Myth-busting: DOAJ indexes “predatory” journals

This is, of course, a myth.

Some people are afraid to use DOAJ because they believe that it lists questionable (“predatory”) journals. DOAJ started to clean up its index in 2014. DOAJ was the first service to define the standards aimed at preserving the quality and trustworthiness of a database of open access journals. Today, DOAJ’s standards are the unofficial gold standard for open access journals.

Raising the bar
Early in 2013, DOAJ’s team decided that the problem of questionable journals—at that time proliferating from India in particular—needed to be tackled.  DOAJ’s inclusion criteria were not adequate enough to filter out journals of dubious character. By October 2013, the three countries with the most journals in DOAJ were the USA, Brazil and India. In December 2013, the number of journals in DOAJ passed the 10 000 mark for the first time: the number of journals from the “USA”* (1247) and India (652) had risen sharply and faster than any other country.

Work on a new set of criteria for inclusion in DOAJ started in early 2013; this was developed, reviewed by the Advisory Board and eventually sent out for public consultation in June 2013. After extensive development work, the new application form built around the criteria was made live in March 2014. The new criteria, a work that had involved the whole open access community, increased the DOAJ application form from just 17 questions to today’s 58.

At that point, every single journal in DOAJ was made to reapply under the new criteria, to be re-indexed. This was more effective at improving the level of quality in DOAJ than we could ever anticipate.

*A typical questionable publishing trait is to pretend that a journal is registered in Global North countries, particularly the USA.

Effective criteria
DOAJ has developed rigorous checks to ensure a very high level of quality of every journal in its index.

One of the most effective checks, which delivered considerable changes in the geographic distribution of journals in the database, is insisting that a journal is listed in the country that its business activities are carried out.

Compared to other indexes that are often cited in research on scholarly publishing and open access, it is safe to say that DOAJ is probably the cleanest and most reliable, especially in the context of questionable publishing. To back up that statement, DOAJ is carrying out its research, comparing some well-known indexes. More details on that will be published here very soon.

Joint initiatives
To highlight its approach to creating a list of quality journals, to reinforce its position on questionable publishing and to emphasise the importance of standards as an effective tool to helping to identify good journals, DOAJ co-authored the Principles of Transparency and Best Practice, first released in December 2013.

DOAJ is also a founding organisation of the innovative campaign, Think. Check. Submit.

Old stains are hard to wash away
The problem of questionable publishing is vastly exaggerated. For those who still insist that DOAJ is filled with questionable journals, we would ask you to take a closer look at the database today, review our criteria and read the research on both the problem of questionable publishing and how prolific it isn’t.

If you do think that a journal in DOAJ is questionable, however, please report that journal to us so that our Questionable Publishing team can review it.

Myth busting: DOAJ is not inclusive

This is a myth.

One of the most common criticisms levelled at DOAJ, particularly over the last 5 years, is that the index is not inclusive enough; that its coverage is poor; and that it lists only a fraction of the open access journals that exist. Our research shows that many journals reported as “missing” from DOAJ have a failed application or have been removed for not meeting DOAJ standards.

It is true that DOAJ’s coverage is not complete but it does hold a very diverse set of journals from 130 countries. The top 10 countries with the most journals in DOAJ are a mixture from the global north and the global south.

Journals must apply to be indexed in DOAJ. They can be from any country, in any subject and in any language. We welcome enquiries from editors of journals who may not be sure whether or not they should apply to be indexed.

Thus far, we have rarely had to solicit applications, although that is what we will start doing in 2019. We will do this to: increase our coverage of non-English language journals, social science, humanities and arts journals, journals from the global south; and to increase coverage in key disciplines.


Where are all the open access journals?
We are often labelled as unreliable because we don’t index all open access journals. We would remind the community that we are not an index of open access journals but an index of quality, peer-reviewed open access journals – journals which meet our basic criteria, and sometimes more.

The question of inclusiveness has to be seen in relation to other indexing services. DOAJ lists 7798 quality open access journals that are not listed in either WoS or SCOPUS. Full results of our research, comparing DOAJ against 3 indexes will be published here soon.

Some other databases seem to trawl the internet for any evidence of a “journal” without really doing any filtering or quality assessment.

Here is just a selection of the many reasons why DOAJ does not index the sometimes thousands of open access journals that can be found in other databases. DOAJ does not index journals that:

  • have ceased publication
  • haven’t published anything for up to two years
  • are hybrid
  • use a definition of open access that is not the BOAI definition
  • require people to register to access content
  • apply embargoes on full-text content
  • do not perform effective peer review (we allow editorial review only for some arts and humanities journals)
  • do not have a confirmed ISSN
  • do not have an up-to-date, transparent editorial board

Other journals may have once been in DOAJ but have been removed for various reasons, particularly because they did not reapply when DOAJ enforced stricter entry criteria, or because their website no longer functions.

We will always work with publishers to help them get their journals into DOAJ and we welcome new applications at any time!

Picture credit: By Michael Johnson – originally posted to Flickr as ‘Apples & Oranges – They Don’t Compare’ CCBY 2.0