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Study rings alarm over Indian work in ‘predatory’ journals

Beall has coined the expression “predatory publishers” for those who collect collect article processing charges and provide rapid publishing without a proper peer review process.

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas |
January 9, 2017 1:30:37 am

At the University of Colorado, associate professor and library scientist Jeffrey Beall maintains an online “black list” of publishers and journals that may be questionable. From 18 such publishers in 2011 the list had grown to 923 by early 2016.

“Separating the good from the junk that is online is a challenge and I can tell you that the number of predatory publishers continues to increase greatly, with no signs of a slowdown in the number of newly launched publishers and standalone journals. Researchers are especially tired of receiving so many spam emails from these publishers,” Beall told The Indian Express in an e-mail response.

Beall has coined the expression “predatory publishers” for those who collect collect article processing charges and provide rapid publishing without a proper peer review process. The science-free process used by predatory open-access publishers does not allow anyone to verify or challenge studies that may be flawed or biased.

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It has become a concern in India too. G S Seethapathy, a PhD student at the School of Pharmacy and Natural History Museum, University of Oslo, and other researchers randomly downloaded 3,300 articles by Indian first authors published during September 2015 to mid-February 2016 in 350 journals marked predatory by Beall.

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They found that more than half the papers were by authors from government and private colleges, they reported in Current Science on December 10. And 11% were from national institutes such as ICAR, CSIR, the IITs amd ICMR.

Seethapathy told The Indian Express that 480 of the authors responded to an online questionnaire. Of these, 20 per cent said they were unaware that their paper was published in a predatory journal, 10 per cent said they knew, while the remaining 70 per cent were not willing to reply.

In simple terms, Seethapathy said, predatory journals mean “if you pay money they will publish whatever you type and submit”. The study team agreed major government academic institutions can produce high-quality scientific research but felt publication pressure and lack of monitoring contribute to articles being published in poor-quality journals. In most academic appointments and promotions, there is emphasis on the number of publications.

A global study published in the BMC Medicine, based at the Hanken School of Economics in Finland, reported that 27 per cent of predatory publishers were based in India, while 35 per cent of the papers in predatory journals were by Indian institutions. Nature Index Analysis 2014, on the other hand, rates India at 13th place for high-quality scientific publications.

Dr Madhukar Pai, professor and director of Global Health, McGill University, Canada, said the Current Science study shows predatory publishers have a big market in India. “Every day, I get spam email from predatory publishers… I can see that many of these journals are based out of India,” Pai said. “Over time, bad/junk science will overwhelm the good, and this can have serious consequences.”

“Desperation to publish” is evident, said Dr Bhushan Patwardhan, Prof of Health Sciences at Pune University and chairman of the committee that set up guidelines for researchers on where and how to publish.

Dr N K Ganguly, former director general of ICMR, said several research institutes have conformed to global standards and published in international journals. Ganguly agreed there is a need for some regulation but felt it should not stifle creative enterprise.

At National AIDS Research Institute whose parent body is ICMR, director Dr R S Gangakhedkar said authorities are unlikely to pay publication fees if the journal did not have a high impact factor — above 2. Lancet and Clinical Infectious Diseases Journal, for eample, have an impact factor of 4, Gangakhedkar said.

The co-authors of the study with Seethapathy were J U Santhosh Kumar of Department of Postgraduate Studies and Research in Biotechnology, Kuvempu University, and A S Hareesha of School of Ecology and Conservation, University of Agricultural Sciences, GKVK, Bengaluru.

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