What would you think if you read the eligibility criteria for a research study were the following?
Deceased for 5 years
Unproductive at work
Not benefiting from prior medical care (possibly due to being dead)
Previous treatment must include repeated spinal manipulations (250 cracks of the low back)
Resurrected from the dead with the treatment
Treated by your family with this same procedure for an additional 3 months (home exercise program)
Fake? Yes and no
In his paper Manual Therapy Cures Death: I Think I Read That Somewhere lead author Chad Cook recounted an experience when he attempted to discover how lax predatory journals were. While they claim to be ‘peer-reviewed,’ as you can clearly see, they are far from it.
He didn’t stop the absurd claims at the inclusion criteria
The “research” paper included graphics about seed germination, timed physical test scores of infinite, and a hand-grip score of 14 kilotons. Unless the journal reviewers thought the authors were treating the incredible hulk, the hoax was obvious.
It didn’t matter.
Cook soon received a publication agreement with a projected publication date only two weeks after the original submission. Furthermore, no edits were suggested.
Did I mention all that was needed for this particular journal was a simple processing fee to proceed? These fees typically range from $300 to $1500. Seem absurd? It is, yet the pressures to publish are so great within academia that these predatory journals survive.
What is a predatory journal?
A predatory journal charges authors a publication fee without reviewing the articles for accuracy, legitimacy, or quality. Many are open access — meaning there is no charge to read articles — but that is not the defining characteristic. Predatory journals promise researchers fast publication, which academics need for their careers.
They don’t announce they are predatory, of course. They hide behind the ‘peer review’ label.
With more than 30,000 medical journals currently in circulation, you can find an article to support any viewpoint. Unfortunately, roughly 9,000 fall in the ‘predatory’ category.
What does this mean for you?
Beware of what you read. Unfortunately, there is not predatory journal label or database that makes it easy for your to determine which research is legitimate or not.
As the National Director of Quality and Research for a large physical therapy practice, I receive email pitches from predatory journals daily. Here are a few recommendations on ways to spot them:
If there are spelling and grammar issues throughout the site, the professional standard is subpar, potentially indicating a shady operation.
Is the contact information legitimate? Predatory journals often have a mismatch between office location and contact information.
Who is on the editorial review board? If the review board members don’t list the journal on their LinkedIn of Research Gate profile, they likely didn’t give permission.
Are past publications consistent? If they advertise as a sports injury journal and have publications about cancer, you should be concerned.
For a larger list, including links to journal databases, check out this article.
Do I really expect you to assess every potential article you read with a fine-toothed comb? It depends.
First, it falls on researchers to vet the journal and stop submitting to predatory journals. Second, it falls on researchers, clinicians, and reporters to only share reputable information with the public.
My recommendation to you is to remain vigilant when applying research to your life.
Learn some basics for reading and understanding research. Talk with content experts about the research you read. Make sure the sources of information are credible. Gather multiple sources of information before making a decision.
It’s scary seeing how much mis- and disinformation is in the world.
It takes all of us working together to fight it.