27

I'm confused about the existence of vanity journals. My impression is that they often charge significant sums of money yet provide no peer review, editing, etc.

If I want to claim I published something to stoke my ego, why wouldn't I just create my own "Journal of articles that were totally peer-reviewed" and "publish" there? In the days when things were published in print I can understand the difficulty in doing this yourself, but now surely creating a "Journal" is no harder than throwing up a quick website?

  • 23
    Are you asking why they exist (in which case "they make money" is an answer), or why people publish there? – Allure Jan 11 at 4:30
  • 6
    Doesn't the title of your question contain the answer already? – einpoklum Jan 11 at 21:27
  • 4
    Not sure editing the question to use the term 'predatory journals' is better though. 1) Considering vanity press and vanity publishing are established terms, it's not that weird to imagine people searching for the term 'vanity journal' so on SO it's typically believed to be a better idea to make this a duplicate of the same question with the right term, thus allowing people to use the wrong term to search and find this answer as well. 2) It invalidates the current answer. – David Mulder Jan 13 at 10:25
  • 6
    The edit of this question/title to say “predatory” instead of “vanity” doesn’t make any sense because it misconstrues how the OP was thinking and what the question really was. – Ryan Jan 13 at 13:43
  • 1
    I rolled back the edit because my confusion related to "vanity" journals. I understand why predatory journals exist, so I am not confused about that. – Xodarap Jan 13 at 17:38
8

As I pointed out in a comment this question can be answered from a lot of angles.

On one level predatory journals exist because there's a demand for them. Where there is demand, someone will supply it, especially since it's profitable.

One another level, people publish there for various reasons. Some people are genuine victims, but there's increasing evidence that others are publishing there in spite of knowing the publisher is predatory.

If your question is why publish there instead of set up your own predatory journal, it's easy to think of some reasons:

  • It's not as easy as you think to set up a predatory journal. Sure it's easier than setting up a real journal, but it's still not trivial. For example, how would you go about setting one up?
  • It's psychologically easier. You know you're doing something that's not quite right, but you're doing it anyway because there's an illusion that it is OK. In the same way many people are OK with downloading pirated papers off SciHub without checking their local laws even though they probably know they may be doing something illegal.
| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    The link says the opposite of what Allure claims. @ff524's upvoted and referenced answer says "There is some circumstantial evidence against the claim that most people who publish with predatory publishers are aware that they are not publishing with a regular scientific publisher." – Anonymous Physicist Jan 13 at 22:17
  • The statement "There is some circumstantial evidence ..." in ff524's answer isn't inconsistent with what I wrote. – Allure Jan 17 at 4:13
65

We do not call them "vanity journals." We call them "predatory journals." They make their money from people who do not understand how journals work. Their customers do not know that anybody can set up their own fake journal website. The person who is fooled by the predatory journal might be the author, or it might be the person responsible for evaluating the author's publication record. Ego stroking is not as relevant.

They continue to exist because they are profitable.

| improve this answer | |
  • 11
    There is also "vanity press" which in some ways overlaps with predatory journals and in some ways is distinct. – Bryan Krause Jan 11 at 3:08
  • 34
    I don't think this is quite right. Many people who submit to predatory journals understand the situation perfectly well. They are people doing not-very-good research who want to get tenure at the schools where they teach. These schools do not really have good research, but they pretend they do (or they aspire to), and they require it for tenure. – user1482 Jan 11 at 16:34
  • 3
    @Allure this may have been so in the past -7 to 10 years ago when the phenomenon was relatively new - but it is becoming increasingly hard to not know about this. The abstract of this paper : sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1751157718301962 clearly highlights “ the interviewed Turkish researchers submitted their articles to PFJs in pursuit of rapid academic promotion“ although there are other motivations. – ZeroTheHero Jan 12 at 0:54
  • 2
    @BenCrowell In that case, it is the school leadership that does not understand how journals work, rather than the author. It's essentially the same problem. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 12 at 2:11
  • 3
    @Allure Plenty of beginners and the occasional experienced faculty member have been fooled. Expertise in a discipline does not always lead to knowing things that are obvious to the rest of us. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 12 at 2:14
39

If you’ve ever submitted a manuscript that was eventually rejected, you can understand why people will resort to this kind of publication. Publishing novel stuff is hard, and not everybody can do it.

First there are the true crackpots who see the chance to finally tell the world about their pet theory. Friends have always told them they are really smart and so the only reason why regular journals do not publish their stuff is because of some conspiracy.

More common are those people for whom this is a means to an end. One is required to show a certain level of publishing activity to maintain a job or a salary level, and this is a way to maintain the appearance of productivity without skipping too many fishing weekends with your buddies.

Some do it to keep up with the Jones. Well after all I should have the same perks as my colleagues who manage to publish crap only because they know the editor, or their collaborators do all the work etc, but at least I publish my own ideas by myself...

Validation does not come from doing this yourself, it comes when your work is validated by other neutral third parties.

Of course there are also predatory conferences. Quoting from this Vancouver Sun article:

The debate over such publications often revolves around which academics are genuinely duped by the deceptive journals and conferences, and which academics take advantage of them to advance their careers.

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    Could be more often intentional than I realize, but I think the whole point of calling predatory journals predatory is that they intend to mislead the authors who pay to publish. – Bryan Krause Jan 11 at 3:25
  • 4
    Related to your paragraphs #3 and #4: the other part of the answer is "because often the bureaucrats count these as legit publications in bibliometric evaluations". If we got rid of the bean-counting culture of "you need X publications and Y citations, no matter where they come from", the market for predatory journals would greatly shrink. – Federico Poloni Jan 11 at 10:35
  • 3
    @benxyzzy if they victims, which certainly some are not. – ZeroTheHero Jan 11 at 16:20
  • 3
    I don't see these journals as being called predatory because they prey on the naive and ignorant, but because they prey on people's desire and need for professional advancement. If you're in a second or third world country and need to have X publications for continued employment and promotion, then you're willing to pay Y dollars for a publication. I'm pretty sure most of these authors understand full well that (i) that system is broken, and (ii) that they do not have the educational or monetary resources to be competitive with first world research/get published in high-quality journals. – Wolfgang Bangerth Jan 11 at 17:24
  • 3
    Re maintaining an appearance of productivity, the problem is the administrators who measure productivity by publication count. One can be an outstanding teacher without doing much in the way of publishable research, or one can work on one groundbreaking paper for years, yet be counted as less productive than those who produce dozens of not-very-interesting papers out of the same research. – jamesqf Jan 12 at 18:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.