There are many legitimate publishers of open access (OA) journals operating under an author-pays model. However, some publishers have taken advantage of the growing OA movement and the need for academics to publish their research. These predatory journals publish articles with little to no peer review to make money from author fees.
Even more sinisterly, a number of people have taken advantage of the way some predatory publishers will publish almost anything for a price. Individuals have used predatory journals as an outlet to purposefully publish fake science. Spreading disinformation can have far-reaching implications.
As highlighted in a recent blog post on the publication of fake papers in predatory journals, for example, a paper published in The Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents made the outlandish claim that 5G radio signals cause coronavirus.
Despite being a blatantly bogus article, it was reported to have been shared widely on social media, not only spreading fake science, but also adding to an array of 5G conspiracy theories. These have propelled their believers to undertake such extreme actions as trying to burn down cell phone towers.
Shockingly, the article was indexed by PubMed, giving it an undeserved air of credibility. Indeed, it has been suggested that ‘PubMed may be consciously or unwittingly acting as a facilitator of predatory or unscrupulous publishing’ (Anderson, Scholarly Kitchen). The article reported, for example, that a paper published in Neuroscience found 25 predatory neurology journals and 14 predatory neuroscience journals indexed in PubMed. They note how PubMed Central provides a backdoor into PubMed and the National Library of Medicine (NLM) for predatory publishers.
Furthermore, the cumulative nature of science, with new research building upon previous work, means that if researchers unwittingly use unsound information from predatory journals in their research, there is potential for this poor-quality research and fake science to worm their way into the scholarly record. This potentially contaminates the whole body of knowledge of a given field of research.
So together with stopping the spread of fake science and giving fraudulent research an air of credibility, this reinforces the importance of rigorous processes and quality checks to make sure predatory content does not make it onto information research tools. This way, researchers and students can feel confident that their search results are trustworthy.