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Use Retraction Watch to Keep Tabs on Bogus “Hijacked” Journals

As a research institution, we know the value of credible, peer- reviewed journals. To cite and be cited is the lifeblood of modern academic discourse. But how do you know if a journal is what it purports to be? As reported recently in Nature, the project Retraction Watch, can allow researchers to find out before they submit if a given journal has been “hijacked.” 

The project researchers have built an online database which is updated as hijacked journals are recognized and reported. Checking the validity of journals is a necessity as citations from them are readily replicated across research databases, particularly due to automatic import of articles from a citation database known as Scopus.  

What does it mean to be “hijacked” exactly? While the goal of using cloned websites which look very similar to the real journals is to extort fees from unsuspecting researchers and not obtain personal information, the tactics are the same as many phishing scams. Subtle differences in the URL can go unnoticed by users. Hijacked journals may even go so far as to hijack ISSNs, unique numbers to identify periodicals, which can lead to further propagation of unreviewed manuscripts. 

Aside from the monetary loss due to researchers or programs paying to use these fronts for “publication,” hijacked journals can enable unethical behavior when their identity is known, as researchers, particularly junior ones, often report intense pressure to “get cited.” This is dangerous when these manuscripts, without peer-review, are used to drive policy or health decisions. For example, Retraction Watch reported the WHO library on COVID-19 research included more than 380 papers from hijacked journals. 

Researcher beware! The effects of intentional or unintentional use of hijacked journals are a loss of reputation to the researchers/institutions who utilize them and a considerable threat to public safety.