Ethics in scientific publishing
With the recent advent of open access, several new journals appeared, giving authors a wide choice for selecting the best venue for their research.
However, this sprout of new options correlated with the appearance of so-called predatory journals. This term indicates a business model where authors are subjected to pay a publication fee to publish a study, but no editorial work is provided, and articles are not checked for quality and legitimacy. This form of misconduct has gained great attention in the last few years, especially as the number of predatory journals is growing exponentially since 2010, and it is not always easy to recognize a predatory journal, so that authors can be tricked into publishing their works in such venues.
Tips to recognize those journals include an insisting campaign to promote submission, or to ask to be editorial board members; the presence of fake academics listed in the editorial boards; a name or web style that mimic the ones of established journals; the presence of false impact factors; a quick acceptance of articles with almost no peer review; the presentation of fees after acceptance only.
It is therefore a very important step for authors to carefully check a journal before deciding to submit a paper. Besides the suggestions presented above, looking at the published articles can also be an useful method to identify predatory journals, as it is not uncommon to find papers that present evidence of malpractice. This might be, for example, the fact that a manuscript is a “duplicate” of an article published somewhere else. In alternative, language might be inappropriate or the work itself might be doubtful, if not completely pseudo-scientific.
A good indicator of quality is that a journal is member of a recognized professional organization committed to best publishing practices, such as COPE, and that it is indexed in relevant electronic databases such as PubMed, MEDLINE, EMBASE or Web of Science.
In these cases, one can be assured that a proper quality check is performed. Besides peer review, indeed, established journals also perform editorial controls to identify papers with ethical issues. Software can be used as an additional aid to identify problems with the text (for example, if a manuscript has a high content of overlapping text taken from other publications) or the images (if there are, for example, image duplication issues or other red flags for misconduct). Those checks are particularly important to spot the so-called “paper-mill” works. A research paper mill is a profit, unofficial and potentially illegal organization that is paid to generate fraudulent manuscripts. Being very similar to genuine research, it is sometimes difficult to identify such papers, and it is estimated that thousands of published articles, even in established journals, belong to a paper mill.
It is therefore evident that, to ensure a high ethical and quality standard in publishing, authors, reviewers and editors are all needed to cooperate, so that malpractice, regardless of its origin, can be identified and eradicated.