Just arrived in my email inbox:

Dear Dr. Jonathan Purtle, Greetings!!! We solicit your valuable contribution for the Journal Family Medicine & Medical Science Research … Dear Researcher, publish in the International Journal of Medical and Applied Sciences … Decision on your paper within 5 days.

Like many academics, I'm increasingly bombarded with emails that offer an opportunity to promptly publish my research in open-access journals, often for a fee.

Open-access journals have proliferated in recent years. As opposed to "traditional" publications that charge readers (often institutions) a hefty fee to access journal content, open-access journals provide their content for free on the web, and typically charge writers to publish their work. Open-access journals are a good thing because they make scientific information available to audiences beyond academics with library subscriptions. Problems arise, however, when the financial incentive for open-access journals to accept articles results in the publication of poor quality research that hasn't undergone rigorous peer-review.

Some open-access journals, such as PLOS ONE, have solid peer-review policies and are highly reputable. Some others publish research of suspect integrity; they exist only to turn a quick buck. Threats to public health can arise when the pool of scientific knowledge is polluted with bunk.

How can you tell a trustworthy open-access journal from a bogus one? Jeffery Beall, a librarian and professor at the University of Colorado, launched Scholarly Open Access (aka “Beall’s List”) to answer this question. Beall’s List is a website dedicated flagging questionable open-access publishers and publications. Although Beall acknowledges that his list only reflects his opinion and is based on criteria that he developed, the site has come to be respected as a watchdog in the scientific community and has been profiled by the New York Times, Chronicle of Higher Education, and Nature (a traditional, top-flight journal).

Beall assesses journals on a range of criteria. Some red flags to consider:

-- When no one is identified as the journal’s editor, or when information regarding the academic affiliations of the editorial board isn’t provided;

-- When the name of the journal doesn’t reflect its geographic origin (e.g., the editorial office for the European Journal of Scientific Research is based in Seychelles;

-- When the journal isn’t indexed in standard library databases (i.e.,

if its content focuses on health—or even just on

; and

-- When the journal has an overtly western name, but serves primarily as a “vanity press” for researchers in developing counties (e.g., the

—there doesn’t appear to be much “British” about the journal other than its publication fee, listed in British pounds).

Open-access journals provide an opportunity for more people to be consumers of research and make informed health decisions—but buyer (or, rather, "non-buyer") beware.

Read more about The Public's Health.