University Library System
University Library System

Questionable Publishers, Journals or Conferences

So-called predatory publishers, journals or conferences are a growing and complex phenomenon in the world of scholarly publishing.  Commonly defined as "predatory", it includes different dimensions and entities: it concerns in particular online or physical publishing houses, agencies and pseudo-scientific organizations that use questionable practices in the process of scientific and academic publication, promotion and communication.
It is a continuum of malpractices (from ethical issues to commercial malpractices) such as: false or missing peer reviews, write-only publishing or vanity press, up to identity theft or spam/phishing practices.

Definitions and "how to":

An academic journal or publisher is "questionable"  if it publishes contents with low editorial standards, lack of peer review, or it solicits the publication of academic (or pseudo-academic) contents with a lack evaluation of the autors' specialization or of the relevance of the paper for its research community. For example, a conference agency can be "predatory" when it organizes hundreds of pseudo-scientific events per year, without any real selection of submitted contributions. Researchers can use these questionable scholarly publishing media sometimes with the aim of expanding their CV and obtaining incentives or career progression. Some authors write and publish papers or chapters in questionable publishers for the need to speed up publication times (since there is no trusted peer review, publication times are drastically shortened).

  • Publishers or journals that exploit the academic publishing model for financial gain without providing the necessary editorial services and/or quality control
  • Scholarly pseudo-publishers or pseudo-journals that promote misleading metrics
  • Publishing practices of poor quality, breaching research integrity or ethics, and harming authors (financial, reputational) and the quality of their published work (scientific rigour, accuracy)
  • Publishers or agencies that use e-mail SPAM malpractices, who solicit articles from researchers through practices that exploit the pressure on researchers to publish

  • Publishers / journals website that are mimicking the site of other legitimate academic publisher
  • Hijacker Journals / legitimate contents hijacking
  • Publishers / journals website that are showing false contents indexing
  • Publishers / journals website that are showing misleading metrics
  • Lack of peer-review quality standards
  • Lack of cost transparency related to Article/Book Processing Charges (APC/BPC)

  • The use of the term "Predatory" denotes an evaluation of academic papers only in terms of publication venue or prestige of the publisher/journal and its quantitative parameters, without going into the merits of the individual content
  • It is a label that does not consider the contiguity and analogy of certain commercial practices between "legitimate" and "illegitimate" publishers, i.e. the socalled vanity press
  • "Predatory" is a label that can hide complex geopolitical inequalities in the world of research, without considering the local contexts in which these "questionable" entities proliferate
  • It is  often improperly associated with the economic model of Gold and Hybrid Open Access (OA), in which author pays the Article Processing Charge, contributing to a distorted perception of the OA publishing model, although consolidated practices of vanity press or write-only publishing were widespread in the academic world prior to the OA business model


How to avoid questionable publishers and journals

Before submitting, it is advisable to check the quality and professional level of the publisher/journal: let's check where the contents are indexed (databases, directories, etc.) and benchmark it with what is declared online. Beware of false impact factors and misleading metrics and examine journals' long-term preservation policies. Any false claims regarding the dissemination and indexing of the journal/publisher are warning signs of questionable academic publishing. Contacting library staff for advice can facilitate this analysis process

Authors can use several evidence-based tools:

Library Helpline

If you need any further information, please contact the Library Helpline. Select:

  • "Supporto alla pubblicazione accademica" (Scholarly publishing support)
  • "Consulenza tematiche diritto d’autore" (Copyright support)
  • "Supporto Open Science (Open Access, Open Data)" (Open Science support)