Informatics: Protect Yourself and the Nursing Profession from Predatory Journals

  • Heather Carter-Templeton, PhD, RN-BC
    Heather Carter-Templeton, PhD, RN-BC

    Heather Carter-Templeton, PhD, RN-BC, is an Associate Professor at The University of Alabama’s Capstone College of Nursing where she currently teaches nursing informatics courses at the graduate level. Dr. Carter-Templeton has published and presented nationally and internationally regarding her research interest areas, specifically addressing informatics, information literacy, and evidence-based practice. She is currently conducting research in the areas of information literacy and healthcare information technology. In addition to her faculty responsibilities, Dr. Carter-Templeton is involved in a number of professional organizations and serves as the Editor of the Alliance for Nursing Informatics (ANI) Connections section of CIN: Computers, Informatics, Nursing journal.

The publishers of predatory journals engage in unethical publishing practices, thereby endangering the scientific basis of the profession. Predatory publishers have minimal editorial board oversight, have limited, if any, peer-review of accepted articles, and promise a quick turn-around from the time the article is received until a decision is made to accept and publish the article. As a result of these practices, these journals produce a collection of lower-quality articles.

Professional disciplines communicate research findings and theories through the published scientific literature. Academics and consumers of journals assume that information published in a scientific or academic journal has been vetted and verified by others in the field (Leetaru, 2016). Information shared via these journals is often used as the foundation of evidence-based practice (Oermann, et al., 2008). Furthermore, research and evidence within specific disciplines are frequently documented through journals that publish scholarship within their field (Lewis, Templeton, & Luo, 2007). Therefore, as consumers of empirical evidence and scholarship, we rely on the content being disseminated via scientific publications.

The term 'predatory publishers' was coined in 2010 by librarian, Jeffery Beall. Though he explained that the term 'predatory' was used with caution, it remains the most common term used to describe publishers who practice with low scientific standards and unethical business practices (Ross-White, Godfrey, Sears, & Wilson, 2019). The purpose of this column is to share information describing how you might safely and effectively access and vet the scholarly works in nursing that you read, review, utilize or author.

The number of predatory publications is on the rise, and so are the warnings to scientists about these unprincipled publishers (Frandsen, 2017). Continued education related to identifying predatory publications is needed by nurses at all levels, as there is a general lack of awareness regarding predatory publishing among many in the field. Berger (2017) offers a detailed and descriptive list of characteristics of predatory journals in her work titled, “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Predatory Publishing But Were Afraid to Ask.” Berger shares information about the librarian’s role in educating users and readers about predatory publishing so that they may ultimately help others make informed decisions as to how they might use journals in their work.

Predatory publishers often solicit manuscripts via email invitations. Lewinski and Oermann (2018) examined 206 email solicitations from predatory journals and publishers sent to faculty and students over a 10-week period. They found common characteristics among the email solicitations, such as complimentary language, quickly approaching due dates, requests related to general topics, and unusual expressions. These emails are often sent in batches like spam to many professionals at the same time. Furthermore, predatory journal names may sound very similar to journals that are well-known to those in the field. However, some predatory publishers may not blatantly demonstrate these characteristics of predatory publishing, making it difficult for the recipient to recognize the danger.

The Internet has inspired a number of changes in scientific publishing. The most obvious change may be related to the form by which we may access scientific literature. Many publications are offered online, and some may be online only. Most quality journals in nursing, however, are subscription based or else charge a fee to access the articles. Open access (OA) journals, a trend first noted in the 1990s (Power, 2018), differ from this model. The content published in OA journals can be accessed freely since the cost of publication is generally paid or subsidized by the author (Gerberi, 2018). The main benefits of the OA model are that more people have access to the knowledge in the journals, and OA provides an opportunity to rapidly disseminate the findings. These are important benefits since many of the articles include new research results and other new knowledge. However, with the lack of precautions and defenses associated with predatory journals, such as expert peer reviewers and editorial boards, the work shared via predatory journals has the potential to undermine science – the very evidence we use and rely on in practice.

Unfortunately, articles published in predatory journals have a presence in even the most highly regarded databases, such as PubMed (Kwon, 2019). A 2017 study found that more than 200 predatory journals across multiple disciplines, including neuroscience, neurology, and rehabilitation, appeared in PubMed. Some of these articles describing studies funded by NIH were likely deposited by the authors in PubMed Central, thereby, creating an even more complex situation.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has issued guidelines (NIH, 2017) to help authors identify credible journals so as to help curb this problem. They specifically cite the Think, Check, Submit website (Think. Check. Submit, 2019) and a statement from the Federal Trade Commission (2016) regarding predatory publishers.

Other authoritative groups have also shared their thoughts and statements on the matter. The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) along with the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA), and the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME) collaborated to identify principles of transparency and best practice for scholarly publications. They have shared 16 principles of transparency on the COPE website (Committee on Publication Ethics, 2018).

Another authoritative group in nursing, the International Academy of Nursing Editors (INANE), has released a statement to help raise awareness and educate nursing editors about the potential threat to the discipline (INANE “Predatory Publishing Practices” Collaborative, 2014). INANE also offers an ongoing list of editorials that have been written on the topic of predatory journals. They maintain a listing of published editorials emphasizing the significant impact predatory journals may have on worldwide healthcare. INANE, in conjunction with the Nurse Author and Editor publication, also recommends that potential authors limit the journals where they are willing to publish to nursing journals that have been vetted and reviewed. A list of these journals can be found in the INANE Directory of Nursing Journals (INANE, 2019).

Again, even with warnings and guidance, predatory publications continue to thrive with the influence of their practices becoming more apparent. Most recently, Oermann et al., 2019, conducted a study to analyze the publication and dissemination patterns of predatory nursing journals. They found that work from these journals had been cited in 141 various nonpredatory nursing journals. Though this study did not examine how the works were used in the nonpredatory journals, it is evident that information found in articles from predatory journals is being disseminated, both directly and indirectly. Even given the discussions and warnings from many in the academic community, predatory publishing has the potential to undermine and discredit nursing science on a global scale.

According to the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Nursing (Association of Colleges & Research Libraries, 2013), it is imperative that nurses are able to identify the information they need, evaluate it, and use it ethically. In fact, these standards clearly state that the use of “information for the purpose of best practice is at the heart of nursing education and nursing practice” (para 3). Performance indicators citing the need for nurses to be aware of information sources and references are noted in all five of the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Nursing (Association of Colleges & Research Libraries, 2013). Therefore, nurses at all levels and in all roles including, but not limited to consumer, clinician, reviewer, and author roles, must demonstrate a high level of information literary. This includes inspecting the journals as a source and distributor of information, as well as reviewing citations provided by authors.

Clear guidelines should be followed by nurse information consumers, reviewers, and authors to avoid the use of, or publication in, a predatory journal. While some lists of predatory journals exist, such as subscription-based Cabell’s Black List (Cabell’s Scholarly Analytics, 2017), few may have access to these lists. In addition, predatory journals are often short lived, with new predatory journals appearing on a regular basis, therefore, making it impossible for any list to be comprehensive. Several nursing authors (Lewinski & Oermann, 2018; Power, 2018) have highlighted tips to assist in evaluating journals. I end this column with the following tips that have been compiled based on their suggestions and sage advice:

  1. Determine index status of the journal in bibliographic databases, such as MEDLINE, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), Scopus, etc.
  2. Determine who publishes the journal
  3. Do not use search engines to find a journal
  4. Critically review the website of the journal
  5. Review the Editor and Editorial Board
  6. Carefully read about the process used for peer review
  7. Examine previous issues of the journal looking for time for peer review and publication
  8. Ignore unsolicited emails from unknown sources
  9. Use resources, such as the INANE Directory of Nursing Journals or the Directory of Open Access Journals lists, to determine the legitimacy of the journal
  10. Always feel free to consult a librarian.

Acknowledgement: The author of this column would like to acknowledge Marilyn Oermann, PhD, RN, ANEF, FAAN, for her review and excellent suggestions in preparing this column.

Heather Carter-Templeton, PhD, RN-BC

Citation: Carter-Templeton, H., (December 12, 2019) "Informatics: Protect Yourself and the Nursing Profession from Predatory Journals" OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing Vol. 25, No. 1.