A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

Ask the Expert


How can we evaluate scientific journals?

Open-access online scientific journals are a valid way for researchers to reach the public, but up to a quarter of such publications may be fake, Walter Klyce MD’19 and Edward Feller, MD, clinical professor of medical sciences, write in the Rhode Island Medical Journal. Predatory journals mislead researchers, they warn, and “unsuspecting readers may be unable to distinguish between credible research and junk science.” Brown University Library’s Erika Sevetson, MS, head of health and science information services, and Andrew Creamer, MEd, MSLIS, scientific data management librarian, provide some guidance on vetting medical journals.

Predatory journals containing non-peer reviewed research are a growing concern in the biomedical research community. Last fall the National Institutes of Health released a notice reminding researchers of their obligation to publish articles in reputable journals, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed suit against a biomedical publisher, labeling it as predatory and charging it with multiple violations of laws prohibiting deceptive practices. The FTC has warning signs of predatory publishers on ftc.gov.

If you are invited to submit an article or serve on an editorial board for an open access (OA) journal, a good place to start your evaluation is by reviewing the journal against the checklist at thinkchecksubmit.org.

Other tips:

  • Is the journal indexed? If so, where? Look for journals indexed in MEDLINE, Embase, Web of Science, and/or Scopus. (There’s no such thing as being “indexed in PubMed” and GoogleScholar does not vet the journals that it indexes.)
  • If the journal isn’t indexed, is the content included in PubMed Central?
  • Avoid publishers that aggressively email and solicit articles or make false statements about their impact factor and reputation and the rigor of their peer review.

Most OA publishers will charge a publication fee, known as an article processing charge (APC). Beware of publishers that charge exorbitant APCs, are not transparent about their APCs on their website, and inform authors of fees only after their manuscripts have been submitted or accepted. If you’ve been approached or deceived by a predatory publisher, report it to the FTC. Still unsure? Check with the librarians at your own institution if you need help evaluating a title.


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