Evaluating Journals and Conferences & Avoiding Deceptive Publishers

Publishing has undergone rapid growth in recent years, and in many cases scholars are unfamiliar with new publishers and whether the journals and conferences they produce can be trusted. Use the criteria and appraisal services below to evaluate journals and conferences and to avoid publishers with deceptive or predatory practices.

Predatory publishers can be defined as "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.” (2019 consensus definition).

While many deceptive publishers use an open access per-publication fee business model, it's important to note that open access is not the root of the problem. Open access journals should be judged by the same criteria as any other publication, with a few additional considerations. 

Journal Evaluation Criteria

Watch the video above from the non-profit group Think.Check.Submit, and see their checklists for assessing journals and publishers, which are available in multiple languages. 

We recommend the following core criteria for assessing an unfamiliar journal:

  1. Aims & Scope statement:  Does the statement adequately describe the journal's objectives and help you determine if it is a fit for your work? Does it clarify who owns or publishes the journal? Beware if the statement is overly focused on high impact rather than quality.
      • Some deceptive journals list editorial board members without their knowledge or permission, so be scrupulous when reviewing the list of editors.
  2. Caliber of research published: Read over a few articles to assess the quality and rigor of the research reported. Does the article content seem appropriate for the journal's stated scope?
  3. Author Instructions section: How thorough and transparent is the journal about its peer review process, adherence to publishing ethics, publication fees, and copyright ownership for published articles? Compare this section to that of a trusted journal in your field or to criteria from a credible entity such as the Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association.
      • Beware of journals promising peer review and publication in 1-2 weeks or requiring you to transfer copyright for your manuscript upon submission or for open access publication.
  4. Is the journal indexed in services you and your field use? Check the catalog of journals indexed by databases such as PubMed, Embase, Web of Science, and Scopus. If the journal is fully open access, verify that it is listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals. Note that Google Scholar does not vet which journals is indexes. See more details in Appraisal by the Industry below.

Scholarly networking sites such as ResearchGate and social media platforms can be a useful way to learn about other authors' experiences with a publisher and its quality. Consider contacting authors or editors directly as well.

See Appraisal by the Industry for additional resources. Refer also to the journal selection tools on our Steps to Finding the Right Journal guide, and contact the Library if you have questions. 

Appraisal by the Industry

While exclusion from any of these services does not necessarily mean that a journal or publisher is not reputable, authors may consider:

  1. Is the journal indexed in PubMed (see NLM Catalog), Embase, Web of Science, Scopus, or other trusted literature indexes in your field? Google Scholar does not vet journals for quality, so finding results here does not guarantee a journal's trustworthiness.
      • In the NLM Catalog, limit your search to Currently indexed for MEDLINE to find only journals that have passed review for indexing. This is a higher standard than "PubMed: Selected citations only" journals, which are not fully indexed in MEDLINE.  
  2. If the journal is fully open access, verify that it is included in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). DOAJ is a reputable community-funded resource that vets open access journals. Journals must have been publishing for at least two years to be included.
      • If the journal is not indexed, search the publisher name. Publishers with many open access journals that have no entries in DOAJ may indicate the publisher is not trustworthy.
      • See additional regional open access industry initiatives at Think.Check.Submit.
  3. Does the journal have an official Impact Factor (UC subscription), CiteScore and SNIP,  or SJR?

    Beware of unrecognized ranking systems, often designed to mimic established metrics. 

  4. Is the journal or publisher a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)? If they say they follow COPE guidelines, do you find sufficient evidence of their ethical requirements in the author guidelines?
  5. If the journal is open access, is the publisher a member of the Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association (OASPA)?
  6. Does the journal have a International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) that can be verified in ISSN Portal?
How to Handle a Publisher Acting Unethically

Though it happens infrequently, you may find yourself subjected to unethical behavior by a deceptive or predatory publisher. For example:

  • You inadvertently submitted your work to the wrong journal, or realized after submission that the journal is not trustworthy, yet the journal demands payment or won't allow you to withdraw your manuscript.
  • A journal has listed you as a member of their editorial board without your permission and ignores your requests to be removed.
  • Your work has been plagiarized by another author, yet the journal ignores you or refuses to take down the plagiarizing work. 

Use the following steps to demand that the publisher take action (see blog post from UC Office of Scholarly Communication for more information)

  1. Send an email to the editorial or journal contact. Be firm and direct with your language and your expectations about what steps the publisher needs to take.
  2. Repeat your request if you do not get a response. Emphasize key text in bold and consider putting your message on letterhead as an email attachment.
  3. Mention the appropriate copyright, fraud, and/or right of publicity laws that may be in violation by the journal's actions. 
  4. If the journal is still unresponsive or refuses your request, let them know that you will report their behavior on social media and PubPeer or to indexing and ranking services as appropriate. 
  5. Fraud may also be reported to the Federal Trade Commission at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/ or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).

The COPE Case Library is also a great resource with abundant examples of publishing ethics situations and how they were handled. Contact the Library for help addressing publishers acting unethically. 

Conference Evaluation Criteria

The scholarly community faces an increasing number of invitations to present at or attend conferences. Some of these are valid academic events, while others are misleading, exaggerated or even fake. The Think. Check. Attend. site provides guidelines to help researchers distinguish authentic conferences from ones they should avoid. 

Key questions to ask yourself about any conference include:

  1. Are you familiar with the society or the association organizing this conference? Beware of conferences that mimic other society names.
  2. Do you know anyone who has attended this conference before?
  3. Is it clear what fees will be charged (conference fee, registration fees, etc.) and would these be waived if you are accepted as a speaker?
  4. Does the website provide clear information about the venue, timeline and agenda?
  5. Is the Editorial Committee listed on the website?

See the complete checklist as well as the Conference Checker survey tool. 

Blocking Email Spam

Many publishers send frequent, unsolicited emails requesting submissions to their journals, books, and conferences, often considered spam by the recipient. University of California policy prohibits the campus from being an arbiter of email content, however individuals can set preferences for which messages they wish to receive.

To block an individual or a domain from sending you email, log in to your UCSF Email Quarantine/Digest, select Lists, Blocked Senders List, then New. Add the sender email address or domain (e.g. spammer.com) to be blocked. See additional guidance from UCSF on avoiding spam.

Visit our Open Access Publishing page for more information or to connect with a scholarly communication expert.

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