“Somewhere along the way, academics started realizing that there were journals that weren't doing what they were claiming to be doing,” Berryman explained. “They claim to do this peer review, but it's either not being done at all or it's a false peer review — like a peer review theater.”
These predatory publishers, many based in Asian countries such as China, India and Pakistan, prey on scientists’ egos, sending flattering emails and requesting that they submit their research to the journal.
When a scientist agrees — sometimes because they’re duped, sometimes because they are just looking for an easy way to pad their publication record — the “journal” publishes it online almost immediately, often without even reading the article. The journal then asks for a hefty publication fee — something scientists oblige because they’re used to making these payments to legitimate journals.
“These fees can get into the thousands of dollars, and then they publish 100 or more articles per year,” said Berryman. “They're making tons of money.”
That money typically comes out of scientists' research grants from publicly funded institutions like the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health, meaning taxpayers are footing the bill for this elaborate fraud.
It’s a clever scheme because operating one of these scams requires little more than the cost of hosting a website.
“Some of these predatory journals are just one person behind a computer putting this out there on the web, so it's almost zero overhead,” Berryman said.
So far, Cabells has found almost 15,000 fraudulent science journals, and the number grows every day.
Fake scientific journal scams do more than steal money
But unlike a normal email scam, predatory journal scammers do more than just steal people’s money. They can also contribute to a particularly pestilent form of disinformation.