Thematic analysis of predatory black- and white-lists

A new preprint on the PeerJ, authored by Michaela Strinzel​, Anna Severin, Katrin Milzow, and Matthias Egger hopes to make sense of quality criteria for journals by analysing trends in blacklist and whitelists of scholarly titles.

The paper, titled “Blacklists” and “whitelists” to tackle predatory publishing: A cross-sectional comparison and thematic analysis analyses the content of two blacklists (Beall’s and Cabell’s) and two whitelists (DOAJ and Cabell’s).

The number of journals in each list ranged from 1,404 to 12,357 and the number of publishers from 473 to 5,638. From these large numbers, the study found 73 journals and 42 publishers which were listed in both a black- and white- list.

Seven key themes were identified from a total of 198 different inclusion criteria detailed by each of the lists:

(i) peer review
(ii) editorial services
(iii) policy
(iv) business practices
(v) publishing, archiving and access
(vi) website and
(vii) indexing and metrics.

Business practices accounted for almost half of the elements in blacklists’ criteria, whereas policy and guidelines played a more prominent role in determining inclusion in whitelists.

Criteria were grouped into four broad concepts:

(i) transparency
(ii) ethics
(iii) professional standards and
(iv) peer review and other services.

Whitelists gave more weight to the positive features of transparency, whereas blacklists focused on negative behaviours, features or a lack of evidence for ethics and professional standards. Neither type of list was found to give much emphasis to the quality of peer review, which seems contrary to the prevailing attitude towards predatory publishers as those journals which perform no peer review at all.  However, the study also found that there were several aspects central to the evaluation criteria that were difficult to verify, and thus also received insufficient weight and attention in the assessment processes.

This is a very interesting paper which makes a good attempt at disambiguating the blurred boundaries between publishing model attitudes, and the ways in which editorial practices are conducted. It is a good complement to last year’s paper by Cobey et al in F1000, What is a predatory journal? A scoping review, which summarises a wealth of literature on predatory journals, describes some of the characteristics of the phenomena, and extracts empirical descriptions of potential characteristics.

Strinzel M, Severin A, Milzow K, Egger M. 2019. “Blacklists” and “whitelists” to tackle predatory publishing : A cross-sectional comparison and thematic analysis. PeerJ Preprints 7:e27532v1