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I received a review request from an open access journal, which is brand new. It has published about 10 articles so far. The articles seem to be of mediocre quality but do not seem to plagiarize other articles. The journal has all important sections and features in place (review/editorial process, ethics, editorial board, wave waiver policies, working DOIs and article metrics, etc.). However, the publisher of such journal is in Beall's list of predatory open access publishers. As it is the case of many publishers listed there, the publisher is unjustifiably included in the list. There are no posts (as far as I know) explaining why it ended there. Most of Beall's criteria for determining predatory open access publishers do not seem to apply in this case.

I cannot see the article text nor the author names before accepting the review request. However, by judging the name of the journal, the aims and scopes, and the abstract of the article, it seems that the review request per se is legit.

I looked at related questions, e.g., Should I accept review requests from dubious journals?, Is it a good idea to cite paper from publisher listed in Beall’s list, and How to identify predatory publishers/journals. The present question seems novel enough to me – it looks different from the one in the first link. Even though I am quite sure about what to do, I am asking this question with the hope that it (and the answers) will be beneficial for the visitors.

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    I'm always looking for reasons (however flimsy) to refuse to do extra work. I don't see why you are so eager to spend time helping out a journal that even you admit publishes mediocre work. – Andy Putman Mar 25 '15 at 15:12
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    @AndyPutman that is of course an appealing point of view :-) but it seems related more to the question should I review mediocre articles? My answer to that question would be yes because mediocre articles are still articles. They might come in handy for producing scientific knowledge in one way or another. Also IMHO, a fair review process is supposed to improve an article, hopefully to make it less mediocre. In this case, I cannot see the article text nor the author names, so I cannot evaluate the article upfront. I updated the question reflecting this. – dgraziotin Mar 25 '15 at 15:14
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    Why not email someone on the editorial board about your concerns, especially if it's a familiar name? – user32266 Mar 25 '15 at 16:44
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    You are not able to see the paper before agreeing to review it? This might be a case of different fields, but for me (in math) that would be a huge red flag. – Tobias Kildetoft Mar 25 '15 at 20:02
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    "Most of Beall's criteria for determining predatory open access publishers do not seem to apply in this case." I imagine that's the case for most of the publishers on his list. Obvious analogy: you don't have to break most of a country's laws to end up in jail. – David Richerby Mar 25 '15 at 22:39
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You need to ask yourself a few key questions:

  1. What is the purpose of your reviewing any article? If it is to be listed in the annual acknowledgement of reviewers for Big, Prestigious Journal X, then don't review this article. If it is to contribute to the scholarly process (and to pay-it-forward for the next article you submit somewhere) - then proceed.

  2. What is your impression of the journal/publisher? They can't be entirely/purely dishonest, since they have, in fact, sent the article for peer review. (The truly bad actors don't bother!)

Form your own opinion of their offering, and do consider that it can take longer to review a poor manuscript than a good one. Then, invest your time in what you value.

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    Welcome to the site! I like your answer. I hope you'll bring more :) – yo' Mar 25 '15 at 18:00
  • All answers are very valuable. I updated all of them, but I accept this one because to me it is the most simple yet balanced one. Welcome to the site, Marie! – dgraziotin Mar 29 '15 at 15:23
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If you are content that the journal is unfairly listed -- and I agree that seems to be the case, based on what you've said -- then I would say ignore Beall and decide whether to review as you would for any other journal. If it's in your wheelhouse and moderately interesting, and you have time, do it.

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    Also, if they send you a truly bad paper, then publish it against your recommendations, then you might decide that it is, after all, somewhat predatory, but gives itself a respectable appearance by having reviews... "assume good faith" first, but see what comes of it. – user3780968 Mar 25 '15 at 21:56
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Your question presupposes an answer by specifying that the publisher is "unjustifiably" included in Beall's list. If you are convinced that the inclusion is unjustifiable, then why should you care what Beall says? And in any case, you are free to review for whichever journals you'd like, regardless of their status. You are in charge of your reviewing activities, and all Beall can do is offer advice and guidance.

If you end up reviewing for a problematic journal, then it damages the community a little by supporting/endorsing that journal. On the other hand, it also helps the authors and readers, and it's up to you to balance these factors in any given case. And if you review for a journal that is unfairly considered problematic, then your impact is good on both counts.

It's worth keeping in mind that there are many ways a publisher can be problematic that may not be immediately apparent from their web pages. For example, have they arranged for permanent archiving of their papers, even if they go out of business? Do they send spam to try to recruit authors? Have all the listed members of the editorial board actually agreed to join the board? Can you detect worrisome patterns over several journals? (For example, if a publisher promises a three-week review period for a math journal, then I'd question their competence and I wouldn't trust other journals they run, even in areas where that time frame might make sense.) Evaluating a new publisher is not easy, and certainly Beall can make mistakes, but it's also easy to make mistakes in the opposite direction.

Your question comes across a little like a request for people to say "Yes, Beall is often wrong, and we should be reviewing more papers for journals he considers questionable." I wouldn't go so far as to say that, and I'm generally suspicious of the publishers on Beall's list. But I'm sure he is sometimes wrong, and everyone should use their own judgment.

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You can find many examples of bad research in "good" journals, and good research in "bad" journals. As a reviewer, you are ultimately providing commentary on the science that has been submitted for peer-review. I don't think there is anything wrong with reviewing for any given journal, unless you have good evidence that the journal itself does not have a commitment to upholding the standards of the peer-review process. In my opinion, you can learn many things by reviewing for journals -- but, every review you do has opportunity costs.

So, I would not be overly concerned about journal rankings. It is better to focus on reviewing articles that fit within your domain of expertise and you have the time and motivation to do a proper review. And, the standards for a proper review should be the same, irrespective of whether the journal has an ISI impact factor or is on Beall's list. The most important thing is giving the researcher(s) a fair and honest review.

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