Beware of spammers chasing academic papers

Wednesday, 12 Aug 2015


If this morning’s inbox includes a flattering email inviting papers for publication in a little-known journal, treat it just like the personal message from a Nigerian prince who needs help spending his fortune.

Drs David Moher and Anubhav Srivastava from the University of Ottawa say the number of unsolicited invitations for journal submissions is growing rapidly.

Writing in BMC Medicine, Moher and Srivastava say the emails often contain a flattering personalised invitation, using terms such as ‘eminent’, ‘prominent’ and ‘expert’ and referring (often inaccurately) to the potential author’s previous ‘valuable publications’.

Analysing 311 invitations received by Dr Moher in just 12 months, they found that about 80% of the journals were included in Beall’s list of ‘predatory journals’.

The list, initiated and maintained by academic librarian Jeffrey Beall, is available at scholarlyoa.com.

It now includes hundreds of publishers and even more journals that appear to have poor editorial standards, conflicts of interest, very limited credibility and affiliations with bogus organisations.

“Predatory journals exploit open access, provide no or non-sensible peer review and undercut standard article processing charges while frequently publishing rubbish,” they say.

Random trolling of databases such as PubMed, institutions’ websites and social media are the most likely source of email addresses.

Reasons for researchers and clinicians publishing in academic journals include sharing knowledge and improving healthcare, but also responding to the ‘publish or perish’ mantra.

“Researchers earlier in their career might be particularly vulnerable to these invitations,” Moher and Srivastava say.

“Unfortunately, our current reward system promotes counting of publications rather than other attributes such as completeness of reporting or the ability of others to replicate methods.

“Publishing articles in these journals may not be an effective way to let colleagues know about your research. While many of them claim to be open access, they are not indexed in any of the legitimate databases such as PubMed.”

Lack of indexing means the papers will not easily be identified by colleagues and are less likely to be included in systematic reviews and meta-analyses.

The best response to the emails is either to unsubscribe (an option offered in about 60% of cases), to dispatch a firm email requesting no more contact, or to block the sender as a source as junk.

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