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Published on May 22, 2018 | Eye Opener| Interviews
Predatory Journals and academic publishing fallacy in UGC approved journals.


Research paper woes

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In the field of science and technology Journal publishing determines the trajectory of scientific careers. Recently University Grants Commission (UGC) has made headlines and have been receiving a lot of flak about their approved list of Journals. The UGC had asked academic institutions to recommend names of Journals abiding by the given checklist criteria to include journals in the UGC’s whitelist. But the academic institutions that have recommended these journals have not examined them thoroughly and the UGC has taken their recommendations at face value.

After randomly selecting 1,336 journals from science, arts, humanities, and social science out of the 5,699 universities recommended journals included in the UGC list. 327 journals indexed in the Scopus/web of science were excluded and the rest 1,009 were examined by a team of researchers. The researchers come up with almost 880 lists of predatory journals in 2018.

How to identify Predatory journals?

“Predatory journal” or “Predatory publisher” are terms coined in 2010 by an American librarian Jeffrey Beall to describe unscrupulous publishers who published articles with little or no real peer review. Some of these journals use a business model called the article-processing charge. Where accepted articles are paid for by the authors. And often if the authors refuse to pay the amount and don’t want their paper published, the journals publish them without the author’s consent. Though legitimate publishers had used a model similar to this since the early 2000s, around 2007/8 observers of OA journals raised concerns about spamming and poor peer review from some new publishers. Beall wrote up a list of some of these suspected journals in an article, which later became the basis for “Beall’s List”.

Many of these journals operate out of India and Nigeria but pretend to function out of Western countries. Also, most of the authors who publish in these journals are from developing countries. An earlier study published in 2015 by BMC medicine highlights that 27% of predatory journal publishers are based in India and 35% of such authors are from Indian institutes. Crackdown on these journals although are somewhat hard to perform as the definition of predatory journals is vague and questionable.

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Figures are not to scale and have been approximated.

Conditions of research papers

Research papers around the world are increasing exponentially but so are the number of retractions. The widespread availability of bibliometric data from various sources like Google scholar, Thomas Reuters ISI, Elsevier, etc due to the incredible search capabilities that the web allows, have led to increasing citations and scientific productivity.

But what if this growth in quantity is more bad than good? In 1963, physicist and historian Derek de Solla Price looked at growth trends in the research enterprise and saw the threat of “scientific doomsday”. The number of scientists and publications had been growing exponentially for 250 years. This has led to an increase in submissions and publications of research papers. Price realized that this trend was unsustainable.

“Current trajectories threaten science with drowning in the noise of its own rising productivity”.

This drowning effect is clearly observed in the retraction rates of submitted research papers. Having increased by ten-fold in the past decade. Additionally, the reason cited for over two-thirds of these retractions is scientific misconduct: fraud, duplicate publication and plagiarism.

This is not surprising at all as students and academicians pursue research for employability and no accountability. Which is why no new frontiers of research are taken up willingly rather a recreation of previous research is sought after. Hence turning the perpetual wheel of coercive citation in academic publishing.

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The image does not belong to us it belongs to [(Title: Misconduct accounts for the majority of retracted scientific publications), authors: Ferric C. Fang, R. Grant Steen, and Arturo Casadevall, PNAS October 16, 2012. 109 (42) 17028-17033; ]
Additionally rather than being prey to these predatory journals some authors purposely seek out these low barrier ways to publish. For example: On questionable papers in predatory Journals in India the Telegraph says that

“When a plagiarism charge is brought up, they simply retract the paper, but those who wrote the paper continue to cite it in their CV’s” – source.

Lastly, the relationship between a mentor and mentee plays a vital role. Students and academicians in India and other developing countries are being indoctrinated to the mechanics of the system by their mentors rather than being guided by them. This is as mentees are not viewed in the light of a creative adult but rather in one of a lost buck amidst an endless savanna.

Avoiding this final destination of science will require much more selective publication. Rising quality can thus emerge from declining scientific efficiency and productivity. As science never has never been efficient and time-saving but rather arduous and time-consuming.

The root of the problem in India.

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Diving headfirst into the jaws of predation.

This dive by Indian researchers towards publishing in predatory journals is because “only papers published in the [UGC] approved journal [list] will be recognised at the time of recruitment and for granting points (under the Academic Performance Indicators (API) system) to teachers in colleges and universities at the time of assessment for promotion,” the UGC website says. Since predatory journals have meaningless and fake impact factors, researchers are able to meet the stipulation by publishing questionable and low-quality papers in these journals. Hence making themselves eligible for promotion and increasing their API assessment scores.

“The inclusion of predatory journals in the approved list thus makes a mockery of the entire exercise and gives the predatory journals the UGC stamp of authenticity, which they proudly flaunt on their websites.” – source

The makings of a good journal.

If Journals are the end all and be all of the scientific careers and dictate the relevance of scientific studies and research. Then why is it that the makings of a good Journal are ambiguous, vague and unscientific?

Ask any publisher or academician what makes a good Journal and they would chime in unison Impact Factor. But what is the Impact Factor and how is it exactly measured?

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From above we can infer that the impact factor depends crucially on which article type Thompson scientific deems as ‘citable’. The fewer the better (a lower denominator means a higher impact factor). But what qualifies as a citable article? Thompson scientific has refused to make public its process of choosing a ‘citable’ article type. Thus leaving us and everybody else to our own imaginations. Is an editorial a ‘citable’ article? Or how about an essay? Or a story perhaps? Maybe a commentary could be deemed ‘citable’? Who knows? Only Thomas knows.

A journals impact factor is derived from citations to articles in a journal. Thus the publication of review articles or highly cited research papers which contain a high number of citations than pure research papers can substantially affect the impact factor of a journal. Impact factor enhances popularity and profitability. Hence journal editors and publishers work hard to increase them. Yet to do so sometimes publishers and editors resort to deviant methods such as publishing bias.

Moreover Thomson Scientific is a part of The Thomson Corporation, a for-profit organization that is responsible primarily to its shareholders. And not to any other parties irrespective of how much importance they give the impact factor. (I.e. authors and readers of scientific research)

Additionally, a journal’s impact factor says nothing at all about how well read and discussed the journal is outside the core scientific community or whether it influences government policy. Thomson Scientific itself acknowledges that the impact factor has grown beyond its control and is being used in many inappropriate ways. Such as It is used to decide whether authors get promoted, are given tenure or offered a position in a department, or are awarded a grant. In some countries, government funding of entire institutions is dependent on the number of publications in journals with high impact factors.

Hence it comes as no surprise that authors care so much about journals’ impact factors and take them into consideration when submitting papers.

Thus “We conclude that science is currently rated by a process that is itself unscientific, subjective, and secretive.” – source

Peer review process: boon or bane?

To stop predatory journals Peer reviews is mandatory. Peer review is the backbone of every research paper and respected Journal. Without peer reviews research wouldn’t be what it is. However, because of it, the condition of research also is, how it is. Below is an illustration of the workings of the peer review process:-

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Peer reviews are done by academicians and other researchers themselves, this keeps submitted papers relevant and under the constant scrutiny of experts in its respective field. However, keep in mind that peer reviews are completely voluntary and an unpaid service. There are no benefits to the system. Referees either take out time from their own research or review papers in their spare time. Thus reports are delayed and hinder several professional’s prospects. Although some Journals do pay their referees; the amount is very nominal and time spent on their own research is more rewarding than the offered remuneration.

Coming back to the issue of UGC in India. Many have voiced the idea that UGC should just accept journals indexed in the web of science or Scopus as the minimum requirement for research publication instead of creating its own curated whitelist. However, even Scopus is not free from the practice of predation as a study by IDEA confirms. Hence rendering that idea equivalent to applying a band-aid over a bullet wound. Desperate but ineffective.

In totality, the system of academic and research publishing is so broken it should be abandoned and not reformed.

Possible solutions: The “OPEN” movement.

All is not lost though there are a few cracks in the walls of this academic bullpen. Open access bibliographic databases and index sites such as Google Scholar and DOAJ (directory of open access journals) use the agenda of open access to further your work and be noticed.

Certain journals are involving the editors in the review process to screen out bad papers and unhelpful reviews. Elsevier, a major publisher has launched a platform which publically lists referees and how often they have written referee reports. A similar independent platform is Publons. Open peer reviews are also gaining popularity where a referees name and report is published with the article. Compared to the traditional anonymous method. This encourages transparency but not everyone is happy with this approach.

Yet, for all the above reasons and many more the whole process of academic publishing and assessment of an individual’s papers must be rethought, restructured and re-planned.


For all you researchers out there who find it difficult and expensive to access papers and articles in reputed journals here’s a little gift from Navigus. Apart from helping students, professionals young and old in finding their career. And chart a course of action for their career roadmap. We also believe in the notion that knowledge is meant to be shared and not hoarded. Sci-huβ is a site that provides mass and public access to research papers. We “do not” encourage its use but are obliged to keep our readers “informed”.  ?

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Don’t let the numbers drown out your research.
  1. [P.J Easterbrook, R Gopalan, J.A Berlin, D.R Matthews], {Publication bias in clinical research}, [The Lancet], [Volume 337], [Issue 8746], [ISSN 0140-6736]

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