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Another Perspective
Publons: A Tool to Help with Predatory Journals and How Pharmacists Can Help Stem the Tide

by Milena Murray, PharmD, MSc, BCIDP, AAHIVP; Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice, Midwestern University Chicago College of Pharmacy; HIV/ID Clinical Pharmacist, Northwestern Memorial Hospitall; Alfredo Traversa, PharmD PGY-2 Infectious Diseases Pharmacy Resident, Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital

Disclaimer: “Opinions expressed by authors of this article are their own and are not necessarily shared by ICHP or its members.  ICHP will publish these articles from time to time to direct you to topics that may be of interest to you and to stimulate discussion on potentially controversial issues of the day.” The authors of this article are not affiliated with Publons and have not received any type of compensation for this work.

Predatory publishing is a threat to evidence-based medicine. Journals accept manuscripts along with oftentimes exorbitant authors’ fees with the promise of rapid publication.1 In addition, editorial board membership may be misrepresented. After acceptance, there is often no further system of checks and balances for plagiarism or ethical approvals.2 Some predatory journals even send manuscripts for “peer review”; however, the comments are not provided to the authors and edits are never made.3 Some are easy to spot, sending emails with calls for research articles that include sentences such as, “Your eminent research would greatly enhance our respected issue.” and there is even a Twitter™ parody account to follow the most humorous calls for publication (@GreetingsForDay). However, many researchers are shocked to learn that they have submitted to predatory journals.3 There are extensive lists available to “weed” out predatory journals, however, these journals adapt quickly to “warning signs” on these lists.

Pharmacists who perform research and who peer review have a duty to the profession and the greater research community to avoid submitting to and reviewing for these predatory journals. But as noted, it is possible to inadvertently interact with these journals. This is where the use of Publons can help both individuals and the research community.

What is Publons?

Publons ( is a dynamic peer review platform that provides recognition for completed peer reviews. Publons verifies, tracks, and promotes member contributions to academic journals. Publons' mission is to "speed up science by harnessing the power of peer review". Launched in 2012, it already has more than 175,000 active members. Once a Publons profile is complete you can upload reviews or simply just have the name of the journal included on your profile. When a finished review has been accepted by a journal, a copy of the confirmation email may be forwarded to Alternatively, there are journals that will now proactively ask if you would like to add the review to your Publons profile. The review is then verified and added to your profile within a few days.

Enhancing Quality, Credible Reviewers

In addition to the issues of predatory journals, there is a growing epidemic of peer review fraud, in which some individuals will give glowing reviews on an article to boost its chances of being published. Publons wishes to overcome this concerning trend by verifying and authenticating a member’s profile and only allowing verified profiles to upload reviews. Editors may mark reviews as “excellent”, rewarding reviewers who have helped deliver quality reviews that advance the profession. Editors may also find qualified peer reviewers based upon credentials through the Publons dashboard.

Enhancing Quality, Credible References

Because Publons tracks peer reviews, analyses can be performed to see if any reviews have been submitted for predatory journals. Reports and feedback can then be provided to help stem the tide of reviews for these types of journals. Education and intervention have been identified as important techniques to drive down the number of publications in predatory journals.2

Individualized Reports, An Added Bonus for Pharmacy Faculty

For faculty, tracking peer reviews is often not in the forefront of our minds throughout the year. Publons provides a method to easily track service done through peer reviews. Using a curriculum vitae (CV) to display peer review contributions for countless journals can be uninspiring. With Publons, members can easily export relative content and statistics to enhance their professional portfolio and demonstrate service. Reports can be filtered by several different criteria and a link to your overall peer review service can be generated to add to your CV. For those thinking ahead to promotion, you can filter by a specific date range to add a very professional looking report to your dossier, complete with your profile picture. As I filled out my evaluation this year and eventually reached the question that included peer reviews, I was immediately able to know exactly how many I had completed within the past 12 months.

Awareness and avoidance of predatory journals should be important education topics for all pharmacists, especially those considering research and publication. Authors and reviewers are encouraged to develop a process to make an informed decision regarding the validity of a potential journal for article submission or article peer review. This process should be based upon ethical and validated publishing processes and the journal communications with both authors and reviewers. ■



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