Our guest post today is from Dr. Michael Brown of Monash University, Australia, where he studies the evolution of active galactic nuclei and the growth of galaxies over cosmic time. He has written several articles on the topic of predatory publishers and conferences.

Have you checked your spam folder recently? A decade ago it may have only contained scams to empty your bank account or ads for dubious supplements. In recent years, however, astronomers’ spam folders have increasingly been filled with invitations from suspicious-looking  conferences and journals. These so called “predatory publishers” are on the rise.

Predatory publishers’ offerings mimic legitimate journals and conferences, but they often lack functional peer review and editorial services. They have exploded over the past decade as online publishing has dramatically lowered publication costs. Unfortunately, most of the predatory publishers also exploit the open access model, where authors pay publication fees and journal articles are freely available. A journal can thus be created and have visibility online without requiring buy-in from academic libraries. By publishing with little (or no) peer review and without providing editorial services, profit margins could potentially be huge.

The invitations and websites of predatory publishers often contain a myriad of red flags that hint at their suspect nature. For a start, you may never have heard of the relevant conference, journal, or publishers. Emails with incorrect grammar and distorted images indicate that the relevant publisher may not provide the advertised editorial services.  

Predatory publishers often hide their true identities. Websites may use proxy registration services (that can be identified with whois, which is a way of determining who registered the domain) to hide both the true registrant and country of origin. A postal address may just be a forwarding address rather than actual offices.   

Until recently, Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado, maintained a list of potentially predatory publishers. While some entries on Beall’s list are controversial and the list isn’t being updated, it remains a valuable first step for identifying predatory publishers.

So why ultimately should astronomers ultimately care about predatory publishers? If most of their emails are flagged as spam and they’re (mostly) easy to identify, then aren’t they a non-issue? Not entirely.

Predatory publishers are a vector for pseudoscience, which can end up being popularised online and in the media. Some wild claims regarding life originating from space that have ended up in the UK tabloids were originally published in journals from alleged predatory publishers. Similarly, the general public (and inexperienced students) may not be able to distinguish the offerings of predatory publishers from legitimate journals and conferences.

Predatory publishers have also been engaged in identity theft, using the names and photographs of legitimate academics without permission to inflate the standing of suspect journals and conferences. You may want to check exactly where your profile photo can be found online, which can be done using a reverse image search.

Predatory publishers are also a consumer affairs issue, as they don’t provide the services advertised. I once dropped in on the second day of a conference in Melbourne organised by the alleged predatory publisher OMICS, but there was no sign of the conference. Either the conference venue had been changed or the conference was far shorter than advertised.The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has launched court action against OMICS, which could potentially reign in this publisher.  

So where do we go from here? The FTC may start bringing predatory publishers to heel, but for now the number of predatory publishers continues to increase. While the academic community is increasingly aware of predatory publishers, some people do still get ensnared. We thus have a responsibility to make students, journalists, and the broader public aware of these dubious operators.


This article is the first in a three-part series that is cross-posted from the ADS blog. In this series, the ADS team has performed an analysis of citations to astronomy journals over the last 20 years. This post is written by ADS project scientist Michael J. Kurtz and Edwin Henneken, who works on the ADS system development and operations.

This is the first of a series of blog posts measuring the journals which publish research astronomy articles, using citation statistics. In this post we describe the measurement process and the sample. The tables with the entire data set used are published in a Zenodo repository (DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.1400692).

ADS pioneered the use of citation indices on the WWW (Kurtz, et al, 1996) and they remain the third most used feature of the ADS (after the abstracts and full text). While various so-called alt-metrics have become popular, in particular forms of download measures (e.g. Kurtz and Eichhorn 1998Henneken and Kurtz 2017), they are not yet widely accepted or used; citations remain the gold standard for scholarly measurement, particularly of journals.

Although the ADS has two main classifications for papers, astronomy and physics, simply choosing papers in the astronomy database is not a bibliometrically coherent method for choosing astronomy research papers. The database is designed to be useful to astronomers, not bibliometricians, and thus contains non-astronomy papers useful to astronomers. This biases the sample toward well-cited physics papers, and becomes more biased with time.

We have chosen to define an astronomy (or perhaps astronomy-relevant) paper as one which cites a paper from one of the main astronomy research journals. This should capture most of the breadth of the field.

The data were obtained via a series of ADS queries submitted via Python scripts to the API, one query for each year and journal pair. For example, this query returns astronomy papers published in Physical Review D in the year 2010:

bibstem:PhRvD year:2010 citations(bibstem:(ApJ OR ApJL OR ApJS OR AJ OR MNRAS OR A&A OR JCAP OR Icar OR E&PSL OR SoPh))

By this definition 38% of PhRvD papers are astronomy papers.

We ran these queries in the middle of July 2018 for each of the 20 years 1997-2016, and for each of the about 50 journals in the study (table 1). Some sets of journals were treated as a single entity, notably Physica (A,B,C,…), JGR(A,B,C,…) and the Physical Review, except for PhRvD and PhRvL, which were treated individually.

For each list of papers we obtained a set of five measures: number of papers, number of citations to those papers, h index, number of papers with 10 or more citations, and number of papers with 100 or more citations. Table 2 gives the data in the format: year, bibstem, measure, type of measure (e.g. num, cites, h, i10 or i100). Note that we have removed the ampersand (&) from the bibstems to aid the scripting.

We have also run the query on all refereed articles in the ADS; table 3 gives these results.

In the next blog posts we will examine individual journals; here we look at the behavior of the sample as a whole.

Figure 1 shows the growth in the number of papers over the 20 years of the study, for all refereed articles, those in the 50 journal sample, and the rest. The journals in the main sample (the In Sample set) are all major international journals; all astronomy journals which have published at least fifty papers with 100 or more citations in the last 20 years are included in this sample. The journals outside the sample (the Out of Sample set) are of two basic types: smaller, mostly national, astronomy journals, such as ARep, AstL, MmSAI, BASI, ChA&A, BaltA, etc., and journals which are not normally considered “astronomy” journals but which sometimes publish astronomy-related articles. There are more than 350 different journals which have published one or more astronomy-related articles which have received 100 or more citations in the last 20 years.

The In Sample group shows a steady 4% yearly increase in number of papers published, fully consistent with the growth of the scholarly literature over the last 350 years (de Solla Price, 1961). The Out of Sample group, with 6.7% growth, indicates the growing sphere of influence of astronomy.

Most of the Out of Sample journal articles are not from small astronomy journals (this has been steadily declining from about 10% to about 3% now); instead, they are from nearby physics/geophysics related disciplines. Assuming these fields are not growing any faster than the 4% rate of astronomy (or all science) we can conclude that the interdisciplinary reach of astronomy is growing by about 2.7% per year, a 25 year doubling period. As a percentage, the Out of Sample papers grew from 25% to 40% of the total during the 20 year period.

Figure 2 shows the total citations to the two sets (plus the sum) of articles as measured in July 2018. From the plot one can see that it takes about a decade before the increase in the number of citations over time is overtaken by the increase in the number of articles over time, creating a broad peak with a slow decline as we go back in time.

The asymptotic growth rate of 3% per year for the older In Sample journals citation counts is below the 4% growth rate for the number of articles published by these journals. Were the situation static this would imply that the number of citations per article is decreasing at about 1% per year. The situation is not static, and the mean number of citations per article is actually increasing. While the probability of a 20 year old article receiving a citation is only about 10% the probability that a recent article receives the citation (Kurtz, et al 2005), the number of available citations increases with the 4% yearly increase in number of articles and the 3% yearly increase of the number of references per article (Henneken, et al 2012), so after 20 years the total citation rate is still 40% of the initial peak rate. This, plus the fact that citations accumulate with age tends to flatten out this form of citation curve.

The Out of Sample articles present a different picture; the growth rate for citations is greater than for articles. Assuming that the same effects which affect the the In Sample articles also affect these articles, we are left with an unexplained residual growth in the Out of Sample citations similar to the additional growth in the number of articles due to increased interdisciplinarity.

We suggest there are a few factors at play here. The interdisciplinarity goes both ways, in that these articles not only cite core astronomy articles more often, they are also cited by astronomy articles more often. Second: articles in astronomy are substantially more cited than articles in related fields, such as geophysics; this is a function of the differing scholarly cultures, and tends to enhance the citations to geophysics articles which are of interest to astronomers. Finally the ADS data have a strong pro-astronomy bias (see the appendix to our recent white paper), which also tends to enhance this effect.

In this blog post we have presented the data which we will use to evaluate and rank the main international journals which publish astronomy research. We have shown that astronomy articles in these journals, as a whole, are increasing consistent with the centuries long trends in scholarship, and that the interdisciplinary aspect of astronomy research is steadily expanding.
COMING UP NEXT: We will publish and discuss 20 years of yearly rankings for the 50 In Sample journals for each of our five measures (number of articles, citations, h, i10, i100).


The NASA Hubble Fellowship Program is an umbrella program that includes the Hubble, Sagan, and Einstein Fellowships. The application deadline this year is November 1, 2018 at 7 PM EDT. In order to help you compile a successful application package, we are reposting this AstroBetter post from 2014. It is an anonymous guest post from two past members of the Hubble Fellowship committee. While the program has changed recently, the advice is still relevant, and the links have been updated to address the current program.

The NASA Hubble Fellowship Program includes fellowships that are among the most prestigious awards in our field and is worn as a badge of honor throughout an astronomer’s entire career. The program anticipates awarding up to 14 fellowships in 2019 to applicants from around the world to fund a three-year fellowship at a US-based institution. Applying for these fellowships is quite different than any other job application and the following advice is intended to hopefully shed some light on the process, provide realistic expectations, and enable applicants to submit the strongest application possible.


One of the easiest metrics to look at is an applicant’s publications, particularly the number thereof. In 2014, awardees who were finishing their PhD typically had 6±2 first author publications (with a minimum of 3), while those that already had a postdoc had 8±1.4 (minimum of 6). In both cases, 1–2 of these may have been just submitted. Keep in mind that there is no hard cut on the number of publications an applicant should have, nor is there a correlation between number of papers and ranking among awardees. This is just one of many factors considered by each committee member individually.

The number of publications isn’t the only factor that matters, of course. A paper that is highly  cited demonstrates that you are doing impactful work.  Try to get papers out early enough in your PhD that they have time to accumulate citations and actively promote your work by giving lots of talks.   But don’t stress about your citation numbers; panelists were circumspect about realizing that some sub-fields have very high citation rates and others don’t.

Cultivate good letters of reference

As part of your fellowship application, you will also need to submit the usual letters of reference. Make sure you have at least two from people who know you well enough to write you very strong letters. If you have published a paper together, it will be that much easier for your letter writer to give you a very strong letter.

So do you just get people at your home institution to write your letters for you? Not necessarily. It’s also beneficial for you to have a letter from someone outside of your PhD institution. If you have a postdoc already, then at least one of your letters should come from your new institution. If this isn’t possible, try to get a letter from a collaborator who was not involved in your thesis research.

The letters themselves should be very clear about your intellectual contributions to your thesis work. For instance, was that ground-breaking paper you published your idea or your advisor’s? Letters should also comment on your creativity and independence, so you should cultivate these qualities in yourself; they can get you far even outside of applying for fellowships! Your letter writers should also see your research proposal so they can comment on it. We like to see comments like “Her proposal is ambitious but entirely feasible and extends her past work in a significant new direction…”

One of the main purposes of letters is to fill in information that doesn’t come across through the rest of your application. If there is anything you particularly want mentioned, it helps to remind your letter writers about such information. For example, you could try an approach like the following:

Dear Prof X – thanks for writing a letter of reference for me! My application is attached. Below are a few points that I think are not clear from my application. If you have advice on how I might incorporate them, please let me know.

  • I am one of 68 co-I’s on 7 BaDAcRONYM papers, but my individual contributions to these papers were actually quite substantial. These included…
  • I am second author on the paper Overachiever et al. 2011. The first author is an undergrad summer student that I supervised.
  • There’s a big gap between my first paper in 2007 and my second in 2010. During this time, I was working on commissioning the TIMESINK instrument which I eventually used for all of my thesis observations.”

Reference letters are the place to include some more personal information. This can be relevant if you are doing something unusual like taking your Hubble Fellowship to your PhD institute, which is generally a bad idea. In this case, ask one of your letter writers to discuss your reasons for this briefly but frankly. Reviewers will not penalize you for having a complicated personal life; we’re people too! However, they will ding you for making a poor scientific choice if they can’t identify a good reason you to do so.

Keep your CV concise!

For the purposes of brevity, keep your CV under two pages (not including the publications). The best way to do this is to stick to what’s most important. Highlight your invited talks and accepted telescope or grant proposals on which you were PI.   Also, while it should go without saying, avoid fluff like your AAS membership, or other interests that aren’t relevant like your love of squash or basket weaving. The panel does likes to know that you are a well-rounded leader in your scientific community so do mention significant leadership or mentoring roles that you’ve held and education and public outreach activities that you’ve been involved in.

With regard to your publications, number your papers; we’re going to count them anyway even if you don’t. If you have more than 6-8 refereed publications, separate your first author papers from the others by putting them in two separate lists, and in all cases, put your name in bold-faced print. Also, be sure to clearly indicate which papers are published and which are submitted. For the submitted papers, include submission dates to show that these papers weren’t all hurried out right before the fellowship deadline. If you have any non-refereed publications, list them separately, and only include them if your refereed papers are a bit sparse. Likewise, you shouldn’t include papers that are “in prep”; this could mean anything and we just cross them off. If students you mentored appear on publications with you, try to indicate this in your publication list.

Lastly, if you have some papers that are highly cited give the citation numbers. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to list the total citations of all of your first author papers. You may also wish to quote your “H-index”, but be aware that many people do not know what this is.

Write a strong, easy to read research statement

A typical proposal is at least 12 pages of text, counting both your proposal and letters. Committee members read about 100 of these (>1200 pages of total reading) so make it easy for a weary reader to get an overview of your work. A good way to do this is to use lots of bold-faced section headings and summarize key points in your proposal. To check that you’ve done this well, ask a few people to read your proposal very quickly and write a 3 sentence summary. Then check, do those 3 sentences reflect the points you consider most important? If so, you’ve probably done a good job! It also helps to write for a broad audience. Keep in mind that if your proposal makes the first cut, it is read by the full committee, which includes people from a wide range of sub-fields. Make sure that someone in an entirely different sub-field could understand why your work is valuable and important.   Finally, be sure to stay within the page limits and font size requirements — some panelists get very grumpy about this.

• Past Research
When discussing your past research, highlight your most interesting projects with the highest impact. You shouldn’t provide a laundry list of every project you’ve ever worked on. Similarly, don’t assume that the committee members will recognize the impact of your work automatically. You should give evidence of the benefits your work has brought to the field. (e.g. “Our new method for selecting z > 6 galaxies has been adopted by several other large surveys (references).”)

• Current Research
With respect to your current research, be sure your science objectives and their broad implications are crystal clear. Beyond this, make sure you are very clear about how your science objectives will be achieved. When you do this, give just enough detail to show that your plan is both well thought out and feasible, but avoid the nitty-gritty; the committee doesn’t need to see your S/N calculations.

There are a few other points you want to make clear to the committee. You should explicitly state the ways in which this work is an intellectual leap from your thesis. It’s fine if your proposal is related to your thesis work (most are) but be sure it’s not just more of the same. You should also take care to distinguish yourself from your competition. If there are other groups working on similar problems, acknowledge this and say why your approach is different and better. Be sure to briefly explain how your proposed host institution will enable the science you wish to do. Finally, explicitly address the relevance of your project to “Cosmic Origins”, or any other stated requirement of the fellowship. A sentence or two is sufficient to address this.

Got more tips? Have more questions? Let’s hear them in the comments.


The AstroBetter Rumor Mill is ready for the new academic job cycle! The new Postdoc & Term and Faculty & Staff pages have already been started, but the 2017-2018 pages are still accessible.

As a side note, we are in the middle of updating our wiki database, and it can take a while for changes to be saved. Please be patient when updating the pages!


Information on graduate program requirements for the GRE [Wiki]

by Joanna Bridge August 8, 2018

Applying for graduate programs in astronomy can be an exciting but stressful time. Many programs in physics and astronomy require that you submit scores for both the General Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and the Physics GRE (PGRE) as part of your application package. As the season for grad school applications approaches, we want to draw […]


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ADS Bibliography Ninja: Creating custom format citations in ADS

by Guest July 14, 2018

Our guest post today, by Dr. Sarah Gallagher and Dr. Eilat Glikman, features some useful tips on how to customize your citation outputs from ADS. Dr. Sarah Gallagher (@scgQuasar) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. Dr. Eilat Glikman is an assistant professor […]


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Early Career Focus Session for the 2020 Decadal Survey

by Joanna Bridge June 20, 2018

We all have ideas about how astronomy can (and should) be changed for the better, but have you ever wondered how to actually go about making that change happen? Or thought that you were too junior to make a difference? If so, consider applying for this workshop that is specifically aimed at getting junior astronomers […]


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Advice for joining a research group abroad [Wiki]

by Joanna Bridge June 13, 2018

The standard career path in astronomy often requires a lot of moving around – moving to attend graduate school, moving for a postdoc position, and often moving again at every career transition beyond that. As a result, astronomical research groups tend to be very culturally diverse. Smoothing the way for these transitions is important, particularly […]


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AAS232 Day 0: Strategic Assembly

by Kelle June 3, 2018

10:00am It’s Day 0 here at AAS232 in Denver, CO. The opening reception is this evening and most attendees will be arriving today. The exhibit hall is getting setup and the meeting staff is busy getting all the signage up and the registration booth opened. On Day 0, the Strategic Assembly meets for a “strategy […]


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AAS232 Day -1: AAS Board of Trustees Meeting

by Kelle June 2, 2018

I’m attending AAS232 in Denver, CO as a member of the Board of the Trustees of the AAS (previously known as the Council). Since the summer meeting is much less hectic than the winter meeting, I’m aiming to live blog every day I’m here! I also want to raise the awareness of the summer meeting […]


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