What are the best strategies for assessing if a journal is a "vanity" or "predatory" journal that should be avoided (both for publishing in and reviewing for)? For example, how would one go about determining if a journal/publisher belongs on Beall’s List of Predatory Open-Access Publishers?
First, you should probably publish in the same venues that you read and cite. Presumably those are reputable.
Now to describe low-quality vanity publishers. Two essential characteristics are:
The publication of very low quality material. This is usually immediately recognizable to any expert. Sometimes it's obvious to anyone; for example, read this abstract.
A business model in which the author (rather than the reader) pays the publisher. Of course, this by itself isn't necessarily indicative of a low-quality publisher (think PLoS). But low-quality publishers can't make money off of subscriptions, since they provide no content of value.
Additional common characteristics of such publishers are:
- Mass e-mails (spam) to academics, especially when the recipients include researchers in unrelated fields. These e-mails may request submission of conference presentations, papers, or book manuscripts, or may contain invitations to journal editorial boards.
- A high number of prominent typographical errors in text attributable to the publisher. For instance, at the beginning of this article "abstract" is mistakenly spelled "abstarct".
Their tool, Compass to Publish, "uses a criteria-based evaluation to quantify the degree of authenticity of open access journals requiring or hiding article processing charges."
Even if you don't use their plat-form, their set of criteria / tests can be extremely useful to guide your judgment.
What are the criteria?
Compass to Publish uses an evaluation method based on 26 criteria which take the form of questions. These criteria and questions are the result of the critical and analytical work of the team behind Compass to Publish, who have* *examined the practices of a significant number of predatory journals and publishers. This examination was then followed by a qualitative survey and selection of criteria developed by trusted lists and directories, as well as checklists for the identification of predatory journals, including:
- the "Transparency and best practice" checklist of the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and the basic criteria for inclusion in the DOAJ
- the list of criteria for the identification of predatory journals developed by Eriksson & Helgesson (2016)
- the v.1.1 criteria version for the identification of predatory journals developed by Cabells (a for-profit company)
Looking at the full range of these criteria, we only retained those that are:
- truly incriminating and easy to check to ensure user-friendliness;
- sufficiently relevant and clear;
- easy to use and check for users.
Some information regarding journal policies and procedures can be very hard and/or time-consuming to verify. We deliberately decided not to include this type of criteria in the evaluation process in an effort to ensure user-friendliness.
There is an established framework for researchers: Think. Check. Submit.
Note that an analysis of the numbers shows that The "problem" of predatory publishing remains a relatively small one and should not be allowed to defame open access. Researchers are generally smart enough to not fall in obvious traps; what's left is mostly problems with peer review which exist anywhere, but mostly in journals with scarce transparency.