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Recognizing Predatory Journals and Conferences

A guide to educate JWU faculty, students and staff about journals and conferences that employ deceptive practices for unmerited financial or reputational gain. Originally created by Pieta Eklund, and reproduced / edited with permission

Assessing the editors

Editorial board

A journal’s editorial board is usually made up of prominent academics within the journal’s discipline. It is common that serving on an editorial board is an unpaid honorary position. Board members serve as ambassadors for the journal. If you don’t recognize any of the names on the board of a journal it’s a good idea to see what kind of information you can find about them.  

Legitimate editorial boards

All legitimate journals have an editorial board made up of researchers in the journal’s field. The board offers advice on how to develop the journal, takes responsibility for publishing special issues, and suggests authors that the journal might want to publish. Board members are also tasked with writing short articles and letters. If journal peer reviewers disagree on a manuscript, members of the editorial board can weigh in with their opinions. Depending on the journal, editorial board members might also serve as peer reviewers. It is often members of the editorial board that reach out to authors whose manuscripts they want to solicit, or that they want to invite to serve as peer reviewers. In other words, the editorial board serves many important functions.

Predatory publisher editorial boards

Predatory journals also want to give the impression that they have a respectable editorial board. They go about this in a few different ways. One is to simply make up all the members of the board. Another is to collect names and images of real academics around the world and use them without permission. It is not entirely uncommon to come across the both Nobel laureates and deceased researchers sitting on predatory journal editorial boards. Keep the following in mind when looking over the editorial board of an unknown journal:

  • Are you familiar with any of the editorial board members?
  • If you aren’t personally familiar with them, ask colleagues. See if any of your colleagues recognize any of the names listed on the webpage.
  • Find the researchers' university websites and see how their research is presented there.
  • Does it make sense for the named individuals to be part of this particular journal’s editorial board? 
  • Are the researchers aware that they've been listed as editorial board members by the journal? Many academics list their editorial board memberships on their websites, or in social media like ResearchGate, or LinkedIn.

Real examples of fake editorial board members

In 2012, the OMICS (a known predatory publisher) had an interesting member on the editorial board of their journal Molecular Biology: Peter Uhnemann, at the “Department of Oximology at Daniel-Duesentrieb Institute, Germany”.

The main thing you need to know about Peter Uhnemann is that he isn’t real. He was invented by a satire publication to make fun of social media. He was removed as an editor at Molecular Biology, but has instead made it to the board of International Journal of Research and Innovations in Earth Science – not bad for a fictive researcher!

In 2017 Katarzyna Pisanski and her colleagues did a study that showed many predatory journals would offer made-up researchers spots on their editorial boards. No established journals would – all of those journals that had passed the quality control required to be indexed in Journal Citation Reports rejected the fake CV researchers sent out.

You can read more about made-up researchers and how predatory publishers use them in the article Why Fake Data When You Can Fake A Scientist? from November 2016.

Recruitment for predatory journal editorial boards

Predatory journal send spam to invite you to publish with them, and also to ask researchers to serve on their editorial boards. Sometimes there are absolutely no requirements to get the position. But sometimes predatory journals can turn out to have terms such as forcing editorial board members to publish a certain number of articles in their journal, or that editorial board members have to share any profits from other publishing work with them. In both cases the predatory journals are mostly interested in putting together an editorial board that will seem legitimate enough that other researchers will want to publish in the journal.