Inside India’s fake research paper shops: pay, publish, profit

Despite UGC blacklist, hundreds of ‘predatory journals’ thrive, cast shadow on quality of faculty and research nationwide.

Written by Shyamlal Yadav | New Delhi | Updated: July 19, 2018 2:38:26 pm
Inside India’s fake research paper shops: pay, publish, profit OMICS, from this building in Hyderabad, hosts over 700 journals and faces action in US.

In the world of academia, getting published in an international research journal is almost the holy grail, it helps bump up the CV for hiring and helps in the competition for tenure or promotion. It takes rigorous research, an original contribution, exhaustive peer or expert reviews, and dogged persistence.

But then, there’s also an easy way — pay and publish.

An investigation by The Indian Express shows that India has emerged as one of the biggest markets for a business in which over 300 publishers manage what are called “predatory journals” that claim to be international and publish papers for a listed “charge” or “fee” that ranges from $30-$1,800 per piece.

From a plush office in the heart of Hyderabad, home to one of the world’s largest such publishers, to a one-room, one-man, one-laptop office at Richha in Bareilly, The Indian Express found that most of these publications exist online, claim to have a list of experts as editors, and employ minimal or no editorial checks before publication.

Hyderabad-based OMICS is, in fact, facing legal action by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US for fraudulent claims — a charge the company denies.

“These so-called predatory journals have brought a bad name for the country and also for many of its sincere researchers,” S C Lakhotia, professor emeritus at Banaras Hindu University, told The Indian Express.

Ten months ago, Lakhotia resigned from a committee set up by the University Grants Commission (UGC) to assess publications recommended by universities for inclusion in an approved list of around 32,000 journals maintained by the regulatory body. “The list had many bogus or dubious journals,” Lakhotia said.

On May 2, the UGC removed 4,305 journals from the list, saying they were of “questionable” nature or lacked mandatory information on their websites.

Also Read: V-Cs, AIIMS, IIT professors on list: ‘Students sent it, we don’t know’

Over the last month, The Indian Express visited hundreds of such websites, criss-crossed the country from Ghaziabad to Mandsaur and Hyderabad, and interviewed owners, experts and “editors”, to find an ecosystem thriving in a grey zone.

One company was behind over 700 journals, another brought out 10. One website offered a 96% discount, another did not list its fee but said it is “fairly reasonable”. And while all the owners claimed they were running legitimate “open access” operations, the editors who responded to a questionnaire said they were yet to edit a single article.

Most of these journals covered the fields of medicine, engineering and management, the range diverse: From Journal of Aging Research and European Journal of Medicinal Plants to Journal of Religious Studies, Buddhism and Living.

The Indian Express investigation is part a global project involving 60 reporters led by German broadcasters NDR and WDR, and Suddeutsche Zeitung, with 18 partners, including Le Monde and The New Yorker.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) provided the online platform to share findings on 175,000 publications published by some of the most important predatory publishers, including OMICS, IOSR Journals and Sciencedomain. These three were among the key players that The Indian Express tracked down – along with the fee listed on their websites for each article.

Explained: How the pay-and-publish business works

Inside India’s fake research paper shops: pay, publish, profit Irshad Ahmad in Richha near Bareilly hosts 13 journals from his one-room home office

OMICS
No. of journals: 785
Topics: Medicine, Pharmaceuticals, Engineering, Technology, Management
Charge: $149-$1,819

Run by Srinubabu Gedela, a PhD in Biotechnology from Andhra University, Hyderabad-based OMICS is one of the largest publishers of predatory journals in India. Court records in the US, where OMICS is facing action from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for alleged fraudulent claims, state: “Between August 25, 2011 and July 31, 2017, Defendants (OMICS) have taken in gross revenues, in the form of publication and conference registration fees from consumers, of at least approximately $50,740,100.05… Several academics and professionals who agreed to serve on the editorial boards of these journals stated that they never received any manuscripts to review.” The Indian Express contacted two experts listed as editors on the OMICS website — Rajesh Malhotra, professor of orthopaedics, AIIMS-Delhi, and Ravi Kant, director, AIIMS-Rishikesh — and both denied this claim by the publisher. The company claims to have published over 1 million articles.

REACTION: Srinubabu Gedela: “(The FTC charge) is completely wrong… They don’t know the definition of journal. They don’t know what peer review is. They are illiterates. Scientists are not illiterates. They know which article to publish in which journal.” (Note: The full interview will be published tomorrow).

Austin
No. of journals: 202
Topics: Medicine, Pharmacology
Charge: $1,800

The group, which has also published over a dozen e-books, is run by a Hyderabad-based couple, Mahendra Reddy Chirra and Siva Parvathi Chirra. Its websites show a web of addresses for various entities — from New Jersey in the US to Andheri-Kurla in Mumbai. Registrar of Company documents show that Austin Publishers Pvt Ltd was incorporated in Hyderabad on February 13, 2014. They show that its name was changed to Austin Info Consultancy Pvt Ltd in August 2015, with Mahendra Reddy and Siva Parvathi as directors. The contact details of editors, and members of the editorial team, are not available on the Austin websites. The company claims to have published over 7,000 articles.

REACTION: Mahendra Reddy Chirra: “My spouse is from a medical background… In this globalised world, location is of no matter. Academicians need their work to get published and we are serving the publication needs of all academicians across the world. Major publishers are outsourcing their work to India because of the resources available here.”

Science Domain
No. of journals: 111
Topics: Science, Technology, Medicine
Charge: $500

Run by a Hooghly-based couple, Science Domain has a registered company in the UK. As for its owners, Pinaki Mondal is listed as an MTech degree holder and a former employee of International Centre for Automobile Technology, while his wife, identified only as “Dr (Ms) M B Mondal”, is shown to have completed her PhD. Sciencedomain.org says it charges $500 per article but offers discounts of up to 96% on this price. “Kindly contact to editor.15@sciencedomain.org to know payment instructions for bank wire transfer,” it states. The website claims that four of its journals are on the UGC list but The Indian Express found only one — British Journal of Economics, Management & Trade — although its new version, Journal of Economics, Management and Trade, is missing. The company claims to have published over 20,000 articles.

REACTION: Dr (Ms) M B Mondal: “We strongly protest any attempt to label Sciencedomain International as a predatory publisher… (Our) journals follow the transparent open peer review model, so the main criteria of predatory publishing cannot be applied.”

IAEME
No. of journals: 126
Topics: Engineering, Management
Charge: $170-$550

The website of IAEME (International Association of Engineering and Management Education) shows that it is run by Dr S Balasubramanyan, who is identified as a PhD. The website claims that IAEME is “a non-profit international association for engineering and management education”, and claims that it “takes only 3-5 days for an article publication”. IAEME claims that seven of its journals are on the UGC list but only five are actually listed. In separate claims on its websites, the company says it has published “5,500 papers” and “11,713 articles”.

REACTION: Dr S Balasubramanyan: “We are not going to provide any information other than what is already available on our website.”

IJRDO Journals
No. of journals: 43
Subjects: Engineering, Medicine, Science, Technology, Management, Health Science, Environment
Charge: $30-$100

Naeem Akhtar, who lists himself as the “Chief Editor” or “Editor-in-Chief” of 32 journals published by IJRDO, runs a coaching centre for children at the address in Gurgaon listed on the websites of many of these publications. Apart from Akhtar, payments are accepted — NEFT, Moneygram, etc — in the names of at least four other individuals identified as Jafar Inam, Rais Ahmed, Aasif Khan and Jabbar Khan. Akhtar describes himself as a “B. Tech. in Computer Science and Engineering in 2014… currently pursuing the M.Tech in CSE”. Two IJRDO journals were on the UGC list before being removed on May 2. The Indian Express sent emails seeking details to 21 members of the editorial team of IJRDO Journal of Business Management. Only one, identified as Buddhi Prakash Chauhan, responded to say that “perhaps, they did not take my consent”. Asked how many articles he had edited, Chauhan said: “None.”

REACTION: Naeem Akhtar: “We do not pay our editors or reviewers. They review the manuscripts voluntarily. Currently, we are improving our standards by focusing on quality research papers. So anyone can’t expect to publish their article by just paying the publication charges. However, we do ask for the publication charges after an editorial decision is taken.”

IOSR Journals
No. of journals: 24
Subjects: Engineering, Management, Pharmacy, Applied Science, Mathematics
Charge: $75

With a list of 24 journals, iosrjournals.org, the website of International Organization of Scientific Research (IOSR), states: “Congratulations, Most of IOSR Journals are approved by UGC.” But The Indian Express found none of those journals on the UGC list. Run by Chetan Sharma, who claims to have completed his PhD, the website lists IOSR Journal of Dental and Medical Sciences as “MCI Approve”. But, when contacted, a representative of the Medical Council of India (MCI) said it has “no role with regard to journals”. The websites of these journals list addresses in Australia, Qatar, US and Dasna in Ghaziabad. At the Ghaziabad address listed on questjournals.org, registered in the name of Sharma, The Indian Express met Sandeep Sharma, who identified himself as a builder and younger brother of Chetan Sharma. “Chetan has shifted his business to Bengaluru,” he said. The company claims to have “accepted” 16,000 articles.

REACTION: Chetan Sharma: “There are different editors for different journals. All articles are published after peer review. If we get any complaint related to any article, the editorial board takes action within seven days. I use a US address for some of my journals because content and editors for such subjects are available there only.”

Anveshika Publishing & Informatics
No. journals: 23
Charge: $50

Anveshika publishes journals in the name of Advance Journals, with “Navneet Kumar” from “Narayanpur, Kanpur” listed as “Editor” on some and “Managing Editor” on others. The same name and location is listed at bmrjournals.com, which lists almost the same set of journals. Kumar is also shown as “Managing Editor” of Journal of Recent Advances in Applied Sciences (jraas.org), published by “Dr A K Srivastava, Editor-in-Chief” from “Sitapur Road, Lucknow”.

REACTION: Navneet Kumar Yadav: “We follow ethical standards in scientific and scholarly publications. All articles are screened and go through a review process before being put up online.”

ARSEAM
No. of Journals: 13
Topics: Science, Engineering, Art, Management
Charge: Not listed, website says “fairly reasonable”

Run from a single room in Bareilly’s Richha by Irshad Ahmad, who identifies himself as a research scholar, Academic Research in Science, Engineering, Art and Management (ARSEAM) lists 150 names on its editorial team. The Indian Express emailed queries seeking details to all, and received responses from two who said they had never edited an article for ARSEAM. One of then, Dr Sandeep Kumar Kesarwani, who is Assistant Professor at IBS Dehradun, said: “No one has approached me.” The other, N Ramu of Annamalai University, said, “The publisher sought my willingness to become the editor of a journal. I sent my CV with my consent. I haven’t reviewed any article.”

REACTION: Irshad Ahmad: “We do not charge for publication. We charge only for hard copies of journals. We have different charges for foreign authors.”

IASTEM
No. of journals: 10
Topics: Science, Technology, Engineering, Management
Charge: $120-$200

Run by Bijoy Kumar Barik, who is listed as the chairman, IASTEM (International Academy of Science, Technology, Engineering and Management) is linked to a number of websites with addresses listed in Bhubaneswar, Kolkata and Selangor in Malaysia. The Indian Express tracked at least 20 of these websites, all of which were described as “not for profit”. They include Kolkata-listed International Institute of Engineers and Researchers (IIER), which claims to be the “world’s fastest growing non-profit organization”. theiier.org also includes a list of over 216 conferences scheduled till 2019, each with a registration fee of $150. One organisation, Institute For Technology and Research, claimed to have 10 journals on the UGC list but The Indian Express found none.

REACTION: Bijoy Kumar Barik: “We are a non-profit organisation with very limited resources. We have organised about 200 seminars and conferences so far.”

 

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