A scam of the most scholarly kind on the Internet — publishing “scientific papers” in fake open access journals (also called as predatory journals) — has become more insidious and grown tremendously in size. And tragically, India has singularly contributed to the cancerous growth of pseudo-science.
“Open Access (OA) ‘predatory’ journals are now part of the scholarly communication landscape,” notes the University of Manchester Library.
From about 53,000 “papers” in 2010, the nearly 8,000 active predatory journals in the world have published a mind-numbing 4,20,000 “articles” in 2014. Over 11,000 fake open access journals were identified.
Even if science done in India has not grown much in the last few years, India has successfully played a vital role in polluting the scientific literature with trash.
The number of fake journal publishers based in the country has grown several-fold in the last 4-5 years. Today, as much as 27 per cent of fake journal publishers are based in India! And India has the dubious distinction of being home to 42 per cent of fake single-journal publishers.
These are some of the disturbing results published in a paper in October in the open access journal BMC Medicine.
When the percentage of fake journal publishers based in India tops the list in the world, can scientists based in India who publish sub-standard or downright trash in predatory journals be far behind? Based on a sample of 262 “papers” published in fake journals, the study found a shocking 35 per cent of corresponding authors were from India.
“The estimated geographical spread of predatory article authorship in terms of absolute numbers per year of articles is highly skewed, with India at the top,” the authors note.
Indian researchers publishing in predatory journals could be willing or ignorant participants. Either way, fake journals provide the best medium to publish sub-standard and even highly unethical work — plagiarised content with falsified and/or fabricated data and manipulated images.
“Predatory publishers are essentially fake or counterfeit publishers that often aim to trick researchers into thinking they are legitimate. Unfortunately, they are often successful. They use journal titles that mimic or copy the titles of legitimate journals, and when listed on a CV, they look legitimate,” Jeffrey Beall, University of Colorado, Denver, Librarian said in email to me. He coined the term predatory journals and is playing a leading role in spreading awareness on this evil practice.
“Perhaps nowhere are these abuses more acute than in India, where new predatory publishers or journals emerge each week. They are appearing because of the market need — hundreds of thousands of scientists in India and its neighbouring countries need to get published to earn tenure and promotion,” Dr. Beall wrote in an article published in September 2012 in Nature.
“The introduction of academic performance indicator (API) by the University Grants Commission (UGC), lack of clarity in identifying and evaluating journals, the focus on ‘quantity’ over ‘quality’, unhealthy competition between peers, and overall, a favourable non-scientific publishing environment have led Indian researchers to publish in mediocre journals wherein most manuscripts are published without any peer review. Perhaps it is also the fear of peer review that has nourished predatory journals, making India one of the world’s largest base for predatory open-access publishing,” notes a September 2014 Editorial in Current Science.
According to Dr. Beall, the number of predatory publishers has risen from 18 in 2011 to nearly 700 in 2015 and the number of standalone fake journals has shot up from 126 in 2013 to 507 in 2015.
Sadly, predatory journal publishing has become a successful business model.
According to the paper, authors paid the “publishers” an average processing charge of $178 per article when they were published within 2-3 months of submission. And the estimated size of the predatory journal market in 2013 was $74 million.
The only objective of the fly-by-night operators with a little or no scientific background is to make profit and surely not for the “dissemination of high-quality research findings and furtherance of knowledge.”
“The rapid rise of predatory journals — publications taking large fees without providing robust editorial or publishing services — has created what some have called an age of academic racketeering. There is little if any quality control. Their motive is financial gain, and they are corrupting the communication of science,” notes an Editorial published in January this year in the journal BMJ.
“The predatory publishers have polluted all of scholarly publishing. We are now entering a time when much junk science and much pseudo-science is being published. This is a problem because science is cumulative, with new research building on previous work. Now there’s so much junk science published that the entire scholarly record is corrupted,” Dr. Beall lamented.
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