Starting centres employing thousands to translate into Indian languages the papers published in “predatory” journals is singularly aimed at gaining legitimacy for a fraudulent practice. Keeping the predatory journal industry in India under check will be impossible unless the scientific community acts swiftly and in full force to stop the first translation centre from becoming operational.
Predatory journal publishing in India, which is already growing at an alarming rate, will soon become well entrenched and impossible to be rooted out unless the scientific community in India acts swiftly and in full force. The time for introspection, dillydallying and getting embroiled in blame game is long over.
The timely protest by scientists and students in the form of signature campaign led by Aniket Sule from the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, TIFR, Mumbai, who drafted the letter, and the letter jointly written by all the three science academies led to stalling of the Union Minister of State for Human Resource Development Satyapal Singh’s efforts to remove Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution from school and college curricula.
The time to act in a similar fashion has become all the more compelling now.
The urgency to act arises as Srinubabu Gedela, Chief Executive Officer of the Hyderabad-based OMICS Group, has a few days back signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Uttar Pradesh to establish a 1,000-seat facility in Noida to translate papers published in his “predatory” journals into Indian languages. Similar centres employing hundreds of people will soon become operational in Hyderabad, Chennai, and Gurgaon.
The papers published in his “predatory” journals will soon become available in Hindi, Telugu, Malayalam, Tamil, Gujarati and Bengali with other languages to follow soon.
The OMICS Group was included in University of Colorado, Denver librarian Jeffrey Beall’s list of “potential, possible, or probable” predatory publishers. With 50-odd journals, and growing by the day, the Pulsus Group that Gedela acquired in 2016 is equally suspect.
Now or never
In all probability, starting a centre in Noida with the support of Yogi Adityanath is singularly aimed at gaining legitimacy for a fraudulent practice. The company’s plan is to employ life sciences and pharma graduates passing out from government and other educational institutions in Uttar Pradesh at its Noida centre.
When fully operational in different States, the number of people employed will be a few thousands. At a time when job creation has become a huge problem, it will become nearly impossible to shut down these centres. It can be done only if predatory journal publishing by OMICS and Pulsus is stopped. If that looks bleak now, it will become impossible once these centres start functioning.
That is because the White list of journals created by the UGC without involving the scientific community or at least many respected senior researchers in India for each discipline has led to the inclusion of about 200 predatory journals. These numbers are bound to increase as heads of institutions are free to suggest journals to be added to this list.
The threshold to meet the UGC conditions to be considered for inclusion in the list is so very low that any journal that has been in existence for a few years will qualify. And UGC is ill-equipped to check the quality of the suggested titles before including them in the list. Therefore, there is no guarantee that many of the journals published by OMICS and Pulsus will not be included in the list before long.
And when included, we will see the papers becoming available in many Indian languages. In all probability, we will see more of OMICS and Pulsus journals being included in the list, the trash published in these journals being translated into Indian languages, the number of centres involved in translation increasing in number, and the scientific literature getting more polluted with garbage.
And thanks to Yogi Adityanath, there will be very little hope that UGC will remove any journal belonging to OMICS and Pulsus from the White list even when pointed out.
UGC’s insane rule
The White list itself was created due to the bird-brained initiatives of the UGC in 2010 and 2013, which made it mandatory for all research scholars to have at least two publications in a recognized journal prior to thesis submission. Similarly, all candidates appearing for direct recruitment for a faculty position in a college or university are required to have “published two research papers from his/her Ph.D. work out of which at least one must be in a refereed journal”. And the candidates were also required to make “at least two presentations in conference/seminars, based on his/her Ph.D work”. These rules were singularly responsible for mushrooming of predatory journals in India, and bogus conferences being held by these publishers.
Unfortunately, the three science academies have maintained radio silence on this issue. The scientific community too has been very silent. It took three research scholars, of whom two are in India, to expose the rot in the system when they published a paper in 2016 in Current Science. The senior author G.S. Seethapathy from the University of Oslo, Norway and others found that 51% of papers in predatory journals were published by researchers from colleges affiliated to universities and autonomous colleges. It was followed by private universities/institutes (18%), State universities (15%) and national institutes (11%).
Only a few Editorials (here and here) have been written on predatory journals by scientists based in India. Prof. S.C. Lakhotia from Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, is one of the rare scientists who has been vocal about predatory journals and written a couple of Editorials. Unfortunately, even he has not gone the whole hog. The September 2017 Editorial he wrote in the Proceedings of the Indian National Science Academy decrying about the “Scourge of predatory journals and conferences” makes no mention of the quality of the White list prepared by the UGC, which has no competence to prepare one.
Just like UGC’s Academic Performance Index led to mushrooming of predatory journals and the White list has legitimised the 200-odd predatory journals, Gedela’s translation centres will make predatory journals a permanent fixture in the Indian science landscape.
Silence is, therefore, not an option anymore. Just like Satyapal Singh’s grand plan of removing the theory of evolution from science textbooks was derailed by the timely intervention by scientists and the three academies, it’s time now to come together before the first centre of Gedela becomes operational.
Tomorrow may be too late.