The Predatory Paradox: misinformation, fake news and clickbait in academic publishing

Our books Nov 1, 2023

By Anja Pritchard

In today’s media climate of fake news and clickbait, we are all well aware of the dangers of false information. This begs the question—why? Why do people publish information they don’t know is accurate? This problem besets academic publishing too. A collaboration between five writers, Amy Koerber, Jesse C. Starkey, Karin Ardon-Dryer, Lyombe Eko, and Kerk F. Kee, this book works to establish the motives behind predatory publishing—in which academic research is published without having been satisfactorily peer-reviewed, often in return for a fee—and explores the resultant implications of the practice. In academic life, one of the many challenges that may face scholars is how they get their work published. The Predatory Paradox: Ethics, Politics, and Practices in Contemporary Scholarly Publishing is designed as an advisory guide for ‘researchers, academic administrators, publishing professionals and other stakeholders’ to equip readers with the knowledge and ideas necessary to be both ethical and successful in the world of scholarly communication.

One of the foundational points of the book is the term ‘predatory publishing’. The exact meaning of this term has been debated since its conception, however in 2019, a Nature paper reported that after a dedicated discussion between leading scholars and publishers from ten countries, a definition was finally determined. It states that:

Predatory journals and publishers are entities that prioritize self-interest at the expense of scholarship and are characterized by false or misleading information, deviation from best editorial and publication practices, a lack of transparency, and/or the use of aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation practices. (Grudniewicz et al, 2019)

The book considers not only how predatory publishing may occur, but the long-term repercussions of the practice. For example, it delves into the longevity of hoax articles, in that they can be presented as true by a predatory publisher and can enter the research ecosystem, being cited long after the hoax has been uncovered. In turn, this exemplifies how such articles can reveal weaknesses in the system of scholarly publishing itself.

From these dilemmas, academics have created new ways to prove the legitimacy of their work, in the hope that readers will be able to use such tools to ensure that these articles can be trusted. One way in which these systems could be improved—as suggested by the book—is by increasing the transparency of such procedures. The idea here is that with greater ‘openness’ there will be fewer chances for predatory publishing to take advantage of a lack of information, such as hidden datasets or reviewer reports, to peddle their misinformation. With greater transparency, readers can check supposed ‘facts’ for themselves, confirming the conclusions presented in a text.

The authors also consider how scholars can take certain matters into their own hands—by teaching the dangers and hallmarks of predatory publishing, and therefore raising awareness, we can prepare people to avoid misinformation and inaccuracy in their research. There are limitations to this approach, however, due to the pace of change in academic publishing. While experienced scholars have always taught the next generation, these new challenges are some that senior academics have often not faced before. The scholars of today, young and old, must recognise that the environment of scholarly research is fluid and ever-changing if they hope to traverse it with any chance of success.

In addition, we must consider how universities are responding to this threat. Without a doubt, universities have recognised concerns around this subject, yet evaluation of the training provided to respond raises the question of whether this is enough. To identify gaps in teaching, this book argues that we must consider resources that are available to researchers and appraise whether these resources are sufficient to support scholars in their pursuit of knowledge.

The authors of this book have stated their aims for the publication:

we hope to leave readers with a set of tools and knowledge that makes them prepared to succeed in the game of scholarly publishing and to mentor those who come after them to be similarly prepared and equipped. (Grudniewicz, 2023)

Overall, as the book argues, the fact is that predatory publishing is made up of numerous grey areas and individuals have to be responsible when navigating these; it cannot be defined with stark lines drawn between texts and their commissioners to identify those who are indeed predatory and those who, most certainly, are not. There are numerous challenges surrounding the confirmation of quality in scholarly publishing, but perhaps the only true way to determine whether a publisher or article can be considered predatory is to assess numerous aspects of the research, not just how texts are written. Not only that, but we must consider that the incentives driving research assessment are also those that drive the demand for predatory publishing.

A doctor of medicine and a scholar of literature must both be held to the same standard in any publication–their ideas must be well-defined, their methods clearly documented, and their research conducted fairly. This book is informative and instructive in many ways, reinforcing the foundations of good research and building on their appearance in contemporary scholarly publishing. Anyone in academia would find this text a valuable resource for their own research and exploration of the world of scholarly publishing.

This is an Open Access title available to read and download for free or to purchase in all available print and ebook formats below.

The Predatory Paradox: Ethics, Politics, and Practices in Contemporary Scholarly Publishing
In today’s ‘publish or perish’ academic setting, the institutional prizing of quantity over quality has given rise to and perpetuated the dilemma of predatory publishing. Upon a close examination, however, the definition of ‘predatory’ itself becomes slippery, evading neat boxes or lists which might…


Grudniewicz, A., Moher, D., Cobey, K.D., Bryson, G.L., Cukier, S., Allen, K., Ardern, C., Balcom, L., Barros, T., Berger, M., Ciro, J.B., Cugusi, L., Donaldson, M.R., Egger, M., Graham, I.D., Hodgkinson, M., Khan, K.M., Mabizela, M., Manca, A. and Milzow, K. (2019). ‘Predatory journals: no definition, no defence’, Nature, 576.7786: pp.210–212. Available at:

Koerber, A., Starkey, J.-C., Ardon-Dryer, K., Eko, L. and Kee, F.-K. (2023) The Predatory Paradox: Ethics, Politics, and Practices in Contemporary Scholarly Publishing. Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers.

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