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Repost: The Top Ten Ways to Tell that a Journal is Fake

[PLOSBLOGS note: We’re republishing this popular post in light of recent coverage on the subject, A Scholarly Sting Operation Shines a Light on ‘Predatory’ Journals,” by Gina Kolata (March 22) in the New York Times. See below this post for a PLOS Letter to the Editor response to this article, published in the NYT March 30. The following blog post first appeared on Sept 24, 2014 in Mind the Brain blog on this network.]

By Eve Carlson, Ph.D.

Past President, International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

If you have ever published a scholarly paper, your email inbox is probably peppered with invitations to submit papers to new journals with plausible-sounding names.  Many people dismiss these emails as spam, but with all one hears about the impending death of paper journals, who knows what is next in the wild, wild West of open source publishing?  And if you venture to click on a link to the journal, you may well see a web page boasting about a journal editor who is a prominent name in your field, an editorial board that includes several luminaries, instructions for authors, and legitimate-looking articles.  With the “publish or perish!” pressure still going strong, what’s an academic to do?

I recently stumbled into an “investigation” of a new, online, open source journal in the course of service as a leader of a professional society.  When I was president of an international professional society, a new journal began soliciting submissions that had a name that was very similar to our Society’s journal -“Journal of XXX”.  The Society feared that the new journal, called “Journal of XXX Disorders and Treatment”, would be mistaken for an offshoot of the original.  I saw the names of colleagues I knew on the editorial board and skimmed some of the opinion piece articles posted online and assumed it was a new experiment in open source publishing. But when I contacted the colleagues and began asking questions, it quickly became apparent that this journal had no editor, editorial board members were acquired via spam emails to authors of published articles, the journal appeared to follow no standard publishing practices, and most editorial board members had observed irregularities that made them suspicious that the journal was not legitimate.  Once informed of the problems observed and put in communication with one another, 16 of the 19 editorial members resigned en masse.

Based on actual experiences looking into three questionable open source journals, you can tell a journal is fake when…

1)  Searching in the box marked “Search this journal” on the journal web page for the name of an author of an article in a recent issue of the journal does not return any hits.

2)  No specific person is identified as the editor of the journal or the person who appears to be identified as the journal’s Editor on the web site says he is not the editor.

3)  Google Maps searches for the address of journal shows its headquarters is in a suburban bungalow.


4)  You cannot find articles from a bio-medical journal when you search PubMed.  [You can check by searching for the journal title here]

5)  The journal’s mission on its home page is described in vague, generic terms such as “To publish the most exciting research with respect to the subjects of XXXXXX.”

6)  When you call the local phone number for the journal office listed on the web page, any of these happen:  1. No one answers. 2. Someone answers “hello?” on what sounds like a cell phone and hangs up as soon as they hear you speaking.  3. The call is forwarded to the 800 phone bank for the publisher, and the person on the other end cannot tell you the name of the editor of the journal.

7)  PubMed Central refuses to accept content from a publisher’s bio-medical journals and DHHS sends a “cease and desist” letter to the publisher.

8)  The journal publisher’s posts online a legal notice warning a blogger who writes about the publisher that he is on a “perilous journey” and is exposing himself to “serious legal implications including criminal cases lunched (sic) again you in INDIA and USA” and directs him to pay the publisher $1 billion in damages.  Check out the legal notice here.

9)  The journal issues and posts online certificates with hearts around the border that certifies you as “the prestigious editorial board member of [name of journal here].”


10)  The journal posts “interviews” with members of its editorial board that appear to be electronic questionnaires with comical responses to interviewer questions such as:



The views expressed in this blog post reflect those of its author and are not necessarily shared by PLOS.


PLOS Letter to the Editor, New York Times, March 30, 2017

Published in response to:A Scholarly Sting Operation Shines a Light on ‘Predatory’ Journals,” by Gina Kolata (March 22) New York Times. Snip20170330_7



PLOSBLOGS: The following comments made on the original post provide a few more tell tale signs which we hope will be helpful for our readers.

Great post. I would add: if a publisher publishes a large number of different journals, and none of them have more than a handful of papers each, this is a bad sign. Especially if they have no editorial boards, or the same boards despite being different journals.

These are great tips, thanks for sharing!

It’s helpful to have a shortlist like this to complement indices of predatory journals like Jeffrey Beall’s Scholarly Open Access blogs (which has a detailed list of the criteria he uses to vet publishers and journals here:


Eve_CarlsonEve Carlson, Ph.D.  is a clinical psychologist and researcher with the National Center for PTSD and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, VA Palo Alto Health Care System.  Her research focuses on assessment of trauma exposure and responses, and she has developed measures of PTSD, dissociation, trauma exposure, self-destructive behavior, affective lability, and risk for posttraumatic psychological disorder.  Her research has been funded by National Institute for Mental Health (U.S.) and the Dept. of Veterans Affairs (U.S.) and recognized by awards from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies and the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation.  Her publications include books on trauma assessment and trauma research methodology and numerous theoretical and research articles.  She has served as President and a member of the Board of Directors for the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies and on the editorial boards of several journals.

  1. Why are these journals called “predatory”? A predator pounces on the unsuspecting prey. This is not the case here. The prey goes asking for it, willing to pay to see their name in an authors’ list. How much cunning does it take to know that paying open access (“open source” is something else) fees for a journal that does not appear in PubMed and has no impact factor (or, if it does, it is <0.1) is a pure act of vanity publishing? Vanity publishing for uncle Harvey's novel or memoir has existed forever. It should not have taken much for someone clever to tap the market of the scholarly Uncle Harveys.

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