Should I Publish in Parasitic Open Access Journals?


February 15, 2018 by Town Peterson

In academia, we are all under intense pressure to publish our work, and this pressure is increasingly quantified in terms of numbers of publications, numbers of indexed publications, numbers of citations and retweets, etc., etc., ad nauseam. What is more, journals are under increasing pressure to publish only the best papers, ones that will get cited and improve the journal’s impact factor and other metrics.

What is the result? Over and over, we all (yes, ALL of us!) get answers from editors like, … so I have decided to return this manuscript to you without review … you might consider a regional journal … although the reviewers’ comments could perhaps be taken into consideration, this manuscript does not really fit well with the scope of the journal … who reading this blog post hasn’t gotten one or two or ten of these responses?

An attractive alternative is these journals that write to academics inviting us to submit our work to them. Huh? I submit my manuscript to four journals and they send it back without even reviewing it, and this other journal–with a similar-sounding name–is wanting to publish whatever I send them? I don’t get it!

For the non-zoologists, the picture to the right is indeed a bloodsucking parasite, like the journals that are the subject of this essay!

Open Access Models and OA Parasites

Scholarly journals have become increasingly costly for universities to purchase–in effect, many of the commercially published journals have raised their subscription fees massively over the years, to the point that most library budgets cannot keep up. The challenge of finding alternative models for publishing scholarly communications (e.g., journal articles) has therefore centered on how to make it possible to open access (“OA”) globally to this body of work and knowledge. Different OA models have involved serving pre-publication copies on institutional digital repositories, paying publication costs up-front so that readers do not have to pay, or finding institutional subsidies such that no costs accrue to either readers or writers.

The debate about which among these OA funding models is best has been complex, and is outside the scope of this post, but some of that debate can be appreciated at this link. Suffice it to say that one model that has become quite popular is that of prepaying publication costs, such that no costs are involved with others reading the paper when it is published. These costs are called “article processing charges” (“APC”), which currently are averaging about $1800 in reputable fully-open (as opposed to hybrid OA articles) journals. APCs cover the combined costs of typesetting, publishing, distributing, and hosting the articles; although many in this area disagree with APCs as a general solution to the access challenge, APCs are nonetheless one of the major and established models for funding OA publishing.

The parasites enter the picture because digital objects like pdfs of a scholarly article can be slapped on a website and served (more or less) at a much lower cost. Maybe there are a few costs for a quick fixup of format, and then some minimal costs for supporting a website, but costs can be kept quite low, particularly if labor is outsourced to a developing nation where labor costs may be lower. This disparity leads to a business opportunity: find a reputable-sounding name for the “journal,” create a journal website, name an editorial board (more on this below), and start publishing. The editor-parasite can then charge, say $500, spend $50-200 on production and distribution, and make a very good profit.

The Parasite Game

A parasitic OA journal has a series of challenges. The first challenge is to choose a name, and there have been some impressively creative efforts in this realm. There are repeated themes among these names: “International Journal of” and “Open Journal of” are common, and many others sound just like another of the too-numerous journals that populate the academic journal universe: in my general field (natural sciences), such names include Journal of Phylogenetics & Evolutionary Biology, Agricultural Research & Technology, Journal of Marine Biology and Aquatic Research, and many others. These journals may try to sound established, or may imitate established journals (e.g., American Journal of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine, which is the parasite, and the established journal is the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene).

Second, the journal has to look reputable, and an important element in this game is that of constituting an editorial board. Ideally, a journal will have a committee of 5-50 established experts in a field, who can assure the scientific quality of the journal, help to guide the Editor in strategic decisions, and assist with rigorous peer review. So the parasites create such a committee by hook or by crook. Sometimes, they just put an academic’s name on their editorial board list without consulting… for instance, I searched Google on “editorial board” AND “townsend peterson”, and found that my name is listed on the board for the Egyptian Academic Journal of Biological Sciences, yet I have had no correspondence with this journal, to my knowledge, ever! Another common tactic is to invite established academics to join editorial boards simply by sending a CV… see an amusing pair of examples below:

I represent Whioce Publishing Pte. Ltd. Editorial Office from Singapore. We have come across your recent article “Niche-based projections of wetlands shifts with marine intrusion from sea level rise: an example analysis for North Carolina” published in Environmental Earth Sciences. We feel that the topic of the article is very interesting. Therefore, we are delighted to invite you to publish your work in our journal, entitled Gene Science and Engineering. We also hope that you can join our Editorial Board. Please reply to this email if you are interested to join the Editorial Board.

I represent EnPress Publisher Editorial Office from USA. We have come across your recent article “Niche-based projections of wetlands shifts with marine intrusion from sea level rise: an example analysis for North Carolina” published in Environmental Earth Sciences. We feel that the topic of the article is very interesting. Therefore, we are delighted to invite you to publish your work in our journal, entitled Sustainable Forestry. We also hope that you can join our Editorial Board. Please reply to this email if you are interested to join the Editorial Board.

Note that the text is almost identical, even though the emails supposedly come from two different published, and also that the paper that attracted the attention of two journals has nothing to do with the topics treated in either! As such, these journals accumulate editorial boards that are sadly populated by lists of individuals who (1) do not know that they are being listed, (2) did not know that they were supporting a parasitic journal, or (3) are in need of an editorial board listing and do not care about the quality of the journal.

Finally, the journal has to convince people to submit their work. Here, again, the tactics are slimy at best. Commonly, one is invited to send a manuscript for quick turnaround, or to finish off an issue. Here are some examples:

We have chosen selective scientist who have made their contributions to the scientific community. We have come across your research profile and would be glad to publish any of your ongoing work. Your support and collaboration helps the journal in reaching heights… It is my great honour & privilege to invite you to contribute a Research Article , Review Article, Case Report, Short Commentary, Mini Review, 1 or 2 pages of Editorial or a Letter to Editor for the upcoming issue of the journal by February, 2018. Else let us know your feasible time for submission.

Greetings from Annals of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine (APALM)… From January 2018, the publication frequency of APALM Journal has been upgraded to Monthly from the current Bi-Monthly. The period from acceptance to publication will also be reduced accordingly… Secondly, with the enrollment of many new reviewers with our Reviewers’ Panel, the article review process time is expected to reduce further without compromising with the quality of the review process… Further, for the authors in need of their articles published in even shorter time span, Fast Review Service is also available… So, now you can avail the opportunity to get your research published in very short time period, which will help you in updating your academic profile very quickly for promotion/ appointment or any other academic purpose.

Hope you had a spectacular Christmas! … After the Christmas vacation, we would like to have a refreshing start of the New Year, with a new edition of our Journal with your manuscript… We request you to submit your 2 page Opinion/Mini Review directly to below email id…

International Journal of Education and Human Developments (IJEHD) is a Bi-monthly online, peer-reviewed and open-access journal which is published by Center for Global Research Development (CGRD). Center for Global Research Development is an independent virtual Research Center has been working for creating and nurturing talents in USA and Bangladesh since its inception. CGRD delivering supports and services to education and research in all over the world.

International Journal of Education and Human Developments publishes original papers, review papers, conceptual framework, analytical and simulation models, case studies, empirical research, technical notes, and book reviews… The Journal Publishes in both print and online version. International Journal of Education and Human Developments publishes research paper in the field of: Art Education, Business Education, Computer Education, Education Information Technology, Educational Technique standard, Educational Psychology, Population Studies, Psychology, Public administration, Anthropology, Business studies, Communication studies, Corporate governance, Criminology, Cross-cultural Studies, Secondary Education, Special Education, Philosophy, Political Science, Demography, Development studies, Finance & Banking, History & Culture, Human Geography, Social Policy, Social Science, Teaching, Economics, Education, Industrial relations, English Literature, Linguistics, Library Science, Media Studies, Sociology, Social Welfare, History, Mass Communication, Ethics, Geography, Law, Education Research, Environmental Studies, Tourism and Hospitality, Women Studies, Foreign Language Teaching Research… Date of Publishing: IJEHD is inviting papers for Vol. 4 No. 1 which is scheduled to be published on January 30, 2018. Acceptance Notification: Within 7-10 days from the date of manuscript submission. Submission deadline: January 25, 2018.

We are pleased to inform you that we are in need of one article to accomplish upcoming issue on 20th of this month. Hence I have chosen some illustrious people like you to support us for launching this issue. So will you please help us by submitting at least 2 Page Opinion/Mini-Review for release this issue in time. So will you please help us by submitting at least 2 Page article… Your single article sustains us a lot and impacts my ranking in end of this month… I feel pleasurable to inaugurate up this issue with your contributions… Hope you will not disappoint me and comeback with your piece of writing.

Wow! First of all, most of these journals are focused in fields quite distant from my own, fields in which I have NO expertise or stature! Note the acceptance notification in one that is a week from the date of submission. APCs are either low or may be waived, as the journal is attempting to build an appearance of credibility, so that other people will be willing to pay APCs.

So the OA landscape is complex enough with the different funding models, as the scholarly community tries to figure out how to solve the access problem robustly. But these problems are magnified massively by the parasitic journals, which do everything possible to trick academics into sending their manuscripts there for publication.

Where To Publish?

Jeffrey Beall used to maintain a list of predatory OA journals. That list was very extensive, and clearly raised innumerable problems for various parasitic publishers. However, the list may have listed some publishers who were not genuinely parasitic in nature, and some of his criteria for listing were dubious. Certainly, the list was controversial, and threats and lawsuits apparently eventually forced him to desist from maintaining what could have been a valuable resource. An archived list is available here, but its value clearly will have diminished through time. This list, while it was maintained, was quite valuable in sorting through which journals were reputable and which were not. Now, another “blacklist” has emerged, provided by a commercial enterprise, and of course at a price; this list has both strengths and weaknesses (reviewed here, if you have Elsevier access, of course), such that the field is in some sense without a guide at the moment.

So without Beall’s list or subscription access to the newer blacklist, what can an academic do? First of all, one should question oneself … have I ever heard of this journal? If not, it may be because the journal does not actually exist (more on journal quality indicators is available here). One can also look at the list of papers that one is citing in one’s own manuscript, and choose a journal from that list. I am not an advocate of looking at impact factors as a guide to where to send a manuscript for publication, but citation is an important measure of a journal’s merit. If the community in a researcher’s field is not citing papers in a particular journal, then why should believe that the journal is credible for that field? If doubts remain, one can write to members of the editorial board who appear to be credible academics, to see what they have to say. Further reflection on this topic is available here.

In short, one must think carefully about the journals to which one sends one’s manuscripts. If an email or other offer looks too good to be true, without a doubt it is too good to be true!


5 thoughts on “Should I Publish in Parasitic Open Access Journals?

  1. Highly informative! Also the parasitic conferences invitations! They follow exactly all the same features remarked in this publication:

    We contacted you by email earlier, since we have not yet received any response from you regarding submission of abstract and your participation as a plenary speaker, we are taking the liberty of re-sending this mail as we are aware that you may be engaged in other activities or my E-mail may not have successfully reached you.
    Meet 200+ Speakers at: ….’

    Liked by 1 person

    • Town Peterson says:

      Very good point. I deliberately avoided the conference speaking invitations, but they are another dimension of the same problem. If one has a faltering and failing research program, and needs to show an invited talk in the course of a year, then the 1001 opportunities that arrive in everyone’s inbox are sometimes attractive. Of course, there is no science content, no peer review, etc. And I am not even sure that the meetings even take place in the end. It is so sad when some portions of science are eaten up by commercial interests (e.g., much of legitimate journal publishing), and now another portion is eaten up by parasites. ATP


  2. These journals lure by putting you on the editorial board provided you contribute a paper. I have too been enticed by Whioce and Enpress which in my opinion are the same organizations.


  3. kai says:

    Thanks for the sharing , one must think carefully about the journals to which one sends one’s manuscripts. If an email or other offer looks too good to be true, without a doubt it is too good to be true!


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The opinions here emerge from work done by OA advocates at our university in the Midwest. The opinions are those of the authors themselves and not necessarily of our home institution.


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