Predatory Open Access Journals: Risks of Association

Gary Henscheid, Tokyo University of Science

Open access journals can be broadly defined as those freely available to readers online. While they are lauded by proponents for improving access to information, not all are completely open. Many offer access to some content while restricting access to other articles, and still others provide full online access after a certain time period. JALT publications, for example, are available to non-JALT members after six months.

Multiple studies indicate that open access research is significantly more likely to be cited than research published in non-open-access journals. There are two major open access models - those that charge authors to publish, and those funded under any of multiple other business models. Those charging authors are known as “gold open access”, and this article investigates the ethics of paying to publish. The primary concern is that objectivity in the peer-review process is compromised by profit motives. University of Colorado at Denver librarian Jeffrey Beall dubbed them “predatory journals,” and his account of them is discussed next.


Beall observed a proliferation of journals that charge authors fees to publish. He alleged a conflict of interest between paying to publish and peer review, and published lists of predatory journals and publishers from 2008 to 2017. Joelle Mornini (2017) provided a history of Beall’s lists and related, on-going endeavors on her blog, The Always Learning Librarian.

Predatory publishers, Beall charged, “consider money far more important than business ethics, research ethics, and publishing ethics, and that these three pillars of scholarly publishing are easily sacrificed for profit” (Beall, 2017, p. 275). Many language journals are included on the lists, and if true, Beall’s allegations raise serious ethical questions:

Since the advent of predatory publishing, there have been tens of thousands of researchers who have earned Masters and Ph.D. degrees, been awarded other credentials and certifications, received tenure and promotion, and gotten employment – that they otherwise would not have been able to achieve – all because of the easy article acceptance that the pay-to-publish journals offer. (Beall, 2017, p. 275)

With careers and reputations at stake, it was only natural that Beall noted a fervent defensiveness among many pay-to-publish authors, but even more troubling were the tactics that gold journal publishers would use to discredit him. Under pressure from his employer, Beall ceased publishing his lists in January 2017. Please see Beall’s (2017) article for details. A cache of his lists as they last appeared can be found on Catherine Voutier’s Exploring the Evidence Base blog (2017).

Despite being inadequate substitutes for thoughtful evaluation of research, blacklists and whitelists are widely used by universities. Beall predicted increased use of preprint servers such as [] in academic publishing, which he believes will result in “the elimination of author fees and all the corruption that goes along with them” (Beall, 2017). In the meantime, pay-to-publish journals are rapidly proliferating, and the next section discusses the magnitude of the problem globally.

A Monumental Problem

In order to assess the scale of the problem, Shyamlal Yadav (2018) summarized the work of an International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which provided an online venue “to share findings on 175,000 publications published by some of the most important predatory publishers.” Yadav also commented on the diversity of the journals, noting that they ranged “from Journal of Aging Research and European Journal of Medicinal Plants to Journal of Religious Studies, Buddhism and Living.”

Predators have heretofore operated largely unscathed, but in the article, “Denialism on the Rocks: It Just Got a Lot Harder to Pretend that Predatory Publishing Doesn’t Matter,” Rick Anderson explained the causes for action by the US Federal Trade Commission in 2017 against OMICS, an Indian publisher. In addition to making fraudulent promises of peer review in return for fees that were not disclosed, OMICS allegedly made false claims about its editorial board, and it would not allow authors to withdraw papers they had submitted (Anderson, 2018).

While the scope of the problem in language education in Japan is hard to fathom, the author knows of at least one university English instructor posting articles published in predatory publications on, and of another employed on a pay-to-publish editorial board. As Hirosaki Gakuin University Professor Edo Forsythe, editor of The Language Teacher’s Wired column, argued:

There may be good people who will maintain high standards while using author fees to provide a quality journal to the public for free. But for every one of them, there will be 10 more who take any paper without real standards and those who are rejected from the “good journal” will flock to the others because they need to publish quickly and don’t have the time or inclination to work to improve their writing ability enough to get into the “good journal.” (E. Forsythe, personal communication; June 20, 2018)

Brown and Cook (2013) asserted that the risks to one’s reputation of being associated with them were not worth taking. It therefore behooves scholars and writers not only to familiarize themselves with extant lists, but also with tools enabling independent assessments of various repositories and venues for publication. The next section offers a few suggestions for avoiding dubious publications.

Avoiding Shams

One resource for legitimizing open access journals is the Directory of Open Access Journals [], a comprehensive database that attempts to exclude predatory journals. The ICIJ will hopefully soon be releasing names of the thousands of predators that it has identified, but ThinkCheckSubmit [] provides helpful tips for avoiding predators as well.   

Perhaps more of the onus for screening predatory journals should fall on faculty members during application screening and in interviews. If an author’s work has truly undergone scrutinous peer review, then email, Google Docs, or other records of correspondence with reviewers could easily substantiate their authenticity.

Besides where to publish one’s work, authors also must decide which sources to cite in their research, and in light of the caveats issued by prominent researchers in Japan, avoiding predators seems prudent. Finding corroborating evidence is always a good idea, but it’s imperative if a source or its findings seem suspicious somehow.


Paying to publish is legal, but Beall and other investigators have questioned the ethics of publishers whose reviews are tainted by the influence of money, as many on Beall’s lists and others are strongly suspected to be. Though Beall discontinued publishing his lists, they are still considered authoritative by many, and those and other lists like them are readily available online.

JALT publications are widely recognized in Japan, and since neither they nor university journals accept payments to publish, these are probably two of the better options for authors here. Standards in university journals vary widely. Those for the elite universities may be relatively high, while other universities publish materials without any review at all. Nevertheless, subjecting one’s work to peer-review is prudent and well worth the extra effort.

Despite the risks and pitfalls, fresh perspectives must be welcomed, and writers cannot be discouraged by occasional setbacks. Hiring committees usually request copies of applicants’ papers, and job candidates are given opportunities to answer questions about their work and about their approaches to teaching in interviews. Provided authors have thoroughly explored their topics, and can defend the value of their ideas in language teaching, their knowledge, integrity and enthusiasm should shine through in interviews, as well.


Anderson, R. (2018). Denialism on the Rocks: It Just Got a Lot Harder to Pretend that Predatory Publishing Doesn’t Matter [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Beall, J. (2017). What I learned from predatory publishers. Biochemia Medica, 27(2), 273-278. doi: 10.11613/BM.2017.029

Brown, H., & Cook, M. (2013). Unscrupulous journal solicitations: What they are, what they do, and how you can protect yourself. The Language Teacher, 37(3) 48-49.

Mornini, J. (2017). Legacy of Beall’s list: Ongoing efforts to identify predatory journals [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Voutier, C. (2017, January 23). Beall’s List of Predatory Publishers [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Yadav, S. (2018, July 19). Inside India’s fake research paper shops: pay, publish, profit. The Indian Express. Retrieved from

Gary Henscheid is an adjunct English instructor at Tokyo University of Science and at Daito Bunka University. He holds a B.B.A. in financial management from St. Mary’s University of San Antonio, and an M.Ed. in counseling from the University of North Texas. Prior to moving to Japan in 2000, he worked in building material sales and banking.

Websites Mentioned ( is an e-print service of Cornell University for the fields of math, science, engineering, economics, and finance.

Directory of Open Access Journals ( is an independent, community-curated online directory that indexes and provides access free of charge to high quality, open access, peer-reviewed journals.

ThinkCheckSubmit ( is an international, cross-sector initiative that aims to educate researchers, promote integrity, and build trust in credible research and publications.