Checklists to detect potential predatory biomedical journals: a systematic review

10 May, 2020

(with thanks to LRC Network)

CITATION: Checklists to detect potential predatory biomedical journals: a systematic review

Samantha Cukier, Lucas Helal, Danielle B. Rice, Justina Pupkaite, Nadera Ahmadzai, Mitchell Wilson, Becky Skidmore, Manoj M. Lalu & David Moher

BMC Medicine volume 18, (2020)


Background: The increase in the number of predatory journals puts scholarly communication at risk. In order to guard against publication in predatory journals, authors may use checklists to help detect predatory journals. We believe there are a large number of such checklists yet it is uncertain whether these checklists contain similar content. We conducted a systematic review to identify checklists that help to detect potential predatory journals and examined and compared their content and measurement properties.

Methods: We searched MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, ERIC, Web of Science and Library, and Information Science & Technology Abstracts (January 2012 to November 2018); university library websites (January 2019); and YouTube (January 2019). We identified sources with original checklists used to detect potential predatory journals published in English, French or Portuguese. Checklists were defined as having instructions in point form, bullet form, tabular format or listed items. We excluded checklists or guidance on recognizing “legitimate” or “trustworthy” journals. To assess risk of bias, we adapted five questions from A Checklist for Checklists tool a priori as no formal assessment tool exists for the type of review conducted.

Results: Of 1528 records screened, 93 met our inclusion criteria. The majority of included checklists to identify predatory journals were in English (n = 90, 97%), could be completed in fewer than five minutes (n = 68, 73%), included a mean of 11 items (range = 3 to 64) which were not weighted (n = 91, 98%), did not include qualitative guidance (n = 78, 84%), or quantitative guidance (n = 91, 98%), were not evidence-based (n = 90, 97%) and covered a mean of four of six thematic categories. Only three met our criteria for being evidence-based, i.e. scored three or more “yes” answers (low risk of bias) on the risk of bias tool.

Conclusion: There is a plethora of published checklists that may overwhelm authors looking to efficiently guard against publishing in predatory journals. The continued development of such checklists may be confusing and of limited benefit. The similarity in checklists could lead to the creation of one evidence-based tool serving authors from all disciplines.


In our study, we found no checklist to be optimal. Currently, we would caution against any further development of checklists and instead provide the following as guidance to authors:

Look for a checklist that:

1-Provides a threshold value for criteria to assess potential predatory journals, e.g. if the journal contains these three checklist items then we recommend avoiding submission;

2-Has been developed using rigorous evidence, i.e. empirical evidence that is described or referenced in the publication.

We note that only one checklist [Dadkhah M, Bianciardi G. Ranking predatory journals: solve the problem instead of removing it! Adv Pharm Bull. 2016;6(1):1–4. ] out of the 93 we assessed fulfills the above criteria. There may be other factors (length of time to complete, number of categories covered by the checklist, ease of access, ease of use or other) that may influence usability of the checklist.

Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages in collaboration with WHO. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: