I’ve had from dodgy publishers are usually in badly written English. A decent English-language publisher would not be that sloppy. Even if they are kosher, I would think hard about working with an outfit that has such poor basic communication skills. Dodgy event invitations can also be badly written, but I hesitate to say that this is a key sign on the conference front. I’ve been invited to legit international conferences to speak and the convening committee’s first language wasn’t English. Having said all that, I am conflicted on this point because of the cultural assumptions that are often made when discussing this issue. I am guilty of it myself.

If an approach for my work exhibits any of these signs, I’m out. I don’t bother looking any further. I already have too many commitments to write for existing, reputable publications and events without investigating ones that don’t look quite right. To be honest, almost all the dodgy approaches I’ve had have exhibited ALL of these signs.

That’s my take, based on my experiences over the years in research land – as an author, mentor, and advisor.

Many thanks to the rude, dodgy publisher who scolded me for not getting back to them about their dodgy publication offer. You are the inspiration for this post.


Think. Check. Submit. – Excellent checklist and resource to support your colleagues and students in learning more about what’s good practice in academic publication, how to assess publications, and what to look for in genuine approaches.

Think. Check. Attend. – Another very good resource, with the focus on choosing well when it comes to academic conferences.


  1. Yes, predatory publishers are such time wasters. So sick of having to go through all their messages each day and send to ‘junk’. Although the ones that begin ‘We were enchanted with your recent paper …’ do make me laugh.

    I should note, though, that many reputable journals charge a publication fee (but only once the article has been reviewed and accepted for publication). This is often the case of new media and internet studies journals that are now completely online, for example. So avoiding a journal just because it asks for this fee is not necessarily an appropriate response. Did you mean ‘paying to have your work reviewed’ rather than ‘have your work published’? Some (non-predatory) journals also only charge this fee if the accepted authors have funding from their institution or funding agency – otherwise you can ask to have this waived.

    A final thought – have you noticed how many of the predatory conferences are (supposedly) to be held in Dubai?



    • Thanks, Deborah – yes, perfectly reputable online journals (many of them Open Access) charge for publication once the papers have been through a proper peer review process. Do they charge this up front, though? I thought it was charged once the paper was through the review process, not _for_ the review process as such. Many predatory journals expect payment on submission of paper, then there’s minimal to no actual peer review as everything gets published anyway. So, in that case, it’s basically payment to publish.


      • Top ranked journals in my field charge a fee just to review my paper. Journal of Economic Growth changed a $100 just to reject my paper!


    • Yes, I remember reading that as you posted it on Twitter – he makes some good points, but whitelists can disadvantage newer journals/publications? Until it has established a reputation or track-record of observing standards, it wouldn’t be listed, I assume. But understand the unsustainability and never-comprehensive nature of blacklists. I did appreciate, though, the easy reference of Beall’s List when doing quick checks on the more prolific stables of spam publishers.


  2. Usually, I only find these emails to be a minor nuissance – it only takes a few seconds to delete this rubbish.

    But recently, I became more aware of their potential costs when I nearly junked a legitimate fully-funded request to speak at an excellent, international scholarly meeting. This is the first invitation like this I have received (I’m still to submit my PhD). I very nearly missed out on this opportunity due to my now well-honed spam-deletion reflex.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on The FEDUA Research Impact Blog and commented:
    Hi everyone,
    As of early this year the influential and often controversial index of predatory publishers, Beall’s list, went dark. We’ve mentioned this resource regularly here, so an update is in order. The credentials of possible publishing options will remain an ongoing concern for all players in the world of academia, so I’m sharing this very interesting, practical post from the good folk at The Research Whisperer (thank you!!), for your interest. Next time you’re solicited out of left-field from a title you have no working-relationship with, think about this.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi there,

    what would you do if you have once fallen into the trap of a predatory conference? Would you still include it in your list of contributions or delete it?

    I once went to such a conference before I really knew that predatory conferences and journals existed. The conference did take place, though it was weird just like the quote mentioned, and they published my paper in their journal. And the paper is now in my list of publications. It is also visible in the search engines and gets reads. But now I am no longer if I should keep the paper in my list.

    By the way, I really enjoy your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so sorry to have missed your comment. My suggestion would be to keep it on your CV as long as you’re very short on things to include, but nix it as soon as you can overlay it with other updates you’re happier to include. Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

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