An investigation by The Indian Express has revealed India to be one of the biggest global hubs for the “pay-and-publish” business, a practice in which “predatory journals” that often exist only online, publish research without any rigorous checks or expert review, for a “fee” ranging from as little as a couple of thousand rupees to well over a lakh.
The American librarian Jeffrey Beall first used the expression “predatory open access publishing” in 2010, and published a list of “predatory publishers” on his blog that year. He subsequently started updating the list frequently, but was forced shut down his blog in 2017 under threats of lawsuits. But a major global debate had been opened. The UGC website defines predatory journals or predatory publishers as “unscrupulous open access journals or publishers who publish articles on payment but with little or no real peer review.(They) exploit the business model of open-access publishing that involves charging publication fees… without following the editorial and publishing policies and services associated with legitimate journals”. It is important to note that not all open access journals — which anyone can read and download for free, with authors paying for the publication of their papers — are “predatory” in nature; several reputed journals with strict peer review policies, too, follow the model of accepting “processing charges” from authors.
A market for ‘research’
The UGC (Minimum Qualifications for Appointment of Teachers and Other Academic Staff in Universities and Colleges and Measures for the Maintenance of Standards in Higher Education) Regulations, 2010 award 15 marks for each article published in “Refereed Journals”, and 10 marks for those published in “Non-refereed but recognised and reputable journals and periodicals, having ISBN/ISSN numbers”. Each publication in “Conference proceedings as full papers, etc.” fetches 10 marks. Under the Regulations, the Academic Performance Index (API) score for a paper is augmented based on the “impact factor” — a measure of the frequency with which the average article in a journal has been cited in a particular year — of the refereed journal. The API provision was scrapped for college teachers last month so they could focus on teaching without feeling pressured to undertake research, but continues for universities.
The Indian Express found around 300 publishers from India publishing more than 6,000 journals and organising hundreds of conferences in the country and abroad. The pressure to publish, and to present papers at conferences in order to collect the marks needed for recruitments/promotions often incentivises pay-to-publish practices. It is important to note, however, that only a small share of the clientele of predatory publishers based in India are from India. Says Beall, who managed the Auraria Library in Denver, US, until March this year, predatory publishers are “giving a bad name to India”.
UGC has a Standing Committee on Notification of Journals, currently headed by Prof V S Chauhan. Last year, the UGC published a list of over 32,000 “approved journals” on its website, which meant that articles published in these journals would be considered in promotions and recruitments. UGC had earlier asked universities to recommend journals for the list — an exercise that allowed several poor-quality publications to slip through. As questions were raised, the UGC slashed 4,305 journals from the list, bringing the number of approved journals down to 25,784. The concern over predatory publishing is, however, global: the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICJME) expressed concern in December 2017 over “the growing number of entities that are advertising themselves as ‘scholarly medical journals’ (but are)… ‘fake’, ‘predatory’, or ‘pseudo’ journals (that) misrepresent their peer-review and publication processes… for the sole purpose of making money”.