[N.B: As of 2020, this product has been renamed Predatory Reports.]
A couple of years ago, I published in The Kitchen a review of what was then a new product: Cabell’s Blacklist, a directory of journals that are published using questionable, suspicious, or objectively deceitful and dishonest strategies. The Blacklist was designed to take the place of the controversial Beall’s List, which had recently shut down after being operated out of the library office of Jeffrey Beall for about five years. Beall’s List had offered a mixed bag of benefits and problems from the start, and Cabell’s (publisher of a long-respected serials directory) sought to create a more rigorous and consistent version of the same service.
A very quick summary for those who may — against all odds — still be blissfully unaware of what terms like “predatory publishing or “deceptive publishing” refer to: what are commonly called predatory publishers are those who lie about their business practices for the purpose of attracting paying authors. These journals misrepresent themselves with regard to, for example, editorial board members (claiming people as editors without permission), peer review practices (falsely claiming to provide meaningful peer review), impact metrics (mostly by lying about their Journal Impact Factor), organizational affiliations (usually claiming a relationship with a nonexistent organization), etc. The common feature of all such journals is that instead of rigorously evaluating and vetting submitted articles, they will instead publish anything submitted as long as the author is willing to pay an article processing charge (APC). By injecting non-vetted content into the scholarly and scientific marketplace and misrepresenting it as peer-reviewed science, these journals contaminate and undermine both the legitimacy and the trustworthiness of scholarly discourse.
Thus, the introduction of Cabell’s Blacklist in 2017 was a welcome development. It promised a tool that can be used by authors needing help deciding where to publish, by academics and other employers seeking to check the legitimacy of job applicants’ claimed applications or editorial board memberships, or anyone else interested in monitoring the behavior of deceptive publishers. And for those who question the necessity of such a tool, it’s worth noting that Cabell’s Blacklist currently includes almost 12,000 journals — and its list of titles under consideration for inclusion in the Blacklist comes to over 1,000 more.
My original review identified several strengths of the new Blacklist as well as a few areas in need of improvement. Two years on, I’m pleased to announce that the product has both deepened and strengthened, and that while a couple of quirks remain to be remedied, Cabell’s Blacklist is now a very solid product. (Whether it represents good value for money is a separate question, one that can’t be answered here because pricing is negotiated on a case-by-case basis. Those interested in a quote should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The primary strengths of Cabell’s Blacklist product remain the same as they were two years ago. Most notably, these include:
- A clearly-described set of inclusion criteria
- A clear and fair appeals policy
- A quick and easy mechanism by which readers can submit information about journals
- Evaluation at the journal level rather than the publisher level
- Specific reasons for inclusion provided for each title entry
In addition to these important strengths, I can now report that some the problems I reported in 2017 have been resolved. These include:
- The product now functions well in the Safari browser.
- “Advanced” searches no longer routinely fail, sending the user back to the Blacklist home page.
- The inclusion criteria are now categorized in tiers, from “Severe” (“the journal gives a fake ISSN,” “editors do not actually exist or are deceased,” etc.) to “Minor” (“the website does not identify a physical editorial address for the journal,” “the number of articles published has increased by 25-49% in the last year,” etc.).
- Inclusion criteria are now more carefully crafted, and less likely to sweep fundamentally honest but low-quality/low-resource journals into the same net as genuinely fraudulent ones.
Since my original review, Cabell’s has included a new feature: the ability to download a list of journals that have been removed from the Whitelist. It is important to understand (and Cabell’s is at pains to point this out on its website) that a journal’s removal from the Whitelist does not mean — or even suggest — that the journal has been added to the Blacklist. It means only that the journal no longer meets all of Cabell’s criteria for inclusion in the Whitelist.
And here it is worth noting the evolution of Cabells’ directory product over the years. The Cabell’s Directory established in the late 1970s was a more neutral tool, one that made no particular representation as to the quality of the journals included. This began to change in 2011, when Cabell’s began developing a set of quality metrics and applying them when considering journals for inclusion in its directory; these metrics were fully implemented in 2013, at which point the directory morphed into a Whitelist; in 2015, Cabell’s removed from its list over 2,000 journals that failed to meet those criteria.
A few minor issues persist from the earlier version of the Blacklist. These include:
- The list of journals under review for the Blacklist still includes no indication as to why each title is under review.
- Some of the inclusion criteria are still somewhat ambiguous and unclear; however, this problem has been significantly mitigated by the addition of new, more concrete criteria and by the sorting of those criteria into tiers of seriousness.
- The advanced search feature is still insufficiently advanced, only offering the most basic search options. I still recommend that these be expanded, and would particularly urge Cabell’s to make it possible to search by violation type. (For example, it would be very useful to be able to do a search for journals that falsely claim affiliation with universities or other sponsors, or for journals that hide or misrepresent their practice of charging APCs.)
The only new problem I encountered was the fact that each entry no longer includes a direct link to Cabell’s appeals policy. Worse, it’s rather difficult to find the details of that policy unless one is a subscriber to the service — I finally had to ask where it was, at which point I was directed to the question “How do I get a specific journal removed from the Blacklist?” on Cabell’s publicly-facing FAQs page. This information needs to be easier to find.
Overall, I find the Cabell’s Blacklist product to be a carefully crafted, honestly managed, and highly useful tool for libraries, faculty committees, and authors.
Disclosure: When Cabell’s was in the early stages of planning for the creation of this product, I did a few hours of paid consulting work for them and later contributed to a Cabell’s-organized conference panel discussion on the topic of predatory publishing. I’ve had no further involvement in the project, and I have no ongoing financial relationship with Cabell’s and no financial interest in the company.