Frequently asked questions

Why does this always seem to be about open access journals?

Many open access journals earn revenue by levying article processing charges (APCs) rather than charging subscription fees to readers and libraries, creating the potential for defrauding authors. That said, charging APCs is not inherently unethical, if the journal provides the services it promises, and particularly if it has a waiver policy in place to support authors with very limited financial resources.

What if a journal I'm considering fails one or more criteria on a checklist?

Checklists are meant to guide an assessment that is inherently subjective. Some rubrics for evaluating a journal suggest assessing the quality of its websites, yet a legitimate journal may be well-run on a low budget that doesn't support sophisticated web design. Similarly, a journal may not have the budget to support much in the way of marketing or membership in professional publishing organizations. The key is whether the journal engages in deceptive practices such as promising but not providing peer review, deceiving authors about publication charges, falsely listing scholars as members of their editorial boards, etc.

Why isn't there a list of ethical (or unethical) journals and publishers?

Various people and organizations have made lists of unethical journals (for example, Beall's list, now defunct, and Cabell's International Predatory Reports). The Directory of Open Access Journals functions as a list of reputable open access journals that have applied for inclusion.

There are some reasons why creating and using these lists is problematic:

  • Establishing and maintaining complete and error-free lists of problematic journals is controversial, difficult, and even unethical.
  • Maintaining a public list of unethical journals may expose the list's creators or hosts to legal liability.
  • There are strong incentives to apply for membership in ethical publishing organizations and for inclusion in the DOAJ, making lists of ethical journals and publishers easier to maintain than lists of unethical ones.
  • Absence from either kind of list (ethical or unethical) is not proof that journal is ethical or unethical. It may simply not have been evaluated.

What can I do if I accidentally publish in an unethical or predatory journal?

Unfortunately there may not be a lot you can do, but you'll likely want the offending journal to take down your article, and to publish it in a legitimate one. You should also report the journal to the Federal Trade Commission.

Withdrawing your article from an unethical journal

  • The first course of action is to contact the journal and request that they withdraw or take down the article. Don't be surprised if you receive no response.
  • If the journal does not respond and you retained copyright, consider submitting DMCA take down notice.
  • As a last resort, depending on the support you have from your institution and the specifics of your publication agreement, you might consider threatening the journal with legal action.

Republishing your article in a legitimate journal

  • If you are able to withdraw your article from the offending journal, publishing elsewhere should not pose a problem.
  • If you are not able to withdraw your article but you have retained the copyright to your work, it may be worth contacting an editor with an explanation of your circumstances to inquire whether they will consider it for publication.  Although it is uncommon for a paper previously published in an unethical journal to be accepted in a legitimate one, the Committee on Publication Ethics describes one such case.

What else can I do to help prevent unethical publishing?

  • Always carefully evaluate any new or unfamiliar journal you are considering for publication, and advise students and colleagues to do the same. Be alert to the possibility that unethical journals and conferences might adopt names, logos and designs that are uncannily similar to established and reputable ones.
  • Treat unsolicited invitations to publish in unfamiliar venues with skepticism.
  • List your editorial work and affiliations on your professional websites and profiles, so that others who are assessing the validity of a particular journal can check the veracity of that kind of information.
  • Regularly conduct online searches (or create a Google search alert) for appearances of your name in conjunction with journals and publishers with whom you are not affiliated. If you find yourself falsely or incorrectly listed on a journal's website, demand they remove your name.