The issues of gaming metrics and predatory publishing undoubtedly go hand-in-hand, outputs from the same system that requires academic researchers the world over to sing for their supper in some form or other. However, the two practices are often treated separately, almost as if there was no link at all, so editors Biagioli and Lippman are to be congratulated in bringing them together under the same roof in the shape of their book Gaming the Metrics: Misconduct and Manipulation in Academic Research (MIT Press, 2020).
The book is a collection of chapters that cover the whole gamut of wrongheaded – or just plain wrong – publication decisions on behalf of authors the word over on where to publish the fruits of their research. This ‘submission decision’ is unenviable, as it inevitably shapes academic careers to a greater or lesser degree. The main reason why authors make poor decisions is laid firmly at the doors of a variety of ‘publish or perish’ systems which seek to quantify the outputs from authors with a view to… well, the reason why outputs are quantified is never really explained. However, the reason why such quantification should be a non-starter is well-argued by Michael Power in Chapter 3, as well as Barbara M. Kehm (Ch. 6) in terms of the ever-popular university rankings. Even peer review comes under attack from Paul Wouters (Ch. 4), but as with the other areas any solutions are either absent, or in the case of Wouters proffered with minimal detail or real-world context.
Once into the book, any author would quickly realize that their decision to publish is fraught with difficulty with worrying about predatory publishers lurking on the internet to entice their articles and APCs from them. As such, any would be author would be well advised to heed the call ‘Caveat scriptor’ and read this book in advance of sending off their manuscript to any journals.
That said, there is also a case for advising ‘caveat lector’ before would-be authors read the book, as there are other areas where additional context would greatly help in addressing the problems of gaming metrics and academic misconduct. When it comes to predatory journals, there is a good deal of useful information included in several of the later chapters, especially the case studies in Chapters 7 and 15 which detail a suspiciously prolific Czech author and sting operation, respectively.
Indeed, these cases provide the context that is perhaps the single biggest failing of the book, which through its narrow academic lens doesn’t quite capture the wider picture of why gaming metrics and the scholarly communications system as a whole is ethically wrong, both for those who perpetrate it and arguably the architects of the systems. As with many academic texts that seek to tackle societal problems, the unwillingness to get dirt under the fingernails in the pursuit of understanding what’s really going on simply distances the reader from the problem at hand.
As a result, after reading Gaming the Metrics, one is like to simply shrug one’s shoulders in apathy about the plight of authors and their institutions, whereas a great deal more impact might have been achieved if the approach had been less academic and included more case studies and insights into the negative impact resulting from predatory publishing practices. After all, the problem with gaming the system is that, for those who suffer, it is anything but a game.
Journalytics is a curated database of over 11,000 verified academic journals spanning 18 disciplines, developed to help researchers and institutions optimize decision-making around the publication of research. Journalytics summaries provide publication and submission information and citation-backed data and analytics for comprehensive evaluations.
scite’s Smart Citations allow researchers to see how articles have been cited by providing the context of the citation and a classification describing whether it provides supporting or disputing evidence for the cited claim.
The inclusion of Smart Citations adds a layer of perspective to Journalytics metrics and gives users a deeper understanding of journal activity by transforming citations from a mere number into contextual data.
Lacey Earle, executive director of Cabells, says, “Cabells is thrilled to partner with scite in order to help researchers evaluate scientific articles through an innovative, comparative-based metric system that encourages rigorous and in-depth research.”
Josh Nicholson, co-founder and CEO of scite says of the partnership, “We’re excited to be working with Cabells to embed our Smart Citations into their Journalytics summaries. Smart Citations help you assess the quantity of citations a journal has received as well as the quality of these citations, with a focus on identifying supporting and disputing citations in the literature.”
Cabells generates actionable intelligence on academic journals for research professionals. On the Journalytics platform, an independent, curated database of more than 11,000 verified scholarly journals, researchers draw from the intersection of expertise, data, and analytics to make confident decisions to better administer research. In Predatory Reports, Cabells has undertaken the most comprehensive and detailed campaign against predatory journals, currently reporting on deceptive behaviors of over 14,000 publications. By combining its efforts with those of researchers, academic publishers, industry organizations, and other service providers, Cabells works to create a safe, transparent and equitable publishing ecosystem that can nurture generations of knowledge and innovation. For more information please visit Cabells or follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.
scite is a Brooklyn-based startup that helps researchers better discover and evaluate scientific articles through Smart Citations–citations that display the context of the citation and describe whether the article provides supporting or disputing evidence. scite is used by researchers from dozens of countries and is funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health. For more information, please visit scite, follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, and download our Chrome or Firefox plugin. For careers, please see our jobs page.
As blockchain technology continues to branch out well beyond the cryptocurrency world that initially brought it into being, it’s becoming clear it has many potential applications in education. In all likelihood we’re still in the early stages of the technology’s emergence in this field, and the applications will only continue to expand. Even now though, there are some interesting examples.
Perhaps most notable is that student records are becoming easier to keep track of and maintain securely because of blockchain technology. From basic information, to academic transcripts, to notes on course and extracurricular activity participation, there is a lot of information that educational institutions need to maintain and monitor. This can all be made a great deal easier if the information is entered into an incorruptible digital ledger — particularly when the time comes that the information needs to be transferred from one administrator or school to another.
Another important use is in the distribution of degrees. This is a process pioneered via digital diplomas from multiple universities, and has clear benefits for graduates, recruiters, and prospective employers alike. Turning a degree into a digital document turns it into a component of what we might almost refer to as an electronic résumé, making it easier for recruiters and employers to access and verify. The same practice may also become particularly useful with regard to online degrees where there is no in-person component to education. Business education in particular has developed very quickly online, with both online bachelors in business administration and MBAs leading candidates into fields growing far more quickly than other job markets.
These examples — keeping student records and turning degrees into digital documents — cover much of blockchain’s expansion into the realm of academia. Our primary focus here, however, is on another application that tends not to generate as much attention – or at least hasn’t yet. It has become clear that there are also various ways in which blockchain tech can significantly impact the world of academic publishing:
Mitigating Market Issues
While most people probably see academic publishing as a straightforward business or a by-the-book process, there are certain issues and inefficiencies that can come into play. These might include plagiarized materials, predatory journals, or any number of other problems. But in a world in which academic publishing occurs via the blockchain it could become easier for the agencies involved to ensure document integrity and spot these kinds of inefficiencies.
Storing Research Data
There’s a great deal of talk in general about data storage on the blockchain. To sum it up, the idea is essentially that blockchain solutions may rapidly supplant both in-house data storage and cloud storage options. It can make data harder to hack yet faster to access, and in theory it can provide virtually limitless storage. This is typically discussed with regard to healthcare and larger industries, but it could affect academic publishing as well.
Enhancing Effectiveness & Quality
The perks just described ultimately amount to a more accountable and higher-quality academic publishing environment. By extension, it could well be that in time, academic journals and other resources that are not published within a blockchain environment are representative of lower quality or less official status. This may not happen in the short term, however, a degree of exclusivity based on practices that could gradually become an industry standard can be a positive step. The blockchain would begin to serve almost as a filter for quality academic practices and publications.
Peer Review Application
Some academic publishers are already experimenting with the idea of utilizing blockchain technology to help peer review processes. Two of the problems of peer review are the sharing of multiple versions of documents to different people and the security required for double blind peer review. Blockchain systems could enable secure sharing with the benefit of certifying the results of peer review for all those involved.
Leveraging Blockchain for Distribution
Finally, academic journal authors may also find that the blockchain can be useful as a means of controlling distribution. Particularly in the modern world where people find so many ways of bypassing paywalls, downloading material freely and so on, it’s easy enough for valuable research and published material to essentially lose its value. Blockchain distribution for published material has the potential to swiftly address this problem, in that said material has to be obtained as the author and/or publisher determine it should be.
In all of these ways and more, blockchain technology is poised to be every bit as important in academic publishing as in other aspects of academia. And it’s likely that the full range of benefits still has yet to be determined.
On the day that the US says goodbye to its controversial President, we cannot bid farewell to one of his lasting achievements, which is to highlight issues of fake news and misinformation. Simon Linacre looks at how putting the issue in the spotlight could at least increase people’s awareness… and asks for readers’ help to do so.
Cabells completed around a dozen webinars with Indian universities towards the end of 2020 in order to share some of our knowledge of predatory publishing, and also learn from librarians, faculty members and students what their experiences were. Studies have shown that India has both the highest number of predatory journals based there and most authors publishing in them, as well as a government as committed as any to dealing with the problem, so any insight from the region is extremely valuable.
Q&A sessions following the webinars were especially rich, with a huge range of queries and concerns raised. One specific query raised a number of issues: how can researchers know if the index a journal says it is listed in is legitimate or not? As some people will be aware, one of the tricks of the trade for predatory publishers is to promote indices their journals are listed in, which can come in several types:
Pure lies: These are journals that say they have an ‘Impact Factor’, but are not listed by Clarivate Analytics in its Master Journal List of titles indexed on Web of Science (and therefore have an Impact Factor unless only recently accepted)
Creative lies: These journals say they are listed by an index, which is true, but the index is little more than a list of journals which say they are listed by the index, with the addition of the words ‘Impact Factor’ to make it sound better (eg. ‘Global Impact Factor’ , ‘Scholarly Article Impact Factor’)
Nonsensical lies: These are links (or usually just images) to seemingly random words or universities that try to import some semblance of recognition, but mean nothing. For example, it may be a name of a list, service or institution, but a quick search elicits nothing relating those names with the journal
White lies: One of the most common, many predatory journals say they are ‘listed’ or ‘indexed’ by Google Scholar. While it is true to say these journals can be discovered by Google Scholar, they are not listed or indexed for the simple reason that GS is not a list or an index
When Jeffrey Beall was active, he included a list of ‘Misleading Metrics’ on his blog that highlighted some of these issues. A version or versions of this can still be found today, but are not linked to here because (a) they are out of date by at least four years, and (b) the term ‘misleading’ is, well, misleading as few of the indexes include metrics in the first place, and the metrics may not be the major problem with the index. However, this information is very valuable, and as such Cabells has begun its own research program to create an objective, independently verifiable and freely available list of fake indexes in 2021. And, what’s more, we need your help – if anyone would like to suggest we look into a suspicious looking journal index, please write to me at email@example.com and we will review the site for inclusion.
As we enter what is an uncertain 2021 for many both personally and professionally, it is worth perhaps taking the opportunity to reset and refocus on what matters most to us. In his latest blog post, Simon Linacre reflects on Cabells’ new video and how it endeavors to show what makes us tick.
It is one of the ironies of modern life that we seem to take comfort in ‘doomscrolling’, that addictive pastime of flicking through Twitter on other social media on the hunt for the next scandal to inflame our ire. Whether it is Brexit, the coronavirus epidemic or alleged election shenanigans, we can’t seem to get enough of the tolls of doom ringing out in our collective echo chambers. As the New Year dawns with little good news to cheer us, we may as well go all in as the world goes to hell in a handcart.
Of course, we also like the lighter moments that social media provide, such as cat videos and epic fails. And it is comforting to hear some stories that renew our faith in humanity. One parent on Twitter remarked this week as the UK’s schools closed and reverted to online learning, that she was so proud of her child who, on hearing the news, immediately started blowing up an exercise ball with the resolve not to waste the opportunity lockdown provided of getting fit.
Reminding ourselves that the glass can be at least half full even if it looks completely empty is definitely a worthwhile exercise, even if it feels like the effort of constantly refilling it is totally overwhelming. At Cabells, our source of optimism has recently come from the launch of our new video. The aim of the video is to go back to basics and explain what Cabells does, why it does it, and how it does it through its two main products – Journalytics and Predatory Reports.
Making the video was a lot of fun, on what was a beautiful sunny Spring day in Edinburgh with one of my US colleagues at an academic conference (remember them?). While nerve-shredding and embarrassing, it was also good to go back to basics and underline why Cabells exists and what we hope to achieve through all the work we do auditing thousands of journals every year.
It also acted as a reminder that there is much to look forward to in 2021 that will keep our glasses at least half full for most of the time. Cabells will launch its new Medical journal database early this year, which will see over 5,000 Medical journals indexed alongside the 11,000 journals indexed in Journalytics. And we also have major upgrades and enhancements planned for both Journalytics and Predatory Reports databases that will help researchers, librarians and funders better analyse journal publishing activities. So, let’s raise a (half full) glass to the New Year, and focus on the light at the end of the tunnel and not the darkness that seems to surround us in early January.
There are many ways to skin a cat, and many ways to infer a journal could be predatory. In his latest blog post, Simon Linacre looks at the role the International Standard Serial Number, or ISSN, can play in the production of predatory journals.
For many reasons, the year 2020 will be remembered for the sheer volume of numbers that have invaded our consciousness. Some of these are big numbers – 80 million votes for Joe Biden, four million cases of COVID in the US in 2020 – and some of these will be small, such as the number of countries (1) leaving the EU at the end of the year. Wherever we look, we see numbers of varying degrees of import at seemingly every turn.
While numbers have been previously regarded as gospel, however, data has joined news and UFO sightings (seemingly one of the few phenomena NOT to increase in 2020) as something to be suspicious about or faked in some way. And one piece of data trusted by many authors in determining the validity or otherwise of a journal is the International Standard Serial Number, or ISSN.
An ISSN can be obtained relatively easily via either a national or international office as long as a journal can be identified as an existing publication. As the ISSN’s own website states, an ISSN is “a digital code without any intrinsic meaning” and does not include any information about the contents of that publication. Perhaps most importantly, an ISSN “does not guarantee the quality or the validity of the contents”. This perhaps goes some way to explain why predatory journals can often include an ISSN on their websites. Indeed, more than 40% of the journals included in Cabells’ Predatory Reports database include an ISSN in their journal information.
But sometimes predatory publishers can’t obtain an ISSN – or at least can’t be bothered to – and will fake the ISSN code. Of the 6,000 or so journals with an ISSN in Predatory Reports, 288 or nearly 5% have a fake ISSN, and this is included as one of the database’s behavioural indicators to help identify predatory activity. It is instructive to look at these fake ISSNs to see the lengths predatory publishers will go to in order to achieve some semblance of credibility in their site presence.
For some journals, it is obvious that the ISSN is fake as it looks wrong. In the example above for the Journal of Advanced Statistics and Probability, the familiar two groups of four digits followed by a hyphen format is missing, replaced by nine digits and a forward slash, which is incorrect.
More worrying are the few publications that have hijacked existing, legitimate journals and appropriated their identity, including the ISSN. In the example below, the Wulfenia Journal has had its identity hijacked, with the fake journal website pictured below.
If you compare it to the genuine journal shown below (the German homepage can be found here), you can see they list the same ISSN.
One can only imagine the chaos caused for a legitimate journal when its identity is hijacked, and this is just part of wider concerns on the effects of fake information being shared have on society. As always, arming yourself with the right information – and taking a critical approach to any information directed your way – will help see you through the morass of misinformation we seem to be bombarded with in the online world.
This week we are pleased to feature a guest post from Dr. Salim Moussa, Assistant Professor of Marketing at ISEAH at the University of Gafsa in Tunisia. Dr. Moussa has recently published insightful research on the impact predatory journals have had on the discipline of marketing and, together with Cabells’ Simon Linacre, has some cautionary words for his fellow researchers in that area.
Academic journals are important to marketing scholars for two main reasons: (a) journals are the primary medium through which they transmit/receive scholarly knowledge; and (b) tenure, promotion, and grant decisions depend mostly on the journals in which they have published. Selecting the right journal to which one would like to submit a manuscript is thus a crucial decision. Furthermore, the overabundance of academic marketing journals -and the increasing “Publish or Perish” pressure – makes this decision even more difficult.
The “market” of marketing journals is extremely broad, with Cabells’ Journalytics indexing 965 publication venues that that are associated with “marketing” in their aims and scope. While monitoring the market of marketing journals for the last ten years, I have noticed that a new type of journal has tapped into it: open access (OA) journals.
The first time I have ever heard about OA journals was during a dinner in an international marketing conference held in April 2015 in my country, Tunisia. Many of the colleagues at the dinner table were enthusiastic about having secured publications in a “new” marketing journal published by “IBIMA”. Back in my hometown (Gafsa), I took a quick look at IBIMA Publishing’s website. The thing that I remember the most from that visit is that IBIMA’s website looked odd to me. Then a few years later, while conducting some research on marketing journals, I noticed some puzzling results for a particular journal. Investigating the case of that journal, I came to realize that a scam journal was brandjacking the identity of the flagship journal of the UK-based Academy of Marketing’s, Journal of Marketing Management.
Undertaking this research, terms such“Predatory publishers”, “Beall’s List”, and “Think, Check, Submit” were new discoveries for me. This was also the trigger point of a painful yet insightful research experience that lasted an entire year (from May 2019 to May 2020).
Beall’s list was no longer available (shutdown in January 2017), and I had no access to Cabells’ Predatory Reports. Freely available lists were either outdated or too specialized (mainly Science, Technology, and Medicine) to be useful. So, I searched for journals that have titles that are identical or confusingly similar to those of well-known, prestigious, non-predatory marketing journals. Using this procedure, I identified 12 journals and then visited the websites of each of these 12 journals to collect information about both the publisher and the journal; that is, is the journal OA or not, its Article Processing Charges, whether the journal had an editor in chief or not, the names of its review board members and their affiliations (if any), the journal’s ISSNs, etc. I even emailed an eminent marketing scholar that I was stunned to see his name included in the editorial board of a suspicious journal.
With one journal discarded, I had a list of 11 suspicious journals (Journal A to Journal K).
Having identified the 11 publishers of these 11 journals, I then consulted three freely available and up-to-date lists of predatory publishers: the Dolos List, the Kscien List, and the Stop Predatory Journals List. The aim of consulting these lists was to check whether I was wrong or right in qualifying these publishers as predatory. The verdict was unequivocal; each of the 11 publishers were listed in all three of them. These three lists, however, provided no reasons for the inclusion of a particular publisher or a particular journal.
To double-check the list, I used the Directory of Open Access Journals, which is a community-curated online directory that indexes and provides access to high-quality, OA, peer-reviewed journals. None of the 11 journals were indexed in it. To triple-check the list, I used both the 2019 Journal Quality List of the Australian Business Deans Council and the 2018 Academic Journal Guide by the Chartered Association of Business Schools. None of the 11 journals were ranked in these two lists either.
To be brief, the one year of endeavor resulted in a paper I submitted to the prestigious academic journal, Scientometrics, published by Springer Nature, and my paper was accepted and published online in late October 2020. In that paper, I reported the findings of a study that examined the extent of citations received by articles published in ten predatory marketing journals (as one of the 11 journals under scrutiny was an “empty journal”; that is, with no archives). The results indicated that some of these journals received quite a few citations with a median of 490 citations, with one journal receiving 6,296 citations (see also Case Study below).
I entitled the article “Citation contagion: A citation analysis of selected predatory marketing journals.” Some people may or may not like the framing in terms of “contagion” and “contamination” (especially in these COVID times), but I wanted the title to be striking enough to attract more readership. Those who read the article may see it as a call for marketing researchers to “not submit their (possibly interesting) knowledge products to any journal before checking that the publication outlet they are submitting to is a non-predatory journal.” Assuming that the number of citations an article receives signals its quality, the findings in my study indicate that some of the articles published in these predatory journals deserved better publication venues. I believe that most of the authors of these articles were well-intentioned and did not know that the journals they were submitting to were predatory.
A few months earlier and having no access to Cabells databases, I read each of the posts in their blog trying identify marketing journals that were indexed in Predatory Reports. Together with Cabells, our message to the marketing research community is that 10 of the 11 journals that I have investigated were already listed (or under-review for inclusion) in Predatory Reports. I believe my study has revealed only the tip of the iceberg. Predatory Reports now indexes 140 journals related to the subject of Marketing (which represents 1% of the total number of journals listed in Predatory Reports). Before submitting your papers to an OA marketing journal, you can use Predatory Reports to verify that it is legitimate.
The study completed by Dr. Moussa provides an excellent primer on how to research and identify predatory journals (writes Simon Linacre). As such, it is instructive to look at one of the journals highlighted in Dr. Moussa’s article in more detail.
Dr. Moussa rightly suspected that the British Journal of Marketing Studies looked suspicious due to its familiar-sounding title. This is a well-used strategy by predatory publishers to deceive authors who do not make themselves familiar with the original journal. In this case, the British Journal of Marketing Studies sounds similar to a number of potential journals in this subject discipline.
As Dr. Moussa also points out, a questionable journal’s website will often fail to stand up to a critical eye. For example, the picture below shows the “offices” of BJMS – a small terraced house in Southern England, which seems an unlikely location for an international publishing house. This journal’s website also contains a number of other tells that while not singularly defining of predatory publishers, certainly provide indicators: prominent phone numbers, reference to an ‘Impact Factor’ (not from Clarivate), fake indexation in databases (eg DOAJ), no editor contact details, and/or fake editor identity.
What is really interesting about Dr. Moussa’s piece is his investigation of citation activity. We can see from the data below that ‘Journal I’ (which is the British Journal of Marketing Studies) that both total citations and the most citations received by a single article are significant, and represent what is known as ‘citation leakage’ where citations are made to and from predatory journals. As articles in these journals are unlikely to have had any peer review, publication ethics checks or proof checks, their content is unreliable and skews citation data for reputable research and journals.
Predatory journal: Journal I (BJMS)
Total number of citations received: 1,331
Number of citations received by the most cited article: 99
The most cited article was published in: 2014
Number of citations received from SSCI-indexed journals: 3
Number of citations received from FT50 listed journals: 0
It is a familiar refrain from The Source, but it bears repeating – as an author you should do due diligence on where you publish your work and ‘research your research’. Using your skills as a researcher for publication and not just what you want to publish will save a huge amount of pain in the future, both for avoiding the bad journals and choosing the good ones.
This week is Open Access Week, which you will not have missed due to the slew of Twitter activity, press releases and thought pieces being published – unless you are an author, perhaps. In this week’s blog, Simon Linacre focuses on academic researchers who can often be overlooked by the OA conversation, despite the fact they should be the focus of the discussion.
The other day, I was talking to my 16 year-old son about university, as he has started to think about what he might study and where he might like to go (“Dunno” and “dunno” are currently his favourite subjects and destinations). In order to spark some interest in the thought of higher education, I told him about how great the freedom was to be away, the relaxed lifestyle, and the need to be responsible for your own actions, such as handing in your work on time, even if you had to pull an all-nighter.
“What do you mean ‘hand in your work’?”, he said.
“You know, put my essay in my tutor’s pigeon hole”, I said.
“Why didn’t you just email it? And what do pigeons have to do with it?”, he replied.
Yes, university in the early 90s was a very different beast than today, and I decided to leave pigeons out of the ensuing discussion, but it highlighted to me that while a non-digital university experience is now just a crusty anecdote for students in education today, the transition from the 80s and 90s to the present state of affairs is the norm for those teaching in today’s universities. And in addition, many of the activities and habits that established themselves 20 to 30 years ago and beyond are still in existence, albeit changed to adapt with new technology.
One of these activities that has changed, but remained the same, is of course academic publishing. In the eyes of many people, publishing now will differ incredibly to what it was in the 80s pre-internet – physical vs digital, delayed vs instant, subscription vs open. But while the remnants of the older forms of publishing remain in the shape of page numbers or journal issues, there are still shadows from the introduction of in the early 2000s. This was brought home to me in some webinars recently in Turkey, Ukraine and India (reported here) where the one common question about predatory journals was: “Are all open access journals predatory?”
To those of us who have worked in publishing or to Western academics, this may seem a naïve question. But it is not. Open Access articles – that is, an article which is both free to read on the internet and free to re-use – are still relatively unknown by many academics around the world. In addition, being asked to pay money to publish is still not the norm – most journals listed by the Directory of Open Access Journals do not charge an Article Processing Charge (APC) – and publisher marketing communications are dominated by spam emails from predatory journals rather than press releases during Open Access Week. As such, while the dial may have moved appreciably in Europe and North America following initiatives such as Plan S and high-profile standoffs such as that between the University of California and Elsevier, discussion about OA may not have been replicated elsewhere.
So, while there will be many interesting conversations about Open Access (and delta Think has some fascinating data here), it is also important not to forget many authors may be hearing about it for the first time, or previously may have only heard negative or misleading information. Thankfully, there are plenty of useful resources out there, such as this introduction from Charlesworth Author Services to help authors identify the right OA outlet for their research. And of course, authors should remember that most Open Access journals are not predatory – but to be on the safe side, they can check our Predatory Reports database or criteria to judge for themselves.
Predatory publishing is undoubtedly a global phenomenon, but with unique characteristics in different countries. In this week’s blog, Simon Linacre shares insight from Russia and a group of researchers keen to shine the spotlight on breaches in publication ethics from within their own country.
For many of us, the Summer months are usually filled with holidays, conferences and a less than serious new agenda. The so-called ‘silly season’ could reliably be identified by news stories of the cat-stuck-in-tree variety, signaling to us all that there was nothing going on and we could safely ignore the news and concentrate on more important things, such as what cocktail to order next from the poolside bar.
It is hard to put a finger on it, but since around 2015 the Summer months seem to have been populated almost exclusively by epoch-making events from which it is impossible to escape. Whether it’s Brexit, COVID or any number of natural or man-made disasters, the news cycle almost seems to go up a gear rather than start to freewheel. And news stories in scholarly communications are no different. This summer saw a number of big stories, including one in Nature Index regarding alleged plagiarism and article publications in predatory journals by Russian university officials. Intrigued, I contacted the research group behind the investigation to learn more.
The group in question is the Commission for Counteracting the Falsification of Scientific Research, Russian Academy of Sciences, and earlier this year they compiled what they claimed to be the first evidence of large-scale ‘translation plagiarism’ by Russian authors in English-language journals (“Predatory Journals at Scopus and WoS: Translation Plagiarism from Russian Sources” (2020). Commission for Counteracting the Falsification of Scientific Research, Russian Academy of Sciences in collaboration with Anna A. Abalkina, Alexei S. Kassian, Larisa G. Melikhova). In total, the Commission said it had detected 94 predatory journals with259 articles from Russian authors, many of which were plagiarised after being translated from Russian into English.
In addition, the study saw that over 1,100 Russian authors had put their names to translated articles which were published in predatory journals. These included heads of departments at Russian universities, and in the case of three authors over 100 publications each in predatory journals. The report (the original can be found here) was authored by some of the founders of Dissernet, a Russian research project which is developing a database of mainly Russian journals which publish plagiarised articles or violate some other criteria of publication ethics. They are concerned that the existence of paper mills in Russia that spam authors and offer easy publication in journals is leading to wide-ranging breaches of publication ethics, supported by inflated metrics appearing to lend some legitimacy to them. Cabells hopes to be able to support the work of Dissernet in highlighting the problem in Russia and internationally, so watch this space.
Fake news has been the go-to criticism of the media for some politicians, which in turn has been rejected as propaganda and fear-mongering by journalists. However, as former journalist Simon Linacre argues, the fourth estate needs to have its own house is in order first, and ensure they are not tripped up by predatory journals.
I class myself as a ‘runner’, but only in the very loosest sense. Inspired by my wife taking up running a few years ago, I decided I should exercise consistently instead of the numerous half-hearted, unsuccessful attempts I had made over the years. Three years later I have done a couple of half-marathons, run every other day, and track my performance obsessively on Strava. I have also recently started to read articles on running online, and have subscribed to the magazine Runners World. So yes, I think I may actually be a runner now.
But I’m also an experienced journalist, a huge cynic, and have a bulls*** radar the size of the Grand Canyon, so even while relaxing with my magazine I like to think I can spot fakery a mile off. And so it proved earlier this summer while reading a piece on how hill running can improve your fitness. This was music to my ears as someone who lives half-way up a valley side, but my interest was then piqued when I saw a reference to the study that formed the basis for the piece, which was to an article in the International Journal of Scientific Research. Immediately, I smelt a rat. “There is no way that is the name of a reputable, peer-reviewed journal,” I thought. And I was right.
But that wasn’t even half of the problem.
After checking Cabells’ Predatory Reports database, I found not one but TWO journals are listed on the database with that name, both with long lists of breaches of the Cabells’ criteria that facilitate the identification of predatory journals. I was still curious as to the nature of the research, as it could have been legitimate research in an illegitimate journal, or just bad research, full stop. As it turned out, neither journal had ever published any research on hill running and the benefits of increasing VO2 max. So where was the story from?
After some more digging, an article matching the details in the Runners World piece could be found in a third similarly-named journal, the International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications. The article, far from the recent breakthrough suggested in the August 2020 issue of Runners World, was actually published in August 2017 by two authors from Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. While the science of the article seems OK, the experiment that produced the results was on just 32 people over 12 weeks, which means it really needs further validation across greater subjects to confirm its findings. Furthermore, while the journal itself was not included in Cabells’ Predatory Reports database, a review found significant failings, including unusually quick peer review processes and, more seriously, that the “owner/Editor of the journal or publisher falsely claims academic positions or qualifications”. The journal has subsequently been added to Predatory Reports, and the article itself has never been cited in the three years since publication.
Yet one question remains: how did a relatively obscure article, published in a predatory journal and that has never been cited, find its way into a news story in a leading consumer magazine? Interestingly, similar research was also quoted on MSN.com in May 2020 which also quoted the International Journal of Scientific Research, while other sites have also quoted the same research but from the International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications. It appears likely that, having been quoted online once, the same story has been doing the rounds for three years like a game of ‘Telephone,’ all based on uncited research that may not have been peer reviewed in the first place, that used a small sample size and was published in a predatory journal.
While no damage has been done here – underlying all this, it does make sense that hill running can aid overall performance – one need only need to think about the string of recent health news stories around the coronavirus to see how one unverified article could sweep like wildfire through news outlets and online. This is the danger that predatory journals pose.