Beware of scientific scams! Tips to avoid predatory publishing in biological journals

Predatory publishing has been growing exponentially, with severe consequences for society and the environment.

Guest blog post by Cássio Cardoso Pereira, Gabriela França Fernandes, and Walisson Kenedy Siqueira

We are bombarded day and night with slot-machine invitations from journals, books, and events such as congresses and lectures. Predatory publishing has reached alarming levels in biology, which is why we published an editorial in the journal Neotropical Biology and Conservation to alert the community, show the modus operandi of these publishers, and pass on good practices so that researchers, especially beginners, can escape this trap.

Piggybacking on the open access movement, numerous predatory publishers have emerged in search of easy profits. These cybercriminals take advantage of the publish-or-perish culture without providing any information about their peer-review protocols, concerned not with the scientific, bibliographic, or ethical aspects of publishing, but with the money received from authors.

The number of predatory publishers has grown exponentially in recent years and spread across all areas of knowledge, including biology. It is a common practice of these journals, often with an equally fake editorial staff, to send electronic invitations to potential authors to publish articles. These invitations are often facilitated by initial screenings of the emails of corresponding authors available on the internet. The emailed invitations from the supposed editors often stress that the author’s work is sound and, since it has already gone through the scrutiny of the editorial board, requires only the payment of a fee to publish it, with no need for further peer review.

Invitations to join the editorial board of these journals are also frequent, mostly intended to take advantage of the scientists’ prestige. Instead of editing articles, these invited editors are used as poster boys, i.e., they have their names published on the journal’s website, thus attracting unsuspecting authors to submit their manuscripts.

These journals are generally not included in the directory of open access journals (DOAJ) and are not indexed in the main bibliometric databases, such as Google Scholar, SciELO, Scopus, and Web of Science, for the simple reason that they do not meet their inclusion criteria. The websites of these journals often have little information about the editorial board, have a fake International Standard Serial Number (ISSN), lack transparency regarding their scope, provide no indication of a policy of retraction, have no transparency regarding copyright transfer, and provide very vague contact information, often omitting the address of the journal’s office.

In addition to papers, there are also invitations to publish books and book chapters with fake International Standard Book Numbers and dubious editorial boards. There is also a flood of invitations to predatory meetings, such as online conferences, symposia, workshops, and lectures. These often have websites that are equally confusing and never linked to a university or a postgraduate program. Above all, one should consult advisors, supervisors, or senior colleagues about the invitation and the sender’s academic reputation. In any case, one must pay attention not only to the citation metrics but also, mainly, to their editorial board, ISSN, ISBN, contact information, and relationships with recognized institutions.

When we analyze the impacts of predatory publishing on the scientific community, the worst problems are:

  • the dissemination of erroneous information about scientific problems of interest
  • the facilitation of plagiarism
  • the waste of public resources intended for publication
  • the appointment of researchers at universities and research institutes based on curricula full of doubtful publications, generating negative cascading effects that undermine higher education as a whole.

The damage done to society can be even worse. Governments, large companies, and decision-makers can be misled by false information, resulting in attitudes that undermine responses to major human problems such as climate change, biodiversity, and pandemics.

Efforts to fight predatory publishers require collaboration and support at higher levels. Governments need to create regulatory agencies that carefully and systematically evaluate the activities carried out by scientific journals. Science funding agencies should require that publication fees be paid only to publishers that adhere to an internationally recognized set of transparency and ethical rules. We need to discuss our values and incentives in the academic community, so we can start prioritizing quality over quantity. This would provide a reference point for research, help design coherent interventions, and improve information and public policy in favor of society and the environment.


Pereira CC, Mello MAR, Negreiros D, Figueiredo JCG, Kenedy-Siqueira W, Maia LR, Fernandes S, Fernandes GFC, Ponce de Leon A, Ashworth L, Oki Y, de Castro GC, Aguilar R, Fearnside PM, Fernandes GW (2023) Beware of scientific scams! Hints to avoid predatory publishing in biological journals. Neotropical Biology and Conservation 18(2): 97-105.