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A cross-sectional study of predatory publishing emails received by career development grant awardees
  1. Tracey A Wilkinson1,
  2. Christopher J Russell2,3,
  3. William E Bennett4,
  4. Erika R Cheng1,
  5. Aaron E Carroll5
  1. 1 Children’s Health Services Research, Indiana University Department of Pediatrics, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
  2. 2 Division of Hospital Medicine, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA
  3. 3 Department of Pediatrics, Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA
  4. 4 Division of Gastroenterology, Department of Pediatrics, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
  5. 5 Department of Pediatrics, Indiana University, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Tracey A Wilkinson; tracwilk{at}


Objective To investigate the scope of academic spam emails (ASEs) among career development grant awardees and the factors associated with the amount of time spent addressing them.

Design A cross-sectional survey of career development grant investigators via an anonymous online survey was conducted. In addition to demographic and professional information, we asked investigators to report the number of ASEs received each day, how they determined whether these emails were spam and time they spent per day addressing them. We used bivariate analysis to assess factors associated with the amount of time spent on ASEs.

Setting An online survey sent via email on three separate occasions between November and December 2016.

Participants All National Institutes of Health career development awardees funded in the 2015 fiscal year.

Main outcome measures Factors associated with the amount of time spent addressing ASEs.

Results A total of 3492 surveys were emailed, of which 206 (5.9%) were returned as undeliverable and 96 (2.7%) reported an out-of-office message; our overall response rate was 22.3% (n=733). All respondents reported receiving ASEs, with the majority (54.4%) receiving between 1 and 10 per day and spending between 1 and 10 min each day evaluating them. The amount of time respondents reported spending on ASEs was associated with the number of peer-reviewed journal articles authored (p<0.001), a history of publishing in open access format (p<0.01), the total number of ASEs received (p<0.001) and a feeling of having missed opportunities due to ignoring these emails (p=0.04).

Conclusions ASEs are a common distraction for career development grantees that may impact faculty productivity. There is an urgent need to mitigate this growing problem.

  • open access publishing
  • predatory journals
  • publishing
  • time management

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  • Contributors TAW conceptualised and designed the study, distributed the survey, drafted the initial manuscript and approved the final manuscript as submitted. CJR and WEB conceptualised and designed the study and approved the final manuscript as submitted. ERC conceptualised and designed the study, carried out the analysis and approved the final manuscript as submitted. AEC contributed to the study design and data collection, reviewed and revised the manuscript, and approved of the final manuscript as submitted.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval The Indiana University Institutional Review Board approved this study with a waiver of consent due to the lack of identifiable information being obtained in the anonymous survey responses.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement The survey, statistical code and dataset are available by request to the corresponding author, TAW.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

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