Intended for healthcare professionals


Predatory journals enter biomedical databases through public funding

BMJ 2020; 371 doi: (Published 08 December 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;371:m4265
  1. Andrea Manca, senior researcher1,
  2. Lucia Cugusi, senior researcher1,
  3. Andrea Cortegiani, senior researcher2,
  4. Giulia Ingoglia, resident in anaesthesiology, intensive care, and emergency2,
  5. David Moher, professor34,
  6. Franca Deriu, professor of physiology1
  1. 1Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Sassari, Italy
  2. 2Department of Surgical, Oncological and Oral Science, Section of Anaesthesia, Analgesia, Intensive Care and Emergency, Policlinico Paolo Giaccone, University of Palermo, Italy
  3. 3Centre for Journalology, Clinical Epidemiology Program, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Canada
  4. 4School of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Ottawa, Canada
  1. Correspondence to: D Moher dmoher{at}

Providing guidance to publicly funded authors on how to publish their work in open access journals is likely to reduce the waste of public money, say David Moher and colleagues

In the past decade the scientific community has faced a serious threat to its integrity and credibility with the rise of predatory journals. These journals manipulate and exploit the open access publishing model but omit the quality checks and editorial services that are routinely provided by legitimate journals, such as peer review, plagiarism detection, and verification of ethical approval of experiments. Although the descriptor “predatory” has been criticised for grossly conflating poor quality with misconduct and for simplistically classifying the scholarly publishing environment into bad and good (predatory or not),1 the term is now widely accepted to describe the phenomenon.

In conjunction with the online spread of predatory journals, we have recently shown that a worryingly high number of predatory journal articles are indexed in PubMed,2 the free-to-access biomedical database maintained by the National Library of Medicine (NLM). PubMed contains over 30 million searchable abstracts and citations that are drawn from three NLM literature sources: Medline, a database of citations from selected journals; Bookshelf, a repository for books, reports, databases, and other documents; and PubMed Central (PMC), a digital repository for full text articles. PMC is particularly vulnerable to infiltration by predatory journal articles because individual authors upload their articles into the database in accordance with funder requirements, even though the journals might not meet the standard for indexing in PubMed.3 By doing so, individual articles are displayed in both PMC and PubMed, which is concerning because it potentially legitimises research that has not been appropriately reviewed, and represents a substantial waste of public money being used to pay for publication.

Predatory publishing

An international consensus group has defined …

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