Vice dean warns: Predatory journals can ruin your career and threaten research integrity

As a researcher, you are pressured to publish. But be careful. In recent years, thousands of dubious journals have popped up, ready to exploit the publish or perish culture with offers of quick publication – without critical peer review.

Photo: Jens Hartmann Schmidt, AU Foto

Researchers today face constant pressure to publish their work. To maintain their relevance, secure funding, and advance their careers.

In a world where success is largely measured by the number and quality of publications, especially younger researchers face a significant challenge when, after months and years of hard work, they need to get it published in a journal.

Here lies a rapidly increasing number of dubious journals in wait, ready to exploit the “publish or perish” culture in the academic environment.

“Predatory Journals” – is a global phenomenon and covers the now thousands of journals that offer quick and uncritical publishing in exchange for payment, often without any form of peer review or editorial control.

“Predatory journals – or rogue journals – are particularly successful at ensnaring researchers who have had their manuscript rejected by another journal and now just want to get it published quickly. It has developed into an entire industry around scientific publishing that contradicts the fundamental principles of quality and trustworthiness in academic work,” explains vice dean for research at Health Per Höllsberg.

What is a Predatory Journal

In 2019, a number of leading experts and influential publishers agreed on the following definition of Predatory Journals:

Entities that prioritize self-interest at the expense of academic quality and are characterized by false or misleading information, deviations from best editorial practices, lack of transparency, and/or the use of aggressive and arbitrary recruitment methods.

Can damage research careers

It's hard to say exactly how many predatory journals there are. However, according to Cabells, which helps researchers and institutions identify and avoid predatory journals, there were 16,000 of them in May 2022, with about 1,600 being added to the list each year, according to Cabells.

The consequences can be severe if a researcher succumbs to the temptation and falls into the trap, Per Höllsberg explains.

"It can directly harm a researcher's career if they publish in such journals, as it is not only seen as a sign of poor judgment but also casts doubt on the quality of the research, and the researcher risks ultimately isolating themselves from the scientific community, which values integrity and quality."

Multiple examples at AU

Inside Health has not been able to identify a researcher at Health who has published in one of these journals.

But according to the Royal Library, which assists researchers in the publication process, there are examples of both younger and established researchers at the university who have mistakenly published in a predatory journal and wish to retract the article – which has not always been possible.

According to Annette Balle Sørensen, a senior advisor at the Royal Library, it can be very difficult to distinguish between legitimate and dubious journals – not only for inexperienced researchers.

"Predatory journals often have websites that look very professional, and it can be difficult to see through them. In many cases, they mimic the names and websites of reputable journals, and sometimes they even use the same name as an authentic journal," she says.

Some researchers may deliberately publish in a predatory journal solely to boost their publication list, Annette Balle assesses.

And it's an expression of an unhealthy research culture that ultimately can weaken trust – not just in the individual researcher, but also the research institution.

"The previous culture within academic publishing has, to some extent, favored quantity over quality, creating fertile ground for predatory journals. Their business model is based on the desperation of researchers and perhaps in some cases naivety, and it poses a serious threat to academic integrity," says Per Höllsberg, adding:

"Although it may seem like an immediate success to get one's research published, many researchers later discover that it has little to no value in the scientific community if the research is not published in a recognized journal within their field. The importance of this cannot be overstated; it's here that the quality of one's work is recognized and valued."

How to avoid Predatory Journals

  • Do you or your colleagues have knowledge of the said journal?
  • Do you or your colleagues know any editors and/or researchers at the said journal?
  • Check the journal's website (even though in some cases it may be difficult to distinguish between "good" and "bad" journals.
  • Is the journal registered in databases such as PubMed, WoS, Scopus, DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals), etc.? REMEMBER: Never trust information about indexing and impact factor presented on the journal's own website.
  • Always be skeptical when you are requested via email to submit a manuscript without any form of obligation.

Information as a weapon

Upon his appointment, the vice dean promised to pay special attention to conditions, work environment, and career paths for younger researchers.

According to him, the university has a responsibility to equip them to navigate safely in the publishing landscape and to teach them to recognize and avoid predatory journals.

"As part of the academic world, it's our duty to protect researchers, especially the young and inexperienced, from the hidden dangers of these journals. The fight against predatory journals is not an individual task but a collective effort that requires enlightenment, guidance, and strong principles for academic publishing," says Per Höllsberg.

Publishing and predatory journals are already part of the curriculum in the PhD courses offered by the Royal Library three times a year.

And the library's staff is always available if a researcher has any doubts during the publication process, emphasizes Annette Balle Sørensen.

As v ice dean for research at Health, Per Höllsberg will do his part to promote a change in mentality and culture among researchers.

"The shift towards a more quality-oriented publishing culture is not only necessary to combat predatory journals but also to ensure the future relevance and reliability of research," he says.


Vice dean for reserach, Per Höllsberg
Health, Aarhus University
Phone: +45 51362353

Senior advisor Annette Balle Sørensen
AU Library, Health,  Aarhus University
Phone: +45 412659445