Open Access: Assessing journal quality

Open Access services and guidance for researchers at the University of Helsinki. #openaccess #openscience #ORCID #selfarchiving

Publication forum

Logo of Publication Forum
Publication Forum is a classification of publication channels created by the Finnish scientific community to support the quality assessment of academic research. The classifications are updated regularly and researchers can also suggest adding new publication channels or re-assessment of already included channels. Publication channel search  User guide 

You can search from Publication Forum by journal or publisher. By clicking the results from the end of the page you can find information of the assessed quality of the journal (as well as assessments from other Nordic countries).  

  • There are four levels of classifications in Publication Forum. 3 signifies the absolutely best journals or publishers in a given field of science, 2 excellent, highly trusted publication channels, 1 valid scientific publication channels and 0 non-scientific publications (for example, journals for popularizing science) and low-quality scientific journals (young journals not yet on level 1 and predatory journals/publishers). 
  • If the journal presents itself as a scientific publication channel and is assessed to level 0 in Publication Forum, it can be a predatory journal, but not necessarily (for example, MDPI has several journals in class 0 which are not yet good enough for level 1, but which as such are not predatory journals). 
  • If you are looking for especially Plan S-compliant publication channels (for example, if you are funded by the Academy of Finland), use Journal Checker Tool!

MDPI and Frontiers

Logo of MDPI
The Swiss publisher MDPI is at the moment the largest open access publisher in the world, but its policies are very controversial. The company has a large portfolio of journals of various quality - some are very respected, but most are "merely" adequate scientific journals and some of low quality which can be seen, among other things, in their classification in the Publication Forum (many MDPI journals are in class 0 which includes both predatory journals and low quality scientific journals).

MDPI has been very popular among the researchers, because the publishing process is very quick and the article processing charges moderate. On the other hand, its policy is to publish a lot of special theme issues of which the researchers have received a lot of emails, making it susceptible of being a predatory publisher. In addition, the very quick publishing process has caused a number of questionable articles accepted and published (see a study on MDPI by Paolo Crosetti). In the database Cabells, listing predatory journals, MDPI is not included, but in Publication Forum it is classified in level 0 as a publisher. 

Our advice is that one should be careful with the quality of single MDPI journals although we do not consider it a predatory publisher. The classifications of Publication forum are useful in assessing the journals. University of Helsinki has an open access publishing deal with MDPI. 

Logo of Frontiers

Frontiers is another Swiss publishing company that has created controversies. Its policies are fairly similar to MDPI although it has fewer journals. Frontiers has also published questionable articles. A lot of UH researchers publish in Frontiers journals and it is valued due to its efficiency. University of Helsinki has an open access publishing deal with Frontiers as well. 

Services for Popularization of Science

In recent years a number of commercial companies have been established which offer services for popularizing science for a fee. Peer reviewed articles are simplified and copy-edited to flashy short texts which are published in websites or special journals. For a fee the researcher gets a popularized version of one's article which can be distributed. These companies include  Research OutreachScientia GlobalInnovation News NetworkIntech Open and Open Access Government. We would not recommend the latter three, but basically it is up to the researcher whether or not to use them. The library cannot support publishing with these companies. It is important to acknowledge that these publishers can be either predatory or non-predatory publishers. 

Sometimes requests are also received by researchers of re-publishing their articles distributed with CC BY -license. For example, a company might ask whether the researcher would like to publish one's article in a theme-based article collection and pay a fee for that purpose. In the same way the researcher can consider whether this is useful, but the library cannot support this kind of publishing - in many cases the article fee has already been paid by the library.

A compable service to these publishing services is Researchpod which scripts scientific articles to a short form and makes them into podcasts which are broadcasted online for a fee. The service seems to be functional, but it is up to the researcher whether to accept or reject the offers emailed to them. The library has no funds to support this kind of reuse of scientific articles. 

New harmful publishing practices

  • Hijacked journals. Well-known journals can be hijacked by copying their title, outlook and metadata. The purpose of this is to collect article processing charges from researchers who think they are publishing in the original journal. Read more from The Retraction Watch where you can also find a database of hijacked journals.

  • Papermills are business enterprises which produce low quality of fake research articles by an industrial scale. They are sold to those wiling to buy or submitted to scientific journals. Read more from The Retraction Watch and Wikipedia

  • Articles written with Artificial intelligence. The publish-or-perish-culture has led some researchers to use ChatGPT and other AI-applications in writing articles without describing their use properly. These kind of articles can often be spotted with some criteria. Read more from the Retraction Watch

A webinar of predatory journals and estimating the quality of OA-journals

Need Help in Choosing a Publication Channel?

Are you uncertain whether a given publication channel is reliable or do you have other questions of predatory publishers/journals? You can contact us at

Predatory journals and publishers

What is a predatory journal?

A predatory journal/publisher is an open access journal or its publisher which tries to make money with open access publishing instead of advancing research. In these publications the article processing charge is asked, but the journals are not professionally edited scientific journals although they strive to give this impression. Sometimes the articles are not published at all after the APC is paid. There are estimated to exist over 15 000 predatory journals at the moment. The articles published in predatory journals have very little impact (see Nature 13. 1. 2021).

Sometimes predatory journals are also called vanity journals, because some researchers publish in them while knowing that the scientific quality of these journals is bad. As the peer review process is non-existent, they can avoid strict requirements concerning language and other qualities and therefore get their articles published and are able to progress in their careers. 

In addition to journal articles, the predatory criminals can send email-spam of non-existent conferences, open access books etc. 

Recently the differences between predatory journals and low quality non-predatory journals has diminished, which makes it increasingly difficult to spot predatory journals. The picture below illustrates this situation. 

The following characteristics are typical to predatory publications


Open Access quality factors

Characteristics of high-quality open access journals

Some of these characteristics can apply to predatory journals as well and not all of these apply to even good OA-journals - for example, it takes time to achieve all these goals and many OA-journals are relatively new:

  • The journal can be found from DOAJ (DOAJ best practices).
  • The publisher of the journal is a member of OASPA (Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association).
  • The journal is classified 1 or better in Publication forum.
  • The journal is listed to Ulrichs Web.
  • The journal is listed to metrics databases, such as Web of Science and Scopus.
  • Journal information (editorial board, publisher, impact factor, article processing charges) are presented clearly. Note that not all open access journals require APCs from authors.
  • The journal has an ISSN-number.
  • The editorial board of the journal includes well-known researchers in the field of science of the journal and the journal has published high-quality articles from them (this does not apply to student OA-journals etc.).
  • The peer-review process should be transparent - its principles are clearly presented in the journal webpage. Normally the process takes at least a month.
  • Test the journal you are interested in with Compass to publish!

Reading recommendations

      Useful videos