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There's a journal I read a paper in I wanted to respond to. The journal is open access, has no fee, and I have enough for a short paper (less than like 5 pages, there are no size limits). Writing this would take minimal time away from more important work. The journal is...not great. I don't think it's predatory (it's free to publish and is peer reviewed), though it might be.

I am a grad student. This response has nothing to do with my main research.

Would this come to hurt me later? Would people look down on me for having a short, goofy paper in a poor journal? What could they do that's dishonest? Even if they straight up steal what I write, I don't really care that much (though I would obviously not work with the journal again).

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    "Goofy" sounds a bit ominous, though. – Buffy Dec 24 '18 at 1:41
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    At least check whether the journal is on one of the white lists, like e.g. the "Directory of Open Access Journals", and/or check the journal before submitting, e.g. by following "Think Check Submit" or other check lists. – FuzzyLeapfrog Dec 24 '18 at 1:42
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It probably won't hurt, but this is the sort of thing you should discuss with your adviser. Since the journal doesn't have fees, it is unlikely that it is an outright predatory journal but that doesn't mean it is worth responding to. Is this in a field where responses are a normal thing? Other relevant questions: And what do the other papers in the journal look like? Are they absolutely awful or are they just mediocre? That should tell you something about how worthwhile it would be to respond.

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I think there may be two queries here and I will address both.

The first is about the negative impacts of publishing in an honest, but low quality journal. Some fields may look poorly on lower quality publications as indicating your are publishing lots of poor work to get around the 'publish or perish paradigm'. If the rest of what you publish is in well recognised, peer-reviewed journals and is substantive in content it is unlikely to make much impact. If you don't have much on your CV, or you make it a habit, it might be seen negatively. Check in with mentors about publishing norms in your field. Be careful of how much time even a short paper takes away from your main focus.

The second question is about the negative impacts of publishing in what may be a scam journal. I would be very careful about ready fine print or signing anything to them in terms of rights if you have any doubts about their legitimacy. They may not ask you for payment but later scam others having built the appearance of legitamcy of your (and others) articles. I would tread carefully and follow FuzzyLeapfrog's advice above.

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I would consider doing it. For instance I have blown off conference journals and the like (low impact factor) but I could have given them something and upped my pub count. As long as you are not taking it out of somewhere better.

Of course if you can get it into a decent journal that is better. I'm not sure your field, but in chemistry, the ACS subspecialty journals below JACS are "decent" (they have equivalents outside of ACS also).

I guess one consideration is why you are considering this journal. Is it from a conference or a special edition (i.e. you were approached)? If not, I would lean towards getting it into a subspecialty journal.

If you are honest and don't make broad claims and write clearly (follow directions to authors like a hawk), you'd be surprised how easy it is to get papers through subspecialty journals. They aren't expecting breakthroughs like Science or Nature. And they get a lot of papers with unreadable English or with wild unproven claims. If you take a simple honest clear approach, often they will let you slide right through and not contest the noteworthy aspect.

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