The Toilet Paper

Why some researchers publish in predatory journals

Although predatory journals may sound scary, they are actually quite friendly (and after your money).

A very dangerous shark wearing a Baby Shark mask
Paper Shark, doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo

As someone who works outside academia, I am not in a particular hurry to write about and publish the things that I do. However, if I were a researcher at a university, I would feel pressure to publish my work in journals and at conferences. Firstly, research only really becomes valuable when it is made known to the world and used by others. Secondly, it’s very likely that I would be judged by my publications – or the lack thereof.

But you can’t just publish your work anywhere. For instance, publishing a paper in Chuniversiteit’s Toilet Paper section is . If you want the world to find and appreciate your work, you’ll have to publish your paper in a reputable scientific journal.

Proper scientific journals are a type of magazine that ensures the studies published within them are original, trustworthy, and accurate. This is done through a combination of editorial and peer review processes, which weed out unsuitable submissions and, in some fields, can take up to multiple years.

Predatory or fake journals, on the other hand, have little regard for scientific concerns and will publish virtually any study to make a profit. They promise fast and lenient review processes, often allowing submitted papers to be published in just a few days.

Even though resources exist that can tell you if a journal is legitimate (like Beall’s list), there still appear to be many researchers who manage to get scammed by these fake journals.

This week’s featured paper (from 2018) looks at who these researchers are, and as it turns out, they may not always be victims after all…

Fake journals


All of the 832 fake journals in Beall’s list were examined to determine the country of the journal itself, the editor of the journal, and the countries of authors who had published a paper in a fake journal in the previous year.

No address was listed for 97 journals. The remaining 735 journals are located in about 55 countries, but it’s not entirely clear what those countries are. For example, WHOIS records suggest that 38 journals that claim to have been founded in India are actually located in the United States, while 8 journals purportedly based in the US are run from India. About 16% of journals appear to be lying about their location.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that most fake journals are located in India (456), followed by the United States (93), Turkey (29), and the United Kingdom (17). According to the data, 19.2% of fake journals are located in developed countries, while 18.8% are in developing countries. The remainder are located in India.

In total, 24,840 papers were published in these fake journals in 2017, by researchers from 146 countries. Most are from developing countries (84.15%). Overall, India, Nigeria, and Turkey have the highest number of publications. Among developed countries, the United States, the United Kingdom, and South Korea have published the most in fake journals.

Meanwhile, most editors of fake journals can be found in India (57.9%), followed by the United States and Turkey.

Fake it till you make it


To learn why researchers publish in fake journals, interviews were conducted with 16 Turkish researchers who had published in a fake journal. It appears that researchers have a few major reasons for doing so.

The first reason is that some countries require that PhD candidates and researchers publish at least one paper. The quality of the paper isn’t important, as long as the journal in which it is published is indexed in well-known international indices like SSCI, SCI, AHCI, Scopus, or PubMed. This is of course the case for legitimate journals, but . Researchers who fail to publish in legitimate journals therefore tend to submit their manuscripts to these fake journals simply to fulfill graduation or promotion requirements.

In some cases the benefits of publishing in a fake journal are even more direct. For example, in Turkey researchers who work at state universities are paid extra money for each publication in an international journal, regardless of its legitimacy. The extra money earned from publications is more than enough to offset the costs of publication (you must lose a fly to catch a trout).

Fear of job loss and (time) pressure to finish a project for which block funding was received are also commonly mentioned as reasons to publish in fake journals (publish or perish). Some of the interviewees do not see this as problematic, putting forward arguments like Everybody does so and What is wrong with that?.

Other reasons for publishing in fake journals include a “learned helplessness” when manuscripts are rejected by legitimate journals. Some researchers choose to publish their paper in a fake journal to avoid wasted efforts. In a few cases, interviewees erroneously believed that a rejection by a legitimate journal means that no other legitimate journal would consider accepting the paper.

Competition among colleagues also plays a major role; researchers have a desire to rank higher than their peers. As one interviewee puts it: The more goals you score, the more you are respected. It does not matter how you play.

Finally, in some cases researchers simply publish in fake journals due a lack of awareness: they have been deceived into thinking that a journal is legitimate and only realise that it’s actually fake during the extraordinarily short review process.


  1. Researchers deliberately publish in fake journals when they are incentivised to do so

  2. Researchers deliberately publish in fake journals when doing so has been normalised among their peers

  3. Researchers mistakenly publish in fake journals due to lack of awareness