Predatory publishing and peer research – why we need to prepare people

Dan Robotham

“On this occasion we are providing special waiver to eminent authors like you. Hope you will join us with your eminent work”

Yesterday, the US Federal Court handed out a £50 million fine to Omics, a so-called ‘predatory academic publishing’ company. I’ve been casually interested in the practices of Omics and similar organisations for a while. Most people who do research will be aware of the antics of these types of publishers, particularly if you have ever written for an academic journal and your work email address has therefore been added to some database somewhere. The types of spam/scam emails these companies send are amusing on one level – a Twitter group “Greetings For The Day!” (@GreetingsForDay) was recently set up to mock these types of practices.

“I had a look at your profile online, I am extremely amazed with your work and I feel you will be an ideal person who helps us for development of our Journal.”

Of course, there is a darker side to all this. These companies, with their invitations to publish in bogus journals or to present at bogus conferences, have real victims. I’m not going to talk too much about why this is a problem and what can happen if you get sucked in, which has already been described. But predatory academic publishing is annoying and has long needed addressing. Yesterday’s ruling goes some way to address this.

A little while ago, a person I have worked with received one of these emails and asked me how to respond. My advice was to ignore and delete it, or read it and find amusement in it. As an experienced researcher who has received thousands of these emails, I’ve developed an immunity to them. I share them with people if they’re amusing enough, and joke about their ridiculous wording and grandiose words like ‘eminence’, before hitting delete and not giving it a second thought.

Alarm bells

But what if you are less experienced? What if you are new to academic, scientific and peer-reviewed publishing and you’ve not received many of these things before? What if you’re not affiliated with an organisation and have instead made a personal email address available to the academic spam network? Emails from fraudulent princes asking you to transfer money into a random bank account are easy to spot, academic spam emails may not ring the same alarm bells unless you’ve seen something similar before – especially if it comes from a ‘publisher’. What do you do now?

At McPin, we often involve people in research who have never done research before and they are cited as authors on any resulting papers. Trust me, once you are an academic author, these organisations will track you down.

I think we’ve got a duty to warn the people we work with about these things, and give them the tools to deal with it. If we are serious about peer research then we shouldn’t forget to prepare people to deal with the idiosyncrasies of the research ecosystem, which (unfortunately) includes predators like Omics. Discussing academic spam would only take a couple of minutes and can be easily added onto any peer research course. This is why I’m writing this down rather than just making a mental note. Hopefully a few people will read and remember it – and it will prevent people from being confused and wasting their time (or worse, money) when they see these sorts of emails in future.

“This is a righteous reminder of your quiescent contribution of innovative article towards our Journal. We are excited to receive your article. Hence we request you to let us know your treasured response and an update on the feasible date of submission.”

For more information on how to spot and avoid academic spam, visit