Two VCU librarians educate faculty and peers about predatory publishing

September 8, 2021
Hillary Miller and Erica Brody talking in front of a screen.
Jay Paul photo

Erica Brody and Hillary Miller, two librarians at VCU Libraries, have been collaborating for more than two years to get the word out about predatory publishing and help protect researchers at VCU and beyond from journal scams. 

The term “predatory publishing” describes opportunistic entities that exploit researchers by charging fees while providing little or none of their promised services and benefits, such as rigorous peer review. Changes in journal publishing have created the opportunity for these ill-intentioned predatory publishers to emerge: 

  • The shift from print to online publishing has made it very easy for organizations, legitimate and the not so legitimate, alike, to set up an online presence. 
  • Increasingly, authors pay to publish articles so readers can access content for free. 
  • Researchers are under great pressure to publish in order to compete for jobs and grants, as well as qualify for promotion and tenure. 

These conditions create a landscape where a scammer without genuine interest in disseminating science can prey on scientists by promising fast turnaround publication in exchange for a fee. Articles published in predatory journals may not receive rigorous peer review. In addition, these journals are typically excluded from the most popular databases like PubMed, so scientific advances may stay hidden or even disappear if the journal website is not maintained.   

In 2018, Brody and Miller began collaborating to bring this information to dental researchers in a variety of settings. Brody notes, “I am excited to have so many opportunities to share my knowledge about predatory publishing with a variety of dental health professionals, starting with faculty at the VCU School of Dentistry followed by workshops at national and international conferences. This has been a great way to demonstrate the value and unique expertise that librarians bring to dental education and research.” Specific presentations include the following:

  • January 2019 - in-person continuing education program for faculty at the VCU School of Dentistry,
  • March 2019 - in-person workshop presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Dental Educators
  • April 2019 - webinar produced by the American Association of Dental Educators
  • July 2021 - online workshop to be presented at the annual meeting of the International Association of Dental Research

More recently, Brody has been sharing this information with the next generation of dental professionals. During the pandemic, Brody developed an asynchronous learning module for the evidence-based dentistry curriculum to teach VCU dental students about evaluating journal quality and predatory publishing. A 10-minute video provides background information about this phenomenon and characteristics of potentially predatory journals. Students complete the learning module by applying this information to evaluate the quality of two dental journals. 

Building on their success in educating dental professionals about predatory publishing, Brody and Miller were asked to extend their effort to educate academic librarians on the topic. In September 2019, they delivered a train-the-trainer version of the workshop to over 100 librarians through a webinar sponsored by the Southeast region of the Network of the National Library of Medicine

For Miller, this was an opportunity to dive deeper into the complexities of journal evaluation and help librarians develop a bigger picture approach to advising faculty. “There can be grey areas where it is difficult to tell whether or not a journal is an outright scam, versus one that may be working in good faith but that may offer a lower value for authors based on the quality of their services,” says Miller. “Authors need to look out for red flags that indicate journal scams, but this should be one part of a broader assessment of journal publishing options focused on the quality of services that a journal offers.”

Brody and Miller encourage researchers to be discerning when considering where to publish manuscripts. To help authors learn how to evaluate journal quality and identify questionable or scam journals, they recommend these resources as first steps:

  • Visit the Avoid Publishing Scams guide developed by Miller and colleagues.
  • Explore Cabell’s International database and journal lists. The "Journalytics" list includes journals that meet Cabell's screening criteria, while "Predatory Reports" lists journals that do not meet their screening criteria and may be scam journals.
  • Read this brief article for an overview and formal definition of predatory publishing: Grudniewicz A, et al. Predatory journals: no definition, no defence. Vol. 576, Nature. NLM (Medline); 2019. p. 210–2. 

If you have concerns about a journal, contact Miller or Brody  (; before you submit an article, sign a contract or send payment. 



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