Study reveals predatory journals are reviewed majorly by junior researchers
A recent study based on an analysis of reviews in the Publons database shows that peer reviewers have reviewed for over 1000 predatory journals. Most of these reviews were listed by early career researchers who have few reviews and publications, and hail from nations in Africa and the Middle East.
One of the widespread notions around predatory journals is that they publish papers in exchange for a fee and don’t have a peer review process in place. However, the study has found that Publons hosts over 6000 reports of peer reviews that have been conducted for journals listed in Cabell’s Blacklist for being predatory. This indicates that contrary to popular belief, journals can be predatory even if they offer peer review.
Publons believes that the reviews are real records, since the platform has a strong verification process in place: the review information is either added directly via the journal’s submission system or the reviewer has to forward emails of acknowledgement from the journal as proof. Therefore, like the authors publishing in predatory journals, the scholars who review might be unaware of the predatory nature of the journals they are reviewing for. However, it is likely that some of the researchers knowingly took on reviews for predatory journals just to showcase their academic productivity.
According to a Nature article that discusses the study findings, Publons lists reviews for at least 10 per cent of the journals on Cabell’s Blacklist. Lucas Toutloff, Technical Director at Cabells, explained that this is not concerning as the journals may be listed as predatory if they follow deceptive practices, such as misleading readers about physical office addresses or editorial board members, even if they have a peer review process in place.
Another possibility is that some predatory journals have a peer review process just to trick authors into believing that they are reputable journals. As Matt Hodgkinson, head of research integrity at Hindawi, London, says: “They are likely going through the motions and using these reviewers as a fig leaf.” If, however, the reviews are authentic, it is ultimately a waste of reviewers’ time and effort. In fact, it is also unclear whether the reviewers’ comments and recommendations are even take into consideration by the predatory journals before accepting a paper.
To effectively identify and combat potentially predatory journals, it is important to adopt a more holistic approach focusing on the entire research workflow rather than the peer review process. The study suggests research institutions and funders to warn researchers against conducting peer review for predatory journals.
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