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Steer Clear of Predatory Publishers

The growing issue of predatory journals — which publish dubious research as long as the author pays a fee — won't be addressed through legal action, according to David Moher of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

Moher tells Tom Spears, a science reporter at the Ottawa Citizen, that filing a case against unethical publishers would be “quite an expensive proposition,” and notes that the international nature of many of these publishers further complicates the problem.

This means that the burden of responsibility shifts to academics looking to publish their work. Moher recommends that young researchers "tread very, very cautiously" and do their homework on any online journals offering to publish their papers.

Moher adds that the academic institutions that employ these researchers need to play a larger role as well. "They need to try to promote the investigation of all this, the study of all this. They need to develop some form of guidance for all of their faculty and students about this.”

He cites the Committee on Publication Ethics and the Directory of Open Access Journals as good resources for academics looking to steer clear of disreputable publishers.

In addition, Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado Denver, maintains a list of "potential, possible, or probable" predatory publishers on his blog.

Beall estimates that the number of predatory scientific titles has increased from 11 in 2011 to 477 in 2014.

Spears at the Ottawa Citizen is tracking this growth closely, and has compiled his own list of red flags that signify a journal may not be entirely legit.

Spears has also carried out several sting operations of unscrupulous publishers, submitting two different papers full of "gobbledygook" to various journals and finding that as long as an author is willing to pay, they'll "print anything — even a garbled blend of fake cardiology, Latin grammar and missing graphs."