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Malignant Growth of Cancer Journals

Predatory medical journals

~ Dr. Dennis Morgan

Solicitations from predatory journals are not just spam—they’re malicious. They pose as legitimate journals to attract researchers and academics. For a fee, they will provide you with a citation but no readership. We discuss the experience of one oncologist and convey some tips on how to recognize predatory journals, why they’re bad, and ponder why the only site that listed them has mysteriously vanished.

Going Meta on Open Access

Many predatory journals tout that they are open access as if that alone bestowed some legitimacy, a sort of ‘reverse snobbery’ perhaps, since early-on, open access publication was regarded as ‘less than’. This is no longer the case, as exemplified by such publications as The Oncologist, the very journal in which appears the article and editorial of interest here(1,2). Or consider Public Library of Science (PLOS), a stalking horse for quality open access papers(3). So, if open access is not a distinguishing feature of predatory journals. What is then?

Vanity of vanities

Linguistic clues betray solicitations as those from predatory journals. The main theme is appeal to vanity. The actual transaction is designed to separate authors from their money in exchange for a citation on their resume. The fact that these journals have no meaningful audience or impact is ignored.

Here’s the experience of an oncologist in Canada doing breast cancer research. He collaborated with an epidemiologist and a psychologist to analyze his data. They looked at author-classified spam arriving at his academic email address over a 3 month period. One third of the spam (191 in all) was from predatory journals (again author-classified). His team extracted features of these messages they deemed characteristic: the solicitations to publish were often unrelated as to topic, were overly formal, flattering and claimed an urgent need. Journal names often included the words ‘global’ or ‘world’, 80% were open access, and the average processing fee was $983.

The study is narrow in scope but brings attention to a growing problem. Predatory journals are often not indexed and its articles are unlikely to be read—wasting both money and intellectual effort. The editorial comment on the paper notes that predatory journals usually have elaborate web sites and their titles are often chosen to imply an association with a legitimate journal or academic institution. As an aside, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute is not affiliated with the NCI but is legitimate, as are the oncology specific ‘sister’ journals of JAMA, Lancet and Nature. On the other hand, predatory journals are deficient in archiving, editorial board bona fides, and peer review. Spelling, grammar and syntax errors betray a lack of support staff.

Coming back to the open access issue, there are specific categories: Green–publisher gives free access after 6-12 months; Gold–author pays fee to be in open access journal; and Platinum–third party pays fee for open access publication. Some believe that the Gold model has led to a (malignant) proliferation of low quality journals which can distract attention from those that offer valuable information(2).

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Fans of The Watchmen will recognize the Latin as “Who watches the watchmen?” Journals with editorial integrity, peer reviewed or not, are the conduits of knowledge and curators of quality—the watchmen in any medical discipline. That oncology researchers and academics are prone to the pressures of publish-or-perish is a given. This makes authors vulnerable to a ‘pay to play’ publishing economy. Beyond that, the integrity of journals in oncology is especially critical in a field where huge profits from drugs and devices can engender puff pieces and spin-doctoring.

The only consistent effort to ‘watch the watchmen’ in the realm of ‘academic’ journals was known as Beall’s list, after the University of Colorado librarian who coined the term ‘predatory publishing’(4). However, this list was taken down without explanation and “reportedly in response to ‘threats and politics’.” It seems time to formalize such a list, to be vetted and annotated under the aegis of a trusted authority. A cached version of Beall’s list, as of Dec 2, 2016, is available on A PDF of same is attached to this post.

How well do you think you would recognize a predatory journal?

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Dennis Morgan, MD is Assistant Clinical Professor University of Connecticut Health Center, Emeritus Staff Johnson Memorial Hospital and Medical Center Stafford CT and Past President Connecticut Oncology Association as well as Past Medical Director Phoenix Community Cancer Center, Enfield CT


1. Predatory Invitations from Journals: More Than Just a Nuisance? Mark Clemons et al. The Oncologist 2017; 22:236-240. Feb 2017.

2. Too Many Journals. Susan E. Bates. The Oncologist 2017; 22:126-128. Feb 2017.

3. “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False..”. Ioannidis, John P A. PLoS Medicine 2 (8): e124. 2005.

4. No More ‘Beall’s List’. Librarian removes controversial list of “predatory” journals and publishers, reportedly in response to “threats and politics.” Carl Straumsheim. Jan 18, 2017.

5. Beall’s List as cached on Original page taken down, under duress, from the  “Scholarly Open Access” site.