Even high-income countries like the United States and Japan are not immune to so-called “predatory” journals that publish junk science or poorly vetted research, a new Canadian study has found.

The investigation published in the journal Nature found that more than half of the authors whose work was published in suspected predatory journals hailed from high-and upper-middle-income countries. 

Predatory publishers are identified as such if they lead inexperienced researchers to believe their work is being vetted by well-respected scientists and academics. In reality, there is little or no peer review or proper vetting involved.

Researchers from The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa spent a year analyzing 1,907 research papers published in 220 suspected biomedical predatory journals. They found that most of the papers originated from India (27 per cent), the United States (15 per cent), Nigeria (5 per cent), Iran (4 per cent), and Japan (4 per cent).

Overall, papers published in the suspected predatory journals came from 103 countries.

“Our research debunks the common belief that predatory journals are only a problem in low income countries,” study co-author David Moher, a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and a professor at the University of Ottawa, said in a news release.

“Predatory journals publish research from scientists around the world, including those based at prestigious high income institutions,” he added.

The study authors did note, however, that the U.S. publishes more research than any other country, and the vast majority of papers end up in legitimate journals.

The researchers say there are now an estimated 8,000 predatory journals collectively publishing more than 400,000 research studies each year.

Last year, a joint CTV News/Toronto Star investigation found that an offshore publishing company accused of disseminating junk science and duping researchers had taken over the publishing of several Canadian medical journals.

The analysis of nearly 2,000 articles selected by the Ottawa researchers found that they “consistently failed” to report key information necessary for readers to assess and verify the papers’ contents. Issues included failure to properly describe randomized controlled trials and patient outcomes.

“Whether authors are being duped or are overzealously seeking to lengthen their publication lists, this represents enormous waste,” the study says.

“By extrapolation, we estimate that at least 18,000 funded biomedical-research studies are tucked away in poorly indexed, scientifically questionable journals. Little of this work will advance science. It is too dodgily reported (and possibly badly conducted) and too hard to find.”

The study concludes that publishers, research institution and those funding the research should issue “explicit warnings against illegitimate publishers” and develop recommendations on “publication integrity.”