Outreach Leaders Article

Predatory publishers II: what happens if you respond?

The first rule regarding predatory publishers is: never respond to them in any way at all; the second rule is: delete all emails from predatory publishers. But what happens if you do respond?

Once you become aware of the predatory publishers it is tempting to respond either sarcastically, even abusively, or to ask them to desist—don’t. The problem is that such responses merely trigger responses from them. It is very likely that emails sent to predatory publishers are received by someone who does not speak English. The poor wording of the initial emails strongly suggests that these emails do not emanate from countries where English is the first language. It is also possible that many emails are sent, received by and replied to by non-human, automated ‘bots’. In any case, emails from predatory publishers are unstoppable. Some colleagues smugly report that they simply set up a spam filter to deal with them. The problem is, this does not work. The predatory publishers are clearly able to create emails that are ‘unspammable’ or they can change parameters in the emails that enable them to arrive in your inbox daily. It is no use scrolling to the foot of the email to the ‘unsubscribe’ link. Often, there isn’t one; if there is it is dead, or it asks you to enter an alternative email ‘for confirmation’. This just means that the predatory publisher now has two ways of pestering you.

Responding to them in any way simply leads to escalation; the predatory publisher assumes you are interested and subsequent emails thanking you for your interest and then increasing their apparent level of frustration with you: ‘we are waiting..’; ‘we are expecting…’; ‘we are holding production…’ and other efforts to make you feel guilty. I speak from experience; I’ve done these things in order that you don’t have to.

Equally, it is tempting to respond sarcastically to the predatory conferences who ‘invite’ you but offer nothing. Invitations to genuine conferences will come with a guarantee of travel and accommodation expenses. Again, resist the temptation to make enquiries about travel and accommodation expenses; the response invariably is that they cannot offer that but can offer a discount on the conference fee; a discount on a fee for a conference that does not exist.

Clearly, the message is don’t respond; but what happens if you are taken in and respond by sending a manuscript to a predatory publisher, a hijacked website or make your own arrangements to attend a predatory conference? In all these cases you will lose money and gain nothing. Most predatory publishers will publish your manuscript, but it will not have been reviewed, edited or produced in any way. However, it will be online in the public domain in a worthless journal. Whether or not you formally transferred copyright to the predatory journal—assuming you finally realise you have been ‘scammed’—no other reputable publisher will publish the manuscript and the predator will not remove it from the website. Their responsiveness to your earlier emails is now over. I indicated in Part 1 that the hijacked websites will not publish your article, but they will have your money and your credit card (or even bank account) details and may well make further withdrawals before you can stop them.

Predatory conferences can be a very expensive mistake. This is a scam to entice you to part with money for the conference fee. Otherwise—as they are always in exotic locations—you have to book a hotel and a flight. When you arrive at the conference venue all you will find are a few other baffled academics looking for a conference that is unknown to the venue; you may be able to have a few days holiday but you will have nothing to add to your CV.

For all the above, do not be impressed by the addresses they publish at the foot of their emails; these are equally fictitious. A common ‘location’ is Washington DC in the USA, presumably to give the organisation some gravitas. In the next instalment I will consider how to avoid the predatory publishers.

Declaration of interests

Roger Watson is Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Advanced Nursing, Editor of Nursing Open and an Editorial Board member of the WikiJournal of Medicine.

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