Ethical Publishing

Unethical Publishing Practices

Unethical publishing practices come in many forms. Examples include:

  • Falsely claiming to provide peer review and meaningful editorial oversight of submissions
  • Lying about affiliations with prestigious scholarly/scientific organizations
  • Claiming affiliation with a non-existent organization
  • Naming reputable scholars to editorial boards without their permission (and refusing to remove them)
  • Falsely claiming to have a high Journal Impact Factor
  • Hiding information about Article Processing Charges (APCs) until after the author has completed submission
  • Falsely claiming to be included in prestigious indexes
  • Short timeframes for publication

Journals and publishers which undertake these practices are typically labeled "predatory". It is common for these companies to approach authors via email, offering to publish their work in return for money. Predatory publishing has grown exponentially in the last 10 years.

Soaring crisis: Predatory publishing - Enago Academy

How to Check

You can check if a journal has been identified as engaging in unethical practices by looking it up in the Cabells database. If it appears on the Cabells "predatory reports", there will be details of its violations.


New journals are being classified as predatory on a very regular basis, and Cabells provide a list of journals that are currently under review for inclusion in the predatory reports. In addition, legitimate journals are occasionally mistakenly classified as predatory. It is important to scrutinize journals carefully whether or not they are classified as predatory. There are a large number of journals which are low quality but not, by definition, predatory.

Vanity Publishing

Vanity publishing, not to be confused with self-publishing, is a term used to describe a range of borderline practices aimed at getting authors to pay to have their existing works published as books at their own expense.

Some vanity publishers target PhD students, offering to print their theses as a book. Often the thesis is reproduced with minimal oversight (e.g. without peer review or proof-reading processes) or simply printed on demand as-is. Because theses are usually available online through an institutional repository, there is seldom any demand. Some vanity publishers have been known to pressure authors into purchasing copies themselves.

Vanity publishing can be distinguished from self-publishing in that copyright is retained by the author in self-publication, but transferred to the publisher in a vanity publishing arrangement. Giving away copyright to your thesis will seriously inhibit your ability to further publish your research.

Red Flags

  • Emailed invitations to submit, often poorly written
  • Excessive use of flattery
  • Misleading geographic information
  • Insufficient contact information
  • Unclear author fee structures
  • Lack of "instructions for authors" information
  • Poor quality material in existing issues
  • No ISSN
  • Poor or non-existent review or editorial processes
  • Unrealistic time frames to publication

Your Academic Liaison Librarian can help you to evaluate publication channels and identify potential predatory publishers.

See also:

Committee on Publication Ethics: COPE

Think, Check, Submit

Retraction Watch

Need help? Contact the Open Research Team at [email protected].