Even top economists publish in predatory journals, study finds


Top-ranking economists sometimes publish papers in open access journals deemed potentially “predatory,” according to a new analysis.

The findings contradict previous results that show that researchers who publish papers in “potential, possible, or probable” predatory journals (as defined by librarian Jeffrey Beall) are largely inexperienced.

According to the study, 27 of the most eminent economists (within the top 5% of their field) have published nearly 5% of their papers in predatory journals. These researchers published 31 papers in predatory journals in 2015 alone.

The finding — which is not yet peer reviewed — comes as a “big surprise,” co-author Frederick Wallace of the Gulf University for Science and Technology in West Mishref, Kuwait, told Retraction Watch.

At the end of last year, Wallace and Timothy Perri from the Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina noticed that 39 predatory journals were listed on the database Research Papers in Economics (RePEc). After some digging, the pair identified just under 1,300 papers published last year in predatory journals in RePEc, submitted by close to 2,800 authors.

Although only around 5% of the study’s sample authors who’d published in predatory journals (124 individuals) were registered with RePEc, 27 (around one-fifth) are listed among the top 5% of RePEc-registered authors. 

Looking at the top-ranked 27 economists’ larger publication record, the authors found they have 2,120 publications (with an average of 79 papers per author); 104 (4.9%) of these studies appear in predatory journals.

Many of the authors were not just starting their careers, the study notes — at least half the 124 registered authors who published in predatory journals have extensive publishing experience:

The median period for the first publication is 2009-2010. Thus half the authors have 6+ years of experience since their first published paper.

According to “Economists behaving badly: Publications in predatory journals,” posted online in August in the Munich Personal RePEc archive, these 124 authors

have a median of eight total publications, with a median of two published papers in predatory journals, suggesting that predatory journal publications are important for the typical author.

In the study, the authors speculate about how prominent economists end up in predatory journals:

One possibility is that an inexperienced coauthor handled the submission and the experienced author was ignorant of the journal’s low quality. In most cases it is impossible to reject this hypothesis, but ten of the thirty-one papers published by top 5% authors in predatory journals in 2015 are single authored pieces, and another has two coauthors, both of whom are in the top 5% RePEc, so ignorance cannot be the only explanation.

Contrary to a previous paper that suggested many authors who publish in predatory journals are from developing countries, Wallace and Perri note the author list to be geographically dispersed, representing 90 different countries. Nevertheless, according to the study, eight countries account for nearly 50% of the sample studies (and slightly more than half the sample authors): Iran, United States, Nigeria, Turkey, Malaysia, Pakistan, Kenya, and China.

Wallace noted that universities have either rewarded or turned a blind eye on their faculty publishing in problematic journals. In contrast, he added, his institution has taken a stand against this practice, by not counting any publications in predatory journals towards promotions or annual evaluations.

One limitation of the study is that many predatory journals cover broad topics, so some papers included in the analysis may fall outside economics.

Mark McCabe, an economist at Boston University in Massachusetts and SKEMA Business School in Sophia Antipolis, France, raised some doubts over whether the findings truly represent how often the field’s top researchers are publishing in predatory journals. For instance, the top 5% in RePEc may not represent the true top 5% of the field, he noted:

1.  In what type of non-predatory journals are these (top 5%) authors publishing papers (the difference between predatory and non-predatory can be very small)?  Impact Factors?  Publishers?  etc.  Are any of them among the top 100 journals in economics?

2. What are the institutional affiliations of [these] (top 5%) authors?  Any top-ranked economics departments or business schools?

3.  Where is the list of the predatory journals in which these 148 papers were published?

Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at University of Colorado Denver and the creator of Beall’s lists, noted: 

Actually, a broad range of people submit to predatory journals.

He added that he was also hesitant to draw too strong a conclusion from these findings:

I see this study as preliminary, and I am not sure it contains strong evidence.

Asked about the criteria RePEc uses to rank researchers, Wallace pointed us to this paper, which outlines the process RePEc uses to rate authors registered on the site using factors such as the number of papers, citations received, journal page counts, and views and downloads statistics.

Wallace argued that he believes that a high ranking in RePEC is something the field takes seriously:

I’d blow my own horn if I was listed as a top 5% researcher. I’d include it in my annual report every year.

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9 thoughts on “Even top economists publish in predatory journals, study finds”

  1. The dividing line between “predatory” and non-predatory is starting to fade and become blurred, and soon we will simply have a range related to quality of peer review, impact factor, or cost of publication, independent of whether they are print, or open access. Scientists have to start assessing what is important for them, including pre-prints and self-publishing.

  2. Because Beall is very inconsistent in how he applies his criteria of “predatoriness”, his list should not be given scientific weight by using it as a starting point for this type of study. For example, Frontiers is listed, although it objectively meets none of the criteria. I wonder what the results would look like if Frontiers journals were excluded from this particular sample? I and many colleagues would never publish in a junk journal, but do not hesitate to publish in Frontiers (which has several Q1 journals with excellent editorial boards). PLoS ONE , Frontiers, and similar publishers that focus mainly on the scientific soundness of studies, instead of the glam factor, are very important for the progress of science.

  3. This says more about the arbitrary and overly broad nature of Beall’s “predatory journals” list than anything else.

  4. This blogger has accepted Beal’s list as an authoritative and evidence-based list of so called predatory journals. The blogger has also accepted that there is something called predatory journal, a terminology Beall lacks any capacity to properly conceptualise. I differ. Yes, there are journals that are dodgy and fake, but they exist in closed access journals too. Fake publishing was not initiated during open access publishing regime. It has always been an unfortunate part of science. Many new and upcoming journals in the developing countries, given the circumstances under which they operate, will be classified by Beall as predatory whereas they are not. In any case the restriction of publishing to the so called high quality journals is very discriminating; how will young and upcoming journals grow if they have no input from established scholars?

  5. I agree fully with what OAguy, Eh Steve and Willy Nwagwu state.
    Why doesn’t Beall just list, next to each entry on his “predatory publishers” [1] and “predatory journals” [2] lists, the precise criteria that make them “predatory”? Surely he must have these criteria archived, otherwise, how could those listed launch a fair appeal [3]?

    [1] https://scholarlyoa.com/publishers/
    [2] https://scholarlyoa.com/individual-journals/
    [3] https://scholarlyoa.com/other-pages/appeals/

  6. “According to the study, 27 of the most eminent economists (within the top 5% of their field) have published nearly 5% of their papers in predatory journals”
    This sentence highlights the central problem here. Beall’s list is a list of “Potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers. The “potential”, “possible” or “probable” are lost or forgotten. Far too many people make the assumption that inclusion on Beall’s list = predatory. Indeed, even this blog post uses the term “predatory” several times, ignoring the “potential, possible or probable”.

    Beall’s list is flawed for many, many reasons. One of the most problematic is that Beall lists and de-lists journal/publishers with no formal recording of date of listing/de-listing. Take Frontiers for example. I cannot find a solid date when this was included in Beall’s list, but, were papers published before the listing date included in the current study? How about a paper that was submitted before listing but published after listing? Can these authors be accused of publishing in a (PPP) predatory journal?

    From memory, MDPI has been on and off the list a couple of times. Same thing. How can the study authors work out which MDPI papers were (PPP) ‘predatory” (published while listed) or “non-(PPP) predatory” published after de-listing (but maybe submitted while listed)?

  7. I disagree with the above commenters–Beall is doing us a very useful service by pointing out that many so-called journals and publishers have little or no quality control, and thus do not represent true contributions to science.

    Commenters seem to have a problem with the term “predatory”–fair enough, let’s call them instead junk journals and junk publishers. Quality of control in these journals is absent or nearly absent. Nobody should waste their time with these journals.

    A subset of these journals also tries to extract large monetary payments from authors, and I would consider these to be predatory because they prey on gullible researchers to make them pay to publish.

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