There are a lot of questions here on what predatory journals are, and how to tell if a journal is one or not.

Are there known cases where a journal has "switched" camps, or where substantial evidence has been presented that they have? That is, has it ever occurred where:

  • A journal developed a strong reputation for being predatory, recognized this, and engaged in a good-faith process of reform, eventually gaining at least a non-trivial amount of scientific credibility or impact?
  • A journal with no history of predatory behavior suddenly started showing signs of becoming a predatory journal? For example, a publisher may have fallen on hard times, or been scooped by wealthier journals, and decided to lower their standards to such a level as to become predatory in order to survive.

For example, if someone has claimed, "The Podunk University Journal of Advanced Best Practices in Intermediate Spline Reticulation used to be a low-impact but serious journal, but after Podunk U was rocked by a cheating scandal in 2003 and there was a gradual movement away from Spline Reticulation toward Spline Retransmogrification from about 2005 to 2010 with a corresponding drop in the number of serious papers on Spline Reticulation being submitted, they started becoming a 'pay for play' publication and nowadays mostly publish incomprehensible screed written by rich patrons who want to increase their publication count.", that would count.

As the definition of a "predatory" journal is somewhat vague and based on professional judgments rather than 100% objective criteria, I would consider any of the following to "count" as a determination that a journal is or is not "predatory":

  • The journal's practices or policies are so blatantly predatory or non-predatory that a conclusion is self-evident.
  • A large-scale consensus exists on a journal's nature, even though there may be a minority that has raised a legitimate case for the opposite conclusion.
  • A substantial, notable professional opinion has been released concluding that a journal is/was or is/was not predatory at a specific time. Inclusion on Beall's list would count as a professional opinion that the journal was predatory at the time it was added.
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    Very cool question. I am looking forward to the answers. Journals have lost quality, but turning to the dark side entirely would be really interesting... – Captain Emacs Feb 11 '19 at 19:59
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    @CaptainEmacs right, I'm talking about a light side/dark side-type switch. Simply gaining prestige over time through hard work or losing it gradually due to laziness is just life. – Robert Columbia Feb 11 '19 at 20:09
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    Hindawi's journals were on the Beall's List too, if I remember correctly. Since then they upgraded and while are not high-class, as far as I know they are not considered predatory. – user68958 Feb 11 '19 at 20:13
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    Hindawi has shoddy practices. Example: the text sent by my colleague for a call for special issue was plagiarised by Hindawi's staff for a different special issue. – Prof. Santa Claus Feb 11 '19 at 20:20
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    Upvote just for the Spline Reticulation joke... and it's an interesting question. – Melanie Feb 12 '19 at 3:23

This question isn't really answerable because what's predatory and what isn't predatory isn't well-defined.

If you define "predatory" as being on Beall's list, then the answer is yes: MDPI was on Beall's list in 2014, and then removed in 2015 (there are a few other publishers that bounced back and forth on the list too, e.g. Hindawi). However if you believe that MDPI was not predatory to start with, or if you believe that MDPI is still predatory, then saying this publisher has switched from being predatory to reputable makes no sense.

The same goes for the other bullet point you mentioned (of a reputable journal becoming disreputable). In 2016, OMICS - a publisher generally held to be disreputable - acquired two Canadian publishers Andrew John Publishing and Pulsus Group, as well as their journals. You can see from the Wikipedia page that this "led to a decline in publishing standards". However if you read the quoted source, the objection is:

Rose Simpson, the former managing editor of the Canadian Journal of General Internal Medicine, said that after the OMICS deal was announced in January, she went on the company’s website and immediately noticed red flags as she started browsing through the journals.

“There were all kinds of typos, the grammar was wrong,” she said in an interview from Ottawa. “In medical journals, everything has to be accurate -- every comma, every word -- so that was my first suspicion.”

In other words, the decline in publishing standards is based on poor copyediting. Does poor copyediting make these OMICS-acquired journals predatory, given that poor copyediting can happen even in reputable journals? You'll have to come to your own conclusion. Rose Simpson clearly thinks so, but not every reasonable person will agree with her.

Edit: to further illustrate how much of a grey area there is in what's predatory and what isn't, consider a journal that doesn't perform peer review. Say this in a vacuum and most people will immediately assume the journal is predatory. If this is your definition, then there has indeed been a predatory journal that "reformed" and started implementing peer review: Medical Hypotheses.

The problem is, as you can see from the "Peer review debate" section of the Wikipedia article, this journal was started by a reputable academic (David Horrobin) and published by a reputable publisher (Elsevier). David Horrobin's stated reason for starting the journal is that peer reviewers tend to dislike ideas outside the scientific mainstream, which makes it hard to publish new ideas. His solution was to not perform peer review, and to worry less about whether the paper is true but whether the paper is interesting. Ironically, when put this way, there are people who agree with this sentiment too.

The upshot of this policy is that in 2009, Medical Hypotheses published two papers arguing that there's no proof that HIV causes AIDS. There was a backlash, the media got involved, Elsevier investigated and subsequently demanded the journal implement some level of peer review. The then editor-in-chief Bruce Charlton refused and was subsequently sacked. A couple of years later, 198 academics published an article in another journal defending Bruce Charlton and Medical Hypotheses' original peer review model.

Is Medical Hypotheses predatory? It didn't perform peer review and published pseudoscientific papers! Is Elsevier predatory? It fired an editor that didn't do what it wanted! Again, you'll have to come to your own conclusions. There's no clear answer.

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    “This question isn't really answerable because what's predatory and what isn't predatory isn't well-defined.” — sure, the difference is a spectrum not a hard boundary, and is in many instances debatable. But at any given time, plenty of journals are either clearly legitimate or clearly predatory, so it’s easy to imagine what a clear-cut answer to this question could look like, and the two other current answers (FuzzyLeapfrog and iayork) both come pretty close. – PLL Feb 11 '19 at 22:37
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    I agree with basically everything in your comment, especially the problems with Beall’s list. But I don’t think that contradicts that there could be a clear-cut answer (a journal going from “most academics feel its practices are predatory” to “most/all academics agree it’s legitimate”). Reading up further on the Frontiers situation, though, I agree it’s a bad example. – PLL Feb 12 '19 at 14:39
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    "Rose Simpson clearly thinks so" The passage you present says, in their words, that they were "red flags", and then quotes Rose Simpson as saying that they were her "first suspicion". That suggests that this prompted her to look into it more and find more evidence. Your passage does not at all support the conclusion that Rose Simpson find typos by themselves to be conclusive proof of a journal being predatory. – Acccumulation Feb 12 '19 at 15:35
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    @Acccumulation right, but if the source says Rose Simpson found more evidence, it didn't go into details on what that evidence is. The only other detail mentioned is that OMICS moved the publishing operations to India, but that's quite reasonable since India's labour costs are cheaper than Canada's. By argumentum ex silentio I'd guess that she didn't find anything particularly clear-cut. At most, it's guilt by association because of the FTC suit. – Allure Feb 13 '19 at 0:25
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    @ASimpleAlgorithm no, but the question of whether only author-pays journals can be predatory is a controversial one too. See e.g. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Allure Apr 27 '19 at 22:13

The Publisher Frontiers was - and, since there is no further development, still is - listed on Beall's List. Starting from scratch and with problems and therefore seen as predatory in the beginning by some researchers, Frontiers is now a reputable publisher with their journals listed in Scopus, Web of Science and the Journal Citation Report. The whole story is even included in Frontiers' Wikipedia article.

Regarding the question of what is a predatory publisher/journal and what is not, there is no clear answer or dividing line. There is a recent publication (still preprint) trying to gain further insight by analyzing the publishers/journals on black and white lists and comparing their characteristics.

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    🤣🤣🤣 That's what you get by fighting Beall's list: it's now "final" and there's no way to get one's name off. That said, the misadventures of Frontiers are far from over. – darij grinberg Feb 11 '19 at 23:00
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    @darijgrinberg Unfortunately, the term predatory is limited to open access publishers or those who claim to be one. Looking at the practices of "traditional" publishers, like Elsevier or OUP, that ask for color charges (like 500 USD for one color figure ... in the 21st century where most people only use/have the electronic version of a journal) and letting authors pay for cover images and for re-use of figures and ... and making up to 37% profit be reselling our own reseaech back to us ... this limitation is kind of ... let's say ... unsatisfying. – FuzzyLeapfrog Feb 12 '19 at 4:37
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    Yep -- the list was useful for picking open access publishers; picking an established subscription-based one is a much simpler problem (just look at where others in your subject are publishing). Researchers have been faulting Frontiers for firing editors who didn't accept enough manuscripts; I haven't heard about this issue ever getting resolved, so the extent to which Frontiers is considered reputable is questionable. – darij grinberg Feb 12 '19 at 4:40
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    @darij-grinberg Picking a publisher based on where others in your subject are publishing or which journals you typically cite applies to all publishers, not only to the traditional ones. – FuzzyLeapfrog Feb 12 '19 at 4:44
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    @PLL Frontiers makes questionable decisions and produces controversy as other "traditional" publishers do, e.g. the entire editorial board of Elsevier's Journal of Infometrics resigned recently due to Elsevier's commercial control of scholarly work. After all, Frontiers is still a publisher. Nevertheless, it seem to have a proper peer-review process (based on feedback from authors and reviewers I know) and a robust publishing/payment process, i.e. you get what you expect. But still, predatory is a not very well defined phrase, e.g. compared to OMICS most publishers seem non-predatory. – FuzzyLeapfrog Feb 12 '19 at 16:25

This is an example of either a predatory journal taking over a legitimate one, or of a predatory journal trying to become legitimate, in 2016:

OMICS International, a “predatory” publisher of fake and low-quality research, has bought another Canadian science publisher — its third this year.

OMICS has acquired Intellectual Consortium of Drug Discovery & Technology Development Incorporation, of Saskatoon. Jeffrey Beall of the University of Colorado, who investigates the shadowy world of fake science publishing, discovered OMICS has expanded the group from three to 10 journal titles, all of them operating only online.

--Predatory publisher expands control of Canadian science journals

At least one person believed that the purchase of his journals was an attempt to go straight for OMICS:

One of the world’s most well-known “predatory” publishers has bought two commercial Canadian publishers of about 16 medical specialty journals ... When Robert Kalina decided to retire after running Pulsus since 1984, he said he searched for potential buyers, but could find “no other takers” for the remaining journals. ... He stated that he believed OMICS bought Pulsus in order to “start anew” as a legitimate publisher.

--Alleged predatory publisher buys medical journals

However, OMICS continues its predatory practices in general since buying these journals, and the expansion from three to ten journals is very suspicious. Several of the journals that were bought have terminated or attempted to terminate their relationship with OMICS. For that reason, among others, I can't really tell if the new ownership has been outright predatory, if the journals are still above board, or if they're somewhere in between.

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    So is this an instance of a predatory publisher raising its content standards and going legitimate, or respected journals getting taken over and becoming predatory, or are they meeting somewhere in the middle (shoddy scientific practices but not outright misconduct)? – PLL Feb 11 '19 at 22:39
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    You know, I assumed it was the former (journals becoming predatory) and I am still morally sure of it, but now you ask I suppose it's possible that OMICS is trying to become legit. I'll edit the answer to clarify. – iayork Feb 12 '19 at 19:48

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