The Academic Performance Indicators (API) system introduced by the UGC is singularly responsible for the sharp growth of predatory journals in India. The white list it introduced to stem the rot has not helped with the inclusion of predatory journals. The vague and loose criteria for inclusion of a journal in the list has only made things worse.
In the last decade, predatory journals, which publish papers for a fee with little or no peer review, have become a curse to science. Despite the unethical business practices adopted by publishers of such journals, the number of researchers who publish in them has been increasing at an alarming rate. From about 53,000 in 2010, the number of papers published in these journals increased to 420,000 in 2014, noted a 2015 paper published in BMC Medicine.
India is the epicentre of predatory journal publishing. According to the BMC Medicine paper, around 35% of authors in such journals were from India, and 27% of predatory journal publishers were also based here, thus making India the number one country in both categories. A September 2017 paper in Nature found that authors from India accounted for 27% of the 1,907 papers published in predatory journals.
From initially being duped into publishing papers in these journals, researchers in India, particularly those from State universities, are now actively seeking out such journals. The University Grants Commission (UGC) is singularly responsible for this.
Never mind the almost non-existent research infrastructure in most colleges and State universities, the Academic Performance Indicators (API) system introduced by the UGC has mandated that every PhD scholar publish at least two papers prior to thesis submission. A similar condition exists for teachers in colleges and universities at the time of recruitment and assessment for promotion. The myopic policy of the UGC has unwittingly led to a sudden and huge demand for journals that willingly publish substandard papers for a small fee.
The greyish white list
Bowing to pressure, in January 2017 the UGC introduced a white list of journals where researchers could publish to meet the API conditions. If the introduction of the API was done without any application of mind, the white list prepared without the scientific community’s involvement has led to the inclusion of at least 200 predatory journals (here and here). Worse, universities may suggest new journal titles for inclusion in the list, and the criteria for inclusion are not only vague but also loose.
Criteria for inclusion
Predatory journals are known to give themselves a fake impact factor, which indicates the standard of the journal, and claim to peer review papers before accepting, though they rarely practice it. They also include scientists as editors and board members even without their consent, include instructions and ethics policies that have been plagiarised and rarely followed, and claim to be indexing in respectable sites.
Unfortunately, there are just a few factors for judging a journal for inclusion. It would therefore not be surprising to find most, if not all, of the journals recommended by universities as being predatory. Owing to the UGC’s incompetence, at least 200 predatory journals have been legitimised. It’s time it abandons the list altogether and follows standard white lists prepared by competent organisations, which, even if not perfect, are far better than this one.