To the Editor:
We read the article by Baker and colleagues1 with immense interest. The subject of “predatory” open-access journals has received intense attention recently for, we believe, a good reason: increasing awareness about their detrimental effects to the scientific integrity of published medical literature. The next logical step is to provide guidance on how to avoid such an academic vortex of entropy, especially for junior researchers and student authors—arguably a most vulnerable group given their relative inexperience and the pressure they face to publish.2
Prior to embarking on research endeavors, students ought to receive education on the various publication models employed by legitimate journals, the existence of “pseudo-journals,” and the differences between the two. An aim would be to reinforce the message about the dangers (both academic and financial) of publishing in predatory journals, and that the ends (i.e., becoming a published author) certainly do not justify the means (i.e., publishing in these journals). We recommend incorporating these teachings into curricula on evidence-based medicine. Additionally, should a student pursue extracurricular research activities, medical and hospital libraries can be invaluable in providing guidance.
Once a research project is underway, ethics committees and institutional review boards could require the project’s results to only be distributed in legitimate and scientifically sound avenues. Increasingly, universities are employing memoranda of understanding for prospective research students and their supervisors to reinforce this concept in writing.
Supervisory staff and faculty should lend their support and scrutinizing eyes during the research process. This step is vital because hardly a week goes by without students and staff receiving an invitation email to present at an obscure conference or submit to a dubious journal.
Upon completion of the research project, senior staff could advise on suitable avenues for result publication. Although a novel but not foolproof method, the student could be tasked to search potentially relevant legitimate journals indexed by trusted databases (e.g., PubMed). The checklist provided by Baker and colleagues1 would be especially handy in helping students with this step.
Publishing in predatory journals not only adversely affects the student’s work but also has ramifications on the standing and reputation of coauthors and affiliated institutions and universities. What motivates students and junior researchers to publish in predatory journals ought to be explored. For now, however, we must equip them with the tools to recognize—and, hopefully, avoid—such untrustworthy avenues.
1. Baker EF, Iserson KV, Aswegan AL, Larkin GL, Derse AR, Kraus CK; American College of Emergency Physicians Ethics Committee. Open access medical journals: Promise, perils, and pitfalls. Acad Med. 2019;94:634–639.
2. Al-Busaidi IS, Alamri Y, Abu-Zaid A. The hidden agenda of predatory journals: A warning call for junior researchers and student authors. Med Teach. 2018;40:1306–1307.