The following presentation of the study findings is divided into four parts. First, the results of the IR are presented with regard to characteristics of PJs. Then, the quantitative findings of the journal analysis in the field of adult education research are explained and interpreted individually. This interlocked approach is continued in the subsequent author analysis as well as in the final formative quality analysis of adult education articles in the potential PJs examined.
Characteristics of PJs and their publishers – results of the IR
A total of 353 publications were included in the integrative literature search. By using a multi-stage screening procedure, the corpus of relevant articles was reduced to 58 publications. Fig. 2.
The analysis of the publication dates shows that PJs and PP have just recently become relevant as a central object of study. Even though the subject has indeed been addressed within the last ten years, 74.14% (n = 43) of the empirical publications identified were published between 2017 and 2019. The results show that there is a clear research focus on the North American continent (44.83%, n = 26). In Europe, Italy stands out with a total proportion of 12.07% (n = 7). Overall, a global engagement with PJs and PP can be seen through the IR. With regard to the disciplinary positioning of the journals, it becomes clear that especially journals with a medical focus publish empirical studies on topics of PJs and PP (19 out of 49 journals). The second largest group of journals can be found in the subject area of library science, information science and science communication with 13 journals, followed by multidisciplinary scientific journals (n = 5). No journal can be assigned to the field of educational science.
As regards out central research question for the IR the following characteristics for PP and PJs can be singled out:
Potenzial PJs state that they publish in the OA model.
They charge APCs to fund predetermined editorial services. The amount of APCs is on average lower than the fees of legitimate academic OA journals. Some potential PJs try to conceal the costs or do not disclose them at all.
Potenzial PJs and their publishers come from similar countries across disciplines. These are mostly developing countries and the USA. However, publishers and journals also try to disguise their locations.
Essential editorial processes, such as the peer review process, are presented in a non-transparent manner on the websites of the publishers and the journals.
The duration of the peer review process is reported to be very short by potential PJs.
Potenzial PJs are not usually listed in reputable databases, but this can still happen in individual cases.
In order to exude relevance and seriousness, many journals use misleading alternative metrics and impact factors that can be characterized by non-reproducible methods and criteria.
The research institutions of authors publishing in potential PJs are often located in similar countries and have similar profiles.
Potenzial PJs use an aggressive email marketing strategy to encourage new authors to submit manuscripts.
Publications from potential PJs are usually characterized by low quality and low citation counts.
Regarding typical conspicuous features in the editorial board of potential PJs, the review conducted yielded contradictory results, which is why this aspect has not been included in the list.
The second guiding question of the IR relates to the way in which the empirical studies examined identify potential PJs. Overall, the results reveal a dilemma situation regarding the generation of reliable data sources for the scientific investigation of potential PJs. The BL currently represents the only freely accessible compilation of such OA journals and publishers. However, there are some problems with using this list. For one, the original website created by Beall has not been updated since 2017. Although there are offshoots of the list, they are anonymous and therefore not transparent. Secondly, the list is criticized for lacking transparency and objectivity (Teixeira da Silva 2017; Olivarez et al. 2018; Berger and Cirasella 2015). The points of criticism reveal that it is difficult to distinguish between fraudulent OA journals and OA journals that need to be improved in quality due to the lack of standardized criteria. For the explorative analysis of the present work, too, it is therefore important to bear in mind not to use the BL without cross-checking. There are various possibilities for this, which differ in terms of their reliability and the degree of work involved. Even if email invitations from journals or publishers are used as the primary data basis, cross-checking the results is essential to increase the degree of objectivity. Despite cross-checking, it is still necessary to speak of potential PJs, as even important verification tools, such as whitelists for OA journals, can contain erroneous entries.
Potenzial PJs with relevance for adult education research
By filtering the three selected sources of potential PJs for relevance to educational science, a total of 96 OA journals could be identified whose titles indicate an educational science focus.Footnote 3 The BL, which has not been updated since 2017, accounts for a total of 22.92% of the 96 total results. The LoPJ, which is maintained by anonymous researchers and regularly updated to this day, operates with Beall’s extensive catalogue of criteria for assessing predatory intent. With 59.38%, the LoPJ represents the largest share of possible relevant OA journals. Its share of OA journals with a high likelihood of predatory action is also the highest in real terms for all three sources, with 38 potential PJs. The third source for potential PJs is the suspicious call for papers submitted by members of the QSF_L. Although the least results were received via this route compared to the other two sources with a total of 17 potential educational OA journals, 16 of them fulfilled the inclusion criteria of the present study. In addition, each of the potential PJs is retrievable. This underlines the relevance of the non-personalized email invitations from potential PJs as a source for this genre of OA journals.
The 96 results from the three sources include a total of 54,043 contributions from 2937 issues of these papers, 217 publications can be assigned to adult education in terms of content according to the criteria explained. The proportion of adult education publications in the potential PJs reviewed is 0.46% or 181 contributions.
By applying the evaluation procedure designed from the integrative review to assess potential predatory intentions of OA journals, the number of journals to be analysed in depth was reduced to 63. In the following, therefore, only this group of PJs with high potentiality for predatory intentions will be discussed.
Only two potential PJs from the sample directly address adult education research, both in their titles and in their formulated disciplinary orientation. These are the Journal of Human Resources and Adult Learning and the International Journal of Vocational Education and Training Research, which focuses on vocational education and training as a special sub-area of adult education.
Through the data collected in relation to the volumes of potential PJs relevant to educational science, the founding years of the journals become identifiable and thus also the temporal beginning of educational science and adult education focus of possibly predatory OA journals. The oldest journal, the Journal of Human Resources and Adult Learning, which explicitly refers to adult education, published its first issue in 2005. However, most journals were initially published in 2015 (n = 13). Considering the overall course of journal foundations, an increase in potential PJs with an educational science orientation can be observed from 2010 to 2015. Since 2016, start-ups in this segment have been declining. Only one journal meeting the criteria for potential predatory action was published for the first time in 2018. Six journals in the relevant group have not published an issue for at least a year at the end date of data collection (31.01.2019).
In general, it can be assumed that all analyzed journals use the financing model via APCs. Although 11 of the 63 analyzed journals do not provide any information on APCs on their homepages, this should rather be seen as a sign of an attempt at concealment, especially since OA journals that do not charge author fees usually communicate this clearly, such as the OA journals International Journal of Research in Education and Science, the International Journal of Technology, Education, and Resource Management, the Journal of Global Education and Research and the Advances in Social Sciences Research Journal, which were also analyzed in the context of the present study. In connection with the funding of the journals, the various APC models are also striking. For example, 14 of the 63 relevant OA journals charge an author fee specifically for Indian authors in addition to APCs for international authors. These separate fees are quoted in Indian Rupee (RS) currency and are lower compared to the APCs for international authors, which are quoted in USD. Four journals also offer reduced fees for students or registered reviewers. One journal again differentiates in terms of the text type of submission as to how high the APCs are. Five potential PJs charge either a two- or three-tier cost model, which makes the economic situation of the country of the submitting authors the yardstick for the amount of the author fee to be paid. These OA journals distinguish between fees for authors from “low-income countries” or “developing countries”, “middle-income countries” and “high-income countries”. It is therefore difficult to state an average level of APCs, especially since the values here also vary similarly to the number of published articles. The APCs given in RS converted into USD range from 9.84 USD to 15.60 USD. A German scientist would have to pay an average of 321.92 USD APCs for the selected potential PJs. An Indian author would have to pay 57.12 USD, assuming the person is limited to journals that offer a separate fee for Indian authors.
The analysis of the APCs of potential PJs with relevance to adult education confirms the findings of the integrative review on the financing model. Here, the APCs are on average even significantly lower than the prices of legitimate adult education research journals.
The locations of the potential PJs or their publishers vary greatly. First of all, looking at the locations indicated by the potential PJs themselves, it is noticeable that most journals indicate India as a location (n = 19, 30%). When comparing the 14 journals identified that collect special APCs for Indian authors with the journals that list India as their own location, there is a match of 64.29% (n = 9). At least for these journals, the determination of the real location seems possible via this comparison. The remaining journals with specifically Indian APCs do not provide their own location information. Thus, they belong to the second largest group of the analyzed OA journals (n = 17.27%). The journals’ own information, together with the registration data entered in the WHOIS log, where 27% of the information was also encoded, are those of the four selected location identification sources with the most unlocatable results. Thus, the location data from the ISSN International Centre register yields only five error messages. On the one hand, these come about because potential PJs examined give an ISSN which, according to the register, belong to other journals (n = 3), or give unregistered standard numbers for serialized collected works on their homepages (n = 2). When the IP addresses were queried, there were only two error messages. However, this does not mean that the IP address query is automatically the most reliable method for determining the real locations. The IP address query only identifies the locations of the providers of the queried homepages of the potential PJs. The providers were also recorded as part of the query of the IP addresses. Assuming that the IP localization data could be equated with the location of the journal providers, nine (13%) of the relevant potential PJs would be located in Germany. This seems unlikely given the information generated by checking the ISSN, WHOIS and self-disclosure data, as Germany does not appear in the other sources. However, two firm conclusions about the real locations of relevant potential PJs can be drawn from the results. Firstly, India plays a decisive role in all three sources. In the case of self-disclosures, ISSN country information and domain registrants, India is most frequently identified as a location. India is followed by the USA in three of the four sources, whereby it should be significantly emphasized that no registrant of the journals examined is registered in the USA according to information from the WHOIS protocol. At the same time, this source of information is also characterized by many coded details (n = 16; 25%). Secondly, it is noticeable in the WHOIS and ISSN data that the proportion of identified countries defined as developing countries by the Development Committee of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is significantly high. While the proportion in the self-declarations, excluding journals that do not list a location, is only 10.87% (n = 5) and the provider locations can also be attributed to developing countries at a low rate of 16.31% (n = 10), 51.79% (n = 29) of the identified OA journals are located in developing countries as measured by the ISSN data and even 73.33% (n = 33) with regard to the WHOIS registrant information.
Analysis of authorship of adult education articles in potential PJs
In total, 328 authors from 36 nations are involved in the 181 identified articles. The highest number of articles identified in the potential PJs studied were from Nigeria (n = 39), followed by the USA (n = 27), Taiwan (n = 20), India (n = 19) and Malaysia (n = 11). The author of one article could not be assigned to a country. 20 of the 36 nations can be described as developing countries according to the OECD criteria already explained (cf. Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development ibid.). In terms of the number of contributions, 100 of the 181 (55.25%) come from developing countries.
With 87.71%, the majority of the authors can be assigned to a university, followed by colleges (14.36%; n = 48). Focusing on the large group of authors working at universities at the time of publication, 74 (27.61%) researchers work at faculties of education. 26.49% (n = 71) are employed at faculties and departments of adult education.
Regarding the academic titles of the researchers, 59.15% (n = 194) of the authors hold a doctorate. 46.91% (n = 91) of these hold the academic rank of professor. 7.32% (n = 24) are listed as PhD students. People with a Master degree (12.19%; n = 40) or a Bachelor’s degree (1.52%; n = 5) tend to play a minor role. For 26.83% (n = 88) of the authors, no academic titles are given and are also not researchable.
According to the results of the integrative review, the locations of potential PJs are congruent with the locations of the research organizations publishing authors there. Most researchers are located in the USA, India and other developing countries. This is also the case when looking at the authors of articles from adult education research in the potential PJs studied. However, most researchers in Nigeria publish articles on adult and continuing education. What is particularly noticeable about the authors from Nigeria is their distinct adult education background, which emerges from the evaluation of the facultative affiliation. According to this, the 61 academics of the total of 39 contributions from Nigeria are employed at faculties for adult and continuing education at 20 different Nigerian universities. This density of academic representation of adult education research can be explained by the fact that adult education in Nigeria includes young people from the age of 14 (Federal Republic of Nigeria 2004, p. 25). Moreover, the average age in Nigeria is 18.4 years (Statista 2021), and the literacy rate of persons aged 14 and above is just 59.6% (CIA 2016, p. 548). Adult education in Nigeria therefore has an enormous importance for society as a whole, which cannot be compared to developed countries. The reason why Nigerian scientists publish most frequently in PJs with relevance to adult education can in turn be explained by the system of science funding in the country. Scientists in Nigeria receive additional payment for scientific publications. The quality of the journals is irrelevant (Adomi and Mordi 2003, p. 260; Demir 2018, p. 1298).
The high representation of authors from developing countries should not obscure the fact that researchers from countries with a highly developed research infrastructure, such as the USA or Germany, have also published contributions to adult education research in potential PJs. Nor have they by any means been exclusively inexperienced academics. The majority of those identified hold a doctorate or even a professorial title. This again does not suggest that most of the authors have allowed themselves to be deceived by the appearance of potential PJs but that they also may have opted for deliberate publication in the OA journals studied.
This finding supports the neo-institutionalist-influenced thesis that potential PJs with adult educational relevance secure their continued existence not only through the mimetic imitation and thus deception of academics, but also receive legitimacy from parts of their organizational environment. The imitation of components of reputable adult education journals in terms of using misleading metrics and indices, pretending international relevance, and possibly falsely claiming peer review also serves the scholars who consciously choose to publish in such organs. For example, the case study by Pyne (2017) showed that publications in potential PJs have a positive effect on the reputation of scientists from outside the field and on financial aspects (Pyne 2017, p. 137). With the help of the theoretical framework, it thus becomes clear that potential PJs do not exclusively pose a threat to academic publishing, but also meet a need of the system itself.
Results of the formal content and quality analysis of identified articles in potential PJs
The analysis of the topics covered by the articles from the field of adult education research identified in the potential PJs fans out along 11 categories. While 20.44% focus on adult learning from a practical and theoretical perspective, 18.78% (n = 34) of the articles focus on teaching. The articles in these two categories largely address the micro-level of adult education (teaching-learning interaction level). The third largest group are articles that focus on corporate education in the context of Human Resource Management (17.13%, n = 31). Considering the papers by authors from developing countries identified in Chap. 4.3, it is also noticeable that 26.5% (n = 26.5) of these papers deal with topics that centrally or marginally address typical problems of developing countries, such as poverty reduction, mass unemployment or democracy development. 98.15% of the total of 27 contributions dealing with these topics were written by authors from developing countries.
The text types are largely divided between research reports (45.86%, n = 83) and descriptive texts (39.78%, n = 72), which can also be described as discourse contributions. 75.00% (n = 54) of the research reports use questionnaires to obtain data, 12.50% (n = 9) obtain their data through interviews. Three studies use different methods for data collection.
With reference to the descriptive-formal characteristics of the articles, the average page length excluding the bibliographies is 7.3 pages. The longest article is 27 pages, the shortest articles are two pages long. The articles cite an average of 24.3 sources in the bibliography. The extreme values here are 107 references and articles that cite only two sources. The two articles with only two sources were written by the same author and are not cited in the body text. The articles were published in the period 2006 to 2018. From 2011 (four contributions), the number of adult pedagogical submissions in the potential PJs studied increases steadily, apart from a small dip in 2014, until 2017 (29 articles). In 2018 (20 articles), the number of publications again decreases slightly.
In the context of the quality of the papers, the first thing to look at is the abstracts. This is present in 181 articles. One abstract stood out due to its extreme brevity of only one sentence. Furthermore, the adherence to a common structure for scientific publications in adult education research journals was examined. With the exception of the 58 publications that do not comply with the common structure only because of their text type (descriptive), since they do not cite methodological appendices, 38.21% (n = 57) of the articles show structural deficiencies. For example, 11.38% (n = 14) of the articles lack a theoretical framework, 6.5% (n = 8) have no methods section and 8.13% (n = 10) of the articles have no recognizable chapter structure. 43.90% (n = 54) have no quality deficiencies at all with regard to structure. In 17.89% (n = 22) all structural components of a scientific adult education journal article were present, but in these articles certain components were integrated into others and not clearly separated from each other in the form of chapters.
Another quality criterion is based on the clear formulation of a research question or textual intention. Here it can be seen that 64.64% (n = 117) explicitly formulate a research question/textual intention within the framework of the abstract or the methods section. Conversely, this is not the case for 35.36% (n = 64) of the 181 articles.
The final quality control is done by checking the bibliographies. 31.49% (n = 57) of the examined adult education articles have a bibliography with a consistent format. 68.51% (n = 124) do not have a consistent bibliography. It can be seen that 43.86% (n = 25) of these bibliographies do not contain any other deficiencies. The remaining lists (56.14%, n = 32) most often have punctuation errors (n = 17), list sources that are not cited in the running text (n = 11) and/or are not formatted (n = 8). Bibliographies with an inconsistent format also often have other deficiencies. Only 17.4% (n = 22) of these lists are error-free, apart from the inconsistent style. The most frequent sources of error are punctuation errors in 67 indexes, 35 articles list sources that are not cited in the running text and in 34 publications the bibliography is not formatted. According to the review of this quality indicator, 13.81% (n = 22) of the 181 articles are flawless with regard to the bibliography.
Taking into account the criteria explained in Chap. 3.3, with regard to the four quality-related indicators, 8.29% (n = 15) of the 181 adult education articles are free of deficiencies from a formal quality perspective, 24.31% (n = 44) show only slight deficiencies. Most articles, 32.04% (n = 58), do not meet two of the four relevant formal quality indicators. 35.36% (n = 64) are rated as severely and severely deficient in formal quality.
Thematically, hardly any significant noticeable features can be found in view of the categories. Rather, it becomes clear in the overview of the titles of adult education articles that it is rather the target groups and frames of the examined articles that seem to be of interest. The categories chosen in the course of the thematic evaluation do not reflect the fact that authors from developing countries often deal with typical topics of this national group. In summary, the impression is of a microcosm of adult education publishing by scholars from developing countries who cover topics that are virulent for developing countries emerges. The quality of the peer review of the journals must be viewed critically in light of the examination of the bibliographies and the adherence to a common chapter structure. In view of the many obvious punctuation and spelling errors, it is doubtful whether a review of the manuscript took place at all. The low APCs of potential PJs with relevance to adult education do not seem to ensure sufficient editorial performance.