Open Access Predatory Journals: be careful!

This blog post is base on our comment published in Science of the Total Environment (Pourret et al., 2020).

The definitions of ‘predatory’, ‘deceptive’, or ‘questionable’ publishers/journals are often vague, opaque, and confusing, and can also include fully legitimate journals, such as those indexed by PubMed Central. In this sense, Grudniewicz et al. (2019) recently proposed a definition that needs to be shared:

Predatory journals and publishers are entities that prioritize self-interest at the expense of scholarship and are characterized by false or misleading information, deviation from best editorial and publication practices, a lack of transparency, and/or the use of aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation practices.”

Figure from Grudniewicz et al. (2019)

Moreover, Eve and Priego (2017) queried who is actually harmed by “predatory publishers”, and concluded that any harm is negligible to virtually all stakeholder groups, including researchers. However, they also noted that “established publishers have a strong motivation to hype claims of predation as damaging to the scholarly and scientific endeavour while noting that, in fact, systems of peer review are themselves already acknowledged as deeply flawed”. As researchers, it is our duty to remain critical and not fall for such misleading messaging, and focus on the real problems at hand.

Publishers have always been in the lucrative business of making money off of researchers, and the largest publishing houses are among the most profitable companies in the world, often at the expense of vast amounts of taxpayer funds. Predatory publishers are no worse in this regard than any other commercial publishing house, except that the scale of their threat is relatively minute. However, the problem of predatory publishers can be easily alleviated with a little knowledge and training. One simple rule for researchers is that if you do not recognise a journal, invoke some scholarly intellect and act sensibly and do not publish with them. There now exist a number of alternatives to the defamed “Beall’s List”, including Cabell’s Whitelist and Blacklist (commercial), as well as the DOAJ. Web of Science and Scopus also offer whitelists of a sort, and a tool dedicated to this specific problem, Think Check Submit, is freely available.

These tools and services will not stop the ‘pollution’ of the scholarly record. With or without OA journals and OAPJs, there has always been harmful research published in journals. One of the most harmful papers ever published, associating vaccines with autism, was published in the ‘top’ journal, Science, retracted finally 12 years after publication. and continues to create major global health problems to this day. There is absolutely no evidence to support the assertion that OAPJs lead to a decline in the public trust in science; and indeed, with more open research practices, public trust in science is actually on the rise. In terms of the ‘fight’ against questionable publishing, many organisations, groups, and individuals have already in part taken on this burden (e.g., COPE, DOAJ). At an institutional level in Denmark, France and many other countries, it is now commonly a requirement for students at different levels to pass a responsible research course of some sort, including ethical research conduct, plagiarism, and identification of predatory journals. We do not believe that judges are required to fix this problem, but that training, support, and education can help. If we want to almost completely solve the problem at its source, the solution is easy: require all journals to publish their review reports alongside articles, and thus prove that they operate a rigorous peer review procedure.


Eve, M.P., Priego, E., 2017. Who is actually harmed by predatory publishers? TripleC, 15(2): 755-770.

Grudniewicz, A., Moher, D., Cobey, K.D., Bryson, G.L., Cukier, S., Allen, K., Ardern, C., Balcom, L., Barros, T., Berger, M., Ciro, J.B., Cugusi, L., Donaldson, M.R., Egger, M., Graham, I.D., Hodgkinson, M., Khan, K.M., Mabizela, M., Manca, A., Milzow, K., Mouton, J., Muchenje, M., Olijhoek, T., Ommaya, A., Patwardhan, B., Poff, D., Proulx, L., Rodger, M., Severin, A., Strinzel, M., Sylos-Labini, M., Tamblyn, R., van Niekerk, M., Wicherts, J.M., Lalu, M.M., 2019. Predatory journals: no definition, no defence. Nature, 576(7786): 210-212. doi:10.1038/d41586-019-03759-y.

Pourret, O., Irawan, D.E., Tennant, J.P., Wien, C., Dorch, B.F., 2020. Comments on “Factors affecting global flow of scientific knowledge in environmental sciences” by Sonne et al. (2020). Science of The Total Environment: 136454.

Small overview on Open Access practices in geochemistry

Open Access (OA) describes the free, unrestricted access to and re-use of research articles. Recently, a new wave of interest, debate, and practice surrounding OA publishing has emerged. In this paper, we provide a simple overview of the trends in OA practice in the broad field of geochemistry. Characteristics of the approach such as whether or not an article processing charge (APC) exists, what embargo periods or restrictions on self-archiving’ policies are in place, and whether or not the sharing of preprints is permitted are described. The majority of journals have self-archiving policies that allow authors to share their peer reviewed work via green OA without charge (green SHERPA/RoMEO* colour, Figure 1). There is no clear relationship between journal impact and APC. The journals with the highest APC are typically those of the major commercial publishers, rather than the geochemistry community themselves.

Figure 1 SHERPA/RoMEO colours. Green indicates that preprints and postprints can be archived, blue that postprints can be archived, yellow that preprints can be archived, and white that archiving is not formally supported.

More than 40% of articles in 2018-2019 were published OA, and about 70% of that portion in fully OA journals. These had a mean APC of US$ 900, whereas the remaining were published in hybrid journals with a higher mean APC of more than $US 1,800. A moderate and positive correlation is found between the number of OA articles published in hybrids journals and their JIF, whereas there is a stronger positive relationship between the number of OA articles published in fully OA journals and the APC. For OA articles published in hybrid journals, it seems that the proportion of OA articles tends to increase in journals with higher JIF.

Figure 2 Evolution of the number of (a) ‘gold’ OA articles and (b) fully OA journals in geochemistry.

The rise in OA publishing (Figure 2) has potential impacts on the profiles of researchers and tends to devolve costs from organizations to individuals. Until the geochemistry community makes the decision to move away from journal-based evaluation criteria, it is likely that such high costs will continue to impose financial inequities upon research community. However, geochemists could more widely choose legal self-archiving as an equitable and sustainable way to disseminate their research.

This blog post is based on my two articles

Pourret, O.; Hursthouse, A.; Irawan, D. E.; Johannesson, K.; Liu, H.; Poujol, M.; Tartèse, R.; van Hullebusch, E. D.; Wiche, O., Open Access publishing practice in geochemistry: overview of current state and look to the future. Heliyon 2020, 6 (3), e03551. doi:10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e03551.

Pourret, O.; Irawan, D. E.; Tennant, J. P.; Hursthouse, A.; van Hullebusch, E. D., The growth of open access publishing in geochemistry. Results in Geochemistry 2020, 100001. doi:10.1016/j.ringeo.2020.100001.

*Since the publication of those articles, SHERPA/RoMEO colours are not used anymore.

On the interest of preprint – the story of my « Open Access practices in geochemistry » project

Last summer (2019), with a few colleagues, we have started working on open access (OA) practices in geochemistry. We have gathered a nice manuscript we wanted to be published in Geochemical Perspective Letters (GPL), why? Because, it is one of the only Diamond OA journal in geochemistry (with zero article processing charge)!

Early December 2019, we have shared our preprint on EarthArXiv.

We simultaneously submit it to GPL, one week later we have received

« The GPL Editorial Board has reviewed your submission and discussed whether it is appropriate to publish it in Geochemical Perspectives Letters. We very much value the work you have invested however I regret to inform you that the Editorial Board has decided that this article does not fall within the scope of GPL and that, at this point, we should not publish policy, review, position or editorial pieces, but only articles related to novel research in geochemistry. »

We then submit it to Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta and a few days later we have received quite the same answer from Editor in Chief

« Thank you for your submission to Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. After initial evaluation the Editorial Board has concluded that this paper is better suited for consideration by another journal, and is therefore being returned to you without external review. Please see below for additional comments. « 

We thus decided to submit it in a general journal Heliyon where we used to publish, it was published early March 2020 !

But the interest of preprint, is that our paper was read! And I received two simultaneously invitations to write a blog post for EAG and an opinion piece for Elements.

The blog post was published early January 2020 here.

The opinion piece was published in February 2020 issue of Elements (Triple Point section).

I was further contacted by the editorial board of Results in Geochemistry that wanted to publish our article. Unfortunately, we have to decline as it is already under consideration for another journal, but they invite us to write a short communication on that OA practices in geochemistry. What we did, here is the result of our just submitted paper on what we can learn on OA from articles published in geochemistry journals in 2018 and 2019: the growth of open access publishing in geochemistry . It has been accepted on May 14th. Final version is available here!

I was further invited to submit our paper to F1000 Research but also have to decline.

Eventually, thanks to that preprint I was invited to join the Editorial Board of Geochemical Journal and Results in Geochemistry!

I do not count contacts via email, twitter,… with suggestions for improvement.

And last but not least we published a letter on the use of preprint in geochemistry.

Not that bad!


Pourret, O., Global Flow of Scholarly Publishing And Open Access. Elements 2020, 16 (1), 6-7. doi:10.2138/gselements.16.1.6.

Pourret, O.; Hursthouse, A.; Irawan, D. E.; Johannesson, K.; Liu, H.; Poujol, M.; Tartèse, R.; van Hullebusch, E. D.; Wiche, O., Open Access publishing practice in geochemistry: overview of current state and look to the future. Heliyon 2020, 6 (3), e03551. doi:10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e03551.

Pourret, O.; Irawan, D. E.; Tennant, J. P., On the Potential of Preprints in Geochemistry: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Sustainability 2020, 12 (8), 3360. doi:10.3390/su12083360.

Pourret, O., Irawan, D.E., Tennant, J.P., Hursthouse, A., van Hullebusch, E.D., 2020. The growth of open access publishing in geochemistry. Results in Geochemistry: 100001. doi:10.1016/j.ringeo.2020.100001.