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Unethical Business Practices

In general

Among Open-Access journals that use an author-pays-model as a financing model, there are now dubious journals, so-called pseudo-scientific journals, whose publishing performance does not meet the scientific standards.
Pseudoscientific publishers who publish such journals have developed an unfair business model based on the combination of the following conditions in the science and publishing system, which is based on:

  • scientific research results have to be published quickly,
  • the rejection rates in renowned journals increase with high publication numbers,
  • the peer review process is usually not transparent and may, under some circumstances, also lead to an inadequate or missing quality assurance process,

  • scientific authors or their institutions are responsible for the payment themselves in the author-pays model.

The search for truth, integrity and scientific relevance of the publication are of no importance to pseudo-scientific publishers, only the making of profits counts.

With the aim of realizing profit, pseudoscientific publishers adapt their business models to discipline specifics in science: for subjects in which conferences are the scientific communication medium, they offer pseudo-scientific conferences or pseudo-conferences instead of pseudo-scientific journals, where anyone can attend the conference for a registration fee, or give a presentation unchecked.

Particularly in view of a constantly increasing number of scientific journals and conferences, assessing which Open Access journals or conferences are reputable and behind which an unethical business practices hide, is not always easy for scientists at first glance.

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Pseudo-scientific journals and fake conferences - what does that mean?

Pseudo-scientific journals or predatory journals, pirated journals or fake journals are used under the pretext of Open Access to operate an unfair business model with fraudulent intentions, in which the expected and paid-for publisher's services for the author, such as selection, editing, peer review, proof and archiving, are insufficient or none at all. The providers of such magazines approach potential authors offensively and unsolicitedly and promise a rapid publication process in return for payment.

Other features in selection:

  • Name and online layout are often confusingly similar to those of renowned journals,
  • Reference to a fake established online platform through which many fake and plagiarized parts were already detected,
  • Advertising with a fake high impact factor of the magazine,
  •  Advertising with a fake ISSN of the magazine,
  • Advertising with peers, members of the editorial board and publishers who either do not exist or have never agreed to act as such for the journal.

For pseudo-scientific conferences or even bogus or fake conferences, scientists are invited to a presumptive specialist conference against payment of a sometimes quite high registration fee , by pretending to have a reputation and a serious online description.
In this case, too, the providers approach the potential participants offensively, without being asked, as well as with unusual greetings formulas and strikingly flattering words in the e-mail cover letter. Usually an advisory board or board of well-known scientists is mentioned which either does not exist or has never agreed to cooperate. The conference normally does not take place or only with a few participants and without a professional program.

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Pseudoscientific journals and fake conferences – what’s so problematic?

  • A missing peer review will result in the publication of non-professionally verified results.
  • Failure to permanently archive through publishers and libraries can cause the publication to suddenly disappear if the publisher discontinues the publishing platform.
  • A lack of evidence in library catalogs and citation databases leads to a lack of traceability and thus to a low citation of the publication.
  • The reputation of the scientist, but also that of the institution and that of science as a whole can be damaged. Trust in credibility is weakened.
  • The waste of valuable resources.

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Ways to ensure the quality of publications and conference contents

Test factors for specialist journals
In order to assess whether you are dealing with a serious Open Access journal or a pseudoscientific journal when choosing a scientific journal, there are a number of test factors which are listed below and which you can refer to. However, do not consider any of these factors in isolation.

  • Check if the journal is listed in recognized databases for your scientific discipline.
  • Check if the journal is evaluated in the "Journal Citation Reports" or other established metrics.
  • Be mindful when the publisher concentrates on a very wide range of topics.
  • Check if the website looks professional. But be aware of cultural differences.
  • Verify if the members of the Editorial Board and the Editor in Chief are recognized experts in their field and check their web presence.
  • Check the sender address of e-mails. The publication organization is not mentioned in the prefix of the e-mail address of pseudoscientific publishers.
  • Check if all costs incurred are clearly explained and easily accessible before publication. Be skeptical about "hidden" fees during the publication process.
  •  Check for any spelling or grammatical errors in publications already published by the journal that indicate a lack of peer review.
  • Check which rights you retain as the author of the publication. Ensure that a Creative Commons License or some other type of open license is used.
  • Check that the peer review timing is realistic.


Checklist of the initiative Think!Check!Submit! for the examination of professional journals

The interntional initiative Think!Check!Submit!, co-developed with the participation of recognized publishers, assists scientists in identifying trustworthy journals for their research and helps to promote integrity and maintain trust in research and publications with a range of useful tools.

Testing factors for scientific conferences

  • Be careful if you receive an offer from an unknown publisher to publish the lecture, immediately after a publicly advertised lecture at a symposium.
  • Be careful if you are asked to submit a conference paper by a publisher you do not know without being asked to do so.
  • Be careful when the conference focuses on a very wide range of topics.
  • Check if the website looks professional. But be aware of cultural differences.
  • Check whether the members of the advisory board or editorial board are recognized experts in their field and check their web presence.
  • Check the sender address of e-mails. The publication organization is not mentioned in the prefix of the e-mail address of pseudoscientific publishers.
  • Check if the participation fees are unusually high.
  • Check if all costs incurred are clearly explained before the conference and are easily accessible.
  • Become skeptical if the conference only takes place virtually or in a small circle.


In case of uncertainty, it is recommended to discuss concerns with colleagues, mentors or with the Open Access advisors at your University Library.

Talk to us, we are happy to help you.



Recommendations and statements on the subject of pseudoscientific journals and conferences

Guidelines for good scientific publication practice

In December 2016, the three National Academies of Sciences - the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, the French Académie des Sciences and the British Royal Society - published joint guidelines for good scientific publication practice based on four criteria: "Scientific information should be disseminated efficiently and to a high standard, conflicts of interest should be avoided, the articles should be fairly examined and the selection and editing should be the responsibility of recognized scientists".

Statement of the Senate of the German Rectors' Conference

In October 2018, the Senate of the German Rectors' Conference (HRK) took a position on publications in pseudo-scientific journals. More



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