In a sting operation involving 360 journals, one in three ‘predatory’ journals approached by a fake, unqualified applicant offered her a position on their editorial board. None of the 120 journals ranked as quality publications, sampled from the Journal Citation Reports ‘whitelist’, did.
Emanuel Kulczycki and colleagues emailed 360 journals (120 suspected predatory journals, 120 from the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), and 120 indexed by JCR) with an application for an editor position. Their applicant was in fact a non-existent, unqualified researcher called Anna O. Szust (whose name means “Anna, a fraud” in Polish). Nearly 50 ‘and eight DOAJ journals appointed her as editor — often within days and without vetting. No JCR journals accepted Szust. By contrast, 48 JCR titles, 45 DOAJ titles, and 15 ‘predatory’ journals responded to the email but did not offer her a position.
Several titles “revealed themselves to be even more mercenary than we had expected”, the authors write. These journals stressed the importance of collecting articles (from researchers who would pay to publish) but not ensuring quality. More than one journal offered the fictional applicant a cut of the profits, and one wrote, “It’s our pleasure to add your name as our editor in chief for this journal with no responsibilities.”
Even after revealing the operation, several titles continue to list Dr. Szust on their websites, as do some titles to which she never applied. The authors hope that their study will alert others to the problem of academic journals that do not provide quality control. However, awareness alone is not enough, they say. “Those who reward academics for publishing must make efforts to assess journal quality and to reward only best practices.”