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    Avoiding predatory publishers

    John Heyderman

    LSHTM Library, Archive & Open Research Services

    As the scholarly publishing landscape continues to evolve, researchers face the challenge of how to tell reputable journals from predatory ones. Predatory journals exploit researchers by promising quick publication without rigorous peer review, often resulting in the dissemination of poor-quality research. Fees can be hidden in the small print resulting in surprise invoices and threatening emails when the author’s institution refuses to pay up.

    Although there sometimes appears to be grey area between legitimate and predatory journals 2019, a panel including publishers, librarians, researchers, and others were able to word a definition:

    Predatory journals and publishers are entities that prioritise self-interest at the expense of scholarship and are characterised by false or misleading information, deviation from best editorial and publication practices, a lack of transparency, or the use of aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation practices.
    (Grudniewicz, Agnes et al, ‘Predatory journals: no definition, no defence’, Nature 576, 210-212 (2019),

    But how does an early career researcher avoid falling into the trap of handing over their research outputs to such a nefarious publisher? Here are six questions to ask when considering whether to submit to a journal:

    1. What is the Journal's Reputation

    • Look carefully at the Journal’s Website: Is there clear information about the journal’s editorial board, peer review process, and indexing in reputable databases (e.g., PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science)?
    • Beware of Unsolicited Emails: Have you received an email inviting you to submit your work? Check out the journal thoroughly before proceeding. It is unusual for reputable journals to solicit articles, and only then for special issues covering specific topics.

    2. What is the Journal’s Peer Review Process?

    • Too Good to Be True?: Rapid acceptance without proper peer review is a red flag. Although it is be frustrating when journals sit on articles, it is a sign of a legitimate publisher that it takes time to evaluate submissions.
    • Check for Editorial Board Members: Verify that the journal’s editorial board consists of people you know to be experts in your field.

    3. How high is the Quality of Published Articles?

    • Read Other Articles: Browse through recent issues to assess the quality of research published. Are the articles well-written and scientifically sound. 
    • Look for citations in other journals: Are the journal’s articles elsewhere, especially in articles published by well-established journals. And beware of journals where the articles are cited mainly in other journals put out by the same publisher! 
    • Beware of Poor Grammar and Clumsy English: Predatory journals often publish badly written articles with grammatical errors.

    4. What is their Fee and Copyright Policy

    • Publication Fees: Legitimate journals may charge article processing charges, but they should be open and transparent about costs. Predatory journals may surprise you with hidden fees.
    • Copyright Transfer: Understand the journal’s copyright policies. Some predatory journals demand full copyright transfer which could prevent you from publishing similar research outputs elsewhere.

    5. Do they have a reputation, whether good or bad?

    • Consult Trusted Colleagues, Mentors and Supervisors: Ask colleagues and mentors about reputable journals in your field.
    • Use Whitelists: Consult resources like the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) to identify trustworthy journals.

    6. Do they promise fast-track submission to publication?

    • Quality Over Speed: Prioritize quality over rapid publication. A well-reviewed article in a reputable journal counts more than a rushed one in a predatory outlet.

    Navigating the scholarly publishing landscape demands caution and guidance. Asking these questions can help you safeguard your work and contribute to the integrity of research in your field. 

    Further Reading

    • Eva Amsen, ‘How to avoid being duped by predatory journals’ BMJ 2024;384:q452, https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.q452
    • Think. Check. Submit. helps researchers identify trusted journals and publishers for their research. Through a range of tools and practical resources, this international cross-sector initiative aims to educate researchers, promote integrity, and build trust in credible research and publications. https://thinkchecksubmit.org/

    • Posted 16th July 2024




    P-hacking and how to prevent it

    P-Hacking or data dredging is the practice of analyzing data until you find the results needed to back up your hypothesis. However, in many cases this practice is unintentional and researchers follow the P-hacking route without fully realizing they are doing it.

    The scientific method is built on formulating a hypothesis, designing the study, running the study, analyzing the data and then publishing the study (1). Through the strict adherence to these steps in a transparent and clear manner, what is published will provide evidence for the initial hypothesis or not. In most cases, the published results are positive and this is where the issue of P-hacking comes in. During the analysis stage, researchers can identify positive results when there isn’t any. As Munafo, et al. states, whilst scientists should be open to new and important insights they need to simultaneously avoid being led astray by the tendency to see structure in randomness (2).

    P-hacking can derive from apophenia, confirmation bias and hindsight bias. Apophenia is when people pick up patterns in random data, they are looking for a significant result and will keep looking until it is ‘discovered’. The inbuilt basis is amplified by the makeup of data analysis, there are a multitude of ways in analyzing the same data, making it more likely to identify false positives. Hypotheses may emerge that fit the data and are then reported without indication or recognition that you are hypothezing after the results (3)

    How then can we prevent P-hacking

    To avoid cognitive bias you can introduce a blinding element into the process, such as between the data analysis and key parts of the data. Improved statistical training and being able to replicate the result from the same sample size. Research reproducibility is key to ensuring that identifying a significant result can be reproduced with a clear and transparent methodology and study design. Preregistration was introduced to tackle publication bias, ensuring that papers are published regardless of the final outcome of the study, it can also be used against P-hacking by preventing the outcome being switched during data analysis, as the proposed study has already been registered and needs to be followed all the way through. There is a wider issue around research culture which sways towards competitiveness rather than collaboration. Researchers are under pressure to publish papers and with most journals, publication is tied to positive and not negative or null results. Until there is less push and pull to publish papers that confirm a novel hypothesis rather than through robust scientific method, then p-hacking will be difficult to avoid.


    • Bezak, et al. The Open Science Training Book. TIB, Hannover Germany (2018) https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1212496
    • Munafò, M., Nosek, B., Bishop, D. et al. A manifesto for reproducible science. Nat Hum Behav 1, 0021 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-016-0021
    • Kerr, N. L., HARKing: hypothesizing after the results are known. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Rev. 2, 196–217 (1998).

    • Posted 8th March 2024




    Launch of LSHTM Press

    Launched in September 2022, the new institutional publisher LSHTM Press will publish peer-reviewed research and high-quality educational resources, in accordance with the LSHTM mission to improve health and health equity in the UK and worldwide.

    As with other similar institutional publishing initiatives, LSHTM Press has developed to support open publishing where costs are transparent and kept to a minimum. This is in response to funder mandates for open access, and will be an alternative to commercial publishing venues where the costs charged to authors for open access have been escalating with little transparency. In addition, LSHTM Press aims to facilitate innovative and experimental publishing methods while striving towards equity in academic publishing in global health.

    LSHTM Press has launched with, and will continue to develop, a focus on equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), and is in alignment with central LSHTM vision and values. Two dedicated EDI leads sit on the LSHTM Press Steering Committee, and the whole team is committed to promoting inclusivity and reducing barriers.

    Professor of Epidemiology at LSHTM, Elizabeth Brickley, said: “The Press is committed to ensuring fair representation with respect to gender, race and ethnicity, and country of origin. Editorial boards will be expected to include experts from the countries and regions in which the research is primarily conducted, particularly where the research is undertaken in low and middle income countries. And applications from new journals will be expected to provide details of how they will ensure continued compliance with the EDI strategy, for example how they will approach peer-reviewer selection and their approach to authorship.”

    The LSHTM-affiliated journal Community Ear and Hearing Health is the first journal to join forces with LSHTM Press, with another soon to be announced.

    Posted 15th February 2024




    Community Ear and Hearing Health

    The first journal to be published by LSHTM Press, Community Ear and Hearing Health is an annual publication to promote ear and hearing health in low- and middle-income countries. It aims to facilitate continuing education for ear and hearing health workers at all levels of the health system, with a focus on those based in the community. A print version is distributed free of charge to almost 4,000 healthcare workers in 181 countries. Each issue has a theme and is made up of commissioned articles (or practice notes), focusing on practical impact in low resource settings with a lot of visual elements.

    CEHH has been in print since 2004 with a basic online presence. Since CEHH was integrated into LSHTM Press and has developed its new website, it can develop as both a print and an online publication, with the hope that the new online edition will reach even more health workers. The latest issue ‘Human resources: what happens after training?’ (Vol.19, Issue 23) was published in early 2023. By partnering with LSHTM Press and utilizing the tools available via its platform, there has been a noticeable increase in engagement with the online edition.

    Ear and hearing problems in low and middle-income countries are usually seen at primary level by personnel who may not be specialized in this field. CEHH offers practical advice, promotes ear and hearing health and facilitated continuing education for all levels of ear and hearing health worker, including those based in the community.

    Posted 15th February 2024




    UKRI Policy on long-form outputs

    From January 2024, the UKRI open access policy will apply to monographs, book chapters and edited collections.

    Making your long-form output open access means that the results of publicly funded research are available to everyone for free under conditions that enable them to be re-used and built upon.

    Researchers funded by any of the UK research councils under UKRI can apply for funding, via their institution, to publish their long-form output open access. Exemptions and limitations apply.

    In summary, the core requirements of the policy are:

    • your final Version of Record or Author’s Accepted Manuscript must be free to view and download via an online publication platform, publisher’s website, or institutional or subject repository within a maximum of 12 months of publication
    • images, illustrations, tables and other supporting content should be included in the open access version, where possible
    • the open access version of your publication must have a Creative Commons licence, with a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence preferred. An Open Government Licence is also permitted. (This requirement does not apply to third party materials included in your publication)

    These requirements and definitions of in-scope and exempt types of publication are further detailed in the UKRI open access policy.

    If you are funded by UKRI and seeking to publish your long-form output open access get in touch with us at LSHTMPress@lshtm.ac.uk.

    Posted 15th February 2024