Predatory journals in India make desperate bid to gain authenticity

 

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One more evidence that India has a huge and growing number of predatory journal publishers comes from the India office of the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). Since March 2014, when the new criteria for DOAJ listing were put out, there have been about 1,600 applications from Open Access journal publishers based in India.

Of this, only 4% (74) were found to be from genuine journal publishers and accepted for inclusion in the DOAJ directory. While 18% applications are still being processed, 78% were rejected for various reasons. One of the main reasons for rejection is the predatory or dubious nature of the journals.

Desperate to give websites an air of authenticity, predatory journals try getting indexed in DOAJ and other websites. Being indexed in DOAJ makes it easy to cheat innocent researchers. The business model of predatory journal publishing is based on levying article processing charge (APC) from authors even when offering no editorial services.

The DOAJ India office receives applications from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Nearly 70% of applications come from India while the other countries account for 30%.

Giveaways

“Nearly 20% of journals have flashy impact factor and quick publication time, which are quick giveaways,” says Bengaluru-based Leena Shah, DOAJ Ambassador, India. “Under contact address, some journal websites do not provide any address but just a provision for comments. In many cases, we have also written to people who have been listed as reviewers to know if the journal website is genuine.”

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Leena Shah, DOAJ Ambassador, India.

In some cases, even when the website looks fine, DOAJ staff tend to look at papers published in the journals if they suspect the genuineness of the journal. “We are not subject experts but we use certain methods to evaluate a journal,” she says. “Assessing journal websites is not an easy process.”

“We can’t police predatory journals. Can you bring down each and every predatory journal? Instead, we can educate the academic community about the cons of publishing in predatory journals,” says Ms. Shah. “The list of approved journals put out by UGC is one way of rooting out predatory journals.”

The UGC has approved a list of 38,653 journals that are indexed in Web of Science, Scopus and Indian Citation Index. Besides this, journals covered in a selected indexing and abstracting services have been added to the UGC Approved List of Journals. In a recent letter, UGC indicated that the approved list of journals is available as a web-based database with search and browse interface. In a DOAJ blog post, Ms. Shah noted: “In March 2017, DOAJ submitted a request to UGC to include Open Access journals that are listed in DOAJ in the approved list.”

Leader in predatory journals

India not only published the most number of predatory journals, it is also home to most number researchers publishing their papers to such journals; an earlier study found that researchers in India accounted for 35 per cent of publication in bogus journals. A study published in 2016 in Current Science found researchers from national institutes such as IITs, IISERs, and CSIR, ICMR and ICAR labs publishing in such journals.

According to an October 2015 paper in the journal BMC Medicine, from a sample of 262 papers published in predatory journals, 35% of corresponding authors of were from India.

Published in The Hindu on April 20, 2017

I am still trying to figure out what my new research agenda will be: Jeffrey Beall

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Contradicting Cabell’s tweet, Jeffrey Beall says he is not working as a consultant

Contrary to what Cabell’s International, a publishing services company, had said in a tweet on January 17 that Jeffrey Beall has been working with them as a consultant since 2015 to develop a B-list of predatory journals and publishers, Prof. Beall denies any connection with Cabell’s in a Facebook chat with me today at around 6.30 pm local time in India.

“I don’t have any connection with Cabell’s. I understand they will be launching a blacklist this spring, but I know very little about it,” Prof. Beall says. He apparently was not aware of the tweet by Cabell’s. When pressed further for details based on Cabell’s tweet he says: “All I can say is that I have not consulted formally with Cabell’s. I have not earned one penny from them. Yes, I have met them at conferences, but there is no formal consulting going on, no money exchanging hands. No! I am not helping them in any way.”

He politely refused to divulge the reasons for shutting down his blog saying:  “I am sorry; I cannot comment on that.” But he did mention that his lists are available on the “Wayback machine”.

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Jeffrey Beall

Responding to my observation that all his expertise on predatory journal publishing would go waste if he stays away, his anger or frustration with the Open Access advocates became amply evident. “Well, the Open-Access advocates always criticised my expertise, so perhaps they can work on solving the problem of predatory publishing,” Beall says.

Future plans

“Yes, I still work at the University [of Colorado Denver]. I am still trying to figure out what my new research agenda will be. I have no plans to return to this work [preparing and updating a list of predatory journals and publishers]. I have no plans to create or publish any lists of publishers. I want it to be something much more quiet than predatory publishers. By “quiet” I mean non-controversial,” he says of his future plans.

Filling the void

To my query on who can fit into his big shoes and match his expertise he says: “It’s clear that my abandoning this work has left a void. How will the void be filled? The publishing industry already has an initiative, called “Think, Check, Submit” that was a response to my work, but I am not sure it is having any effect or really addressing the problem.”

Unlike his list, does he think that “Think, Check, Submit” has any effect at all in exposing and warning people of the dark side of predatory journal publishing and is he aware of any other initiative that matches his? “Think, Check, Submit is having no effect. I know of no other blacklists. Many of my critics argued that anyone could easily identify predatory journals without the need of any list. They said that predatory journals were obviously predatory, and that my work was unneeded,” Beall comments.

To my comment that his lists helped the scientific community, especially people who did not genuinely know which is a predatory journal, his answer is terse:  “Yes, agree.”

The time at Denver was 6.21 am and I had chatted with him for 15-20 minutes.  Though I wanted to ask him many more questions and feared that I might not be able to connect with him again he had to go. “Prasad, sorry, I need to get ready for work. It is 6:21 am here! Thanks,” he says.  But before going signing off he did permit me to share the content of the chat in my blog.

Beall, wherever you are and whatever you do, let me wish you the very best. I saw a good friend in you and professionally you were a huge help to me whenever I wrote about predatory journals. Wonder who would take that place now. I don’t see anyone in the horizon. Many in the scientific community might have disagreed with you on many issues, but many have thoroughly appreciated your selfless, single-minded initiative. Good bye, I’ll miss you, the scientific community too will miss your valiant efforts to call a spade a spade. Take care.

UPDATE – Cabell’s responds

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Jeffrey Beall’s name figures last in the list of panelists at Cabell’s website.

February 4: Cabell’s International responded to the story saying: “We regret to learn in this manner that Mr. Beall viewed our relationship in a different light than we had. The fact remains that Cabell’s has been developing a blacklist for almost two years and on many occasions, our team has sought advice and received resources and guidance from Mr. Beall. Since the inception of our blacklist project, Mr. Beall has regularly provided us with notes, evaluations, evidence, methodology and his personal insights regarding developing and maintaining a blacklist. Our team has exchanged research with Mr. Beall via emails, text messages, phone calls and in-person meetings. Mr. Beall co-presented on a Cabell’s hosted panel about predatory publishing, which is currently on our website (www.cabells.com). It is unfortunate that we have misjudged, until now, the character of these interactions. We look forward to continuing our blacklist in a manner consistent with the actual needs of the scholarly community.”

Open Access: The sorry state of Indian repositories

India may not have a national Open Access policy in place, but the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), The Department of Science & Technology (DST), the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), The University Grants Commission (UGC) have Open Access policies that clearly mandate researchers to deposit their papers in institutional repositories. National institutes such IITs and IISc too have repositories and similar mandates.

Yet, of the 69 Indian repositories listed in the Directory of Open Access Repositories (DOAR) and registry of Open Access Repositories (ROAR), only 12 repositories added “at least one item during a month” during the period July 2015 to June 2016. Seventeen repositories did not add even a single item during the course of the year of study, while 40 were “irregular” in adding items to the repositories, says a Correspondence published today (January 25) in Current Science.

Worse, some of them are not repositories in the strict sense — they do not host research papers, pre-prints or post-prints. Instead, they have theses, dissertations, book chapters, patents, annual reports, technical reports and research proposals, to name a few.

“Open Access institutional repositories are clearly lagging behind despite the mandate,” says Dr. G. Mahesh from the National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources, New Delhi and one of the authors of the paper. “Individual researchers are required to deposit their papers in the repository but they don’t. It is very difficult to motivate them to do it.”

One of the reasons why researchers do not deposit their papers in a repository is because they no longer hold the copyrights. “In over 95 per cent of cases, the researchers have already transferred their copyrights to the respective journals,” he says. “Ideally, pre-prints of papers should be deposited in a repository. A large majority of publishers of subscription journals have no problem in researchers depositing preprints in a repository.”

Since researchers transfer their copyrights to publishers when a paper is accepted, it is not possible to deposit the papers in a repository.

“Researchers get greater visibility when they deposit their pre-prints in a repository as anyone can read them.  The institutions too gain. So it is difficult to say why researchers are not doing it,” he says.

It is another matter that except in the case of IISERs, individual researchers in most of the national institutes and government labs under CSIR, ICAR and ICMR do not even regularly update their publication list. It is not uncommon to find the publication list of many researchers, including those at IISc, not updated since 2013 and 2014!

Will we see Jeffrey Beall’s predatory journal list in a new avatar?

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Jeffrey Beall

Though the actual reason why Prof. Jeffrey Beall, who maintained a list of “potential, possible, or probable” publishers that produced predatory journals and another list of standalone predatory journals, took down his website scholarlyoa.com is not known, RetractionWatch posted saying that it was Prof. Beall’s decision to take down his website. RetractionWatch has posted the statement it received from the University of Colorado Denver:

Jeffrey Beall, associate professor and librarian at the University of Colorado Denver, has decided to no longer maintain or publish his research or blog on open access journals and “predatory publishers.” CU Denver supports and recognizes the important work Professor Beall has contributed to the field and to scholars worldwide.  CU Denver also understands and respects his decision to take down his website scholarlyoa.com at this time. Professor Beall remains on the faculty at the university and will be pursuing new areas of research.

On Facebook, his last post relating to predatory journals was on January 10, 2017. With his faculty page too taken down, the Facebook posts give a chance to see how he went about exposing the dark side of scientific publishing.

His Facebook post of January 4, 2017 tells how predatory journal publishing has been growing since 2011.beallBut it looks like Cabell’s International, a publishing services company, may soon start providing a black list of predatory journals. And it will start anytime during Spring 2017. Here’s a tweet mentioning that:

The Cabell’s tweet confirms what @Scholarlykitchn had tweeted earlier saying:

Cabell’s International then goes on to say that it is preparing a B-list with Prof. Beall being a consultant.

Does it indicate that it would no longer be a single person but an organisation that would be fighting the battle to expose the publishers of predatory journals and their journals? If the spirit of the organisation and its objectives are the same as what Prof. Beal stood for, it would surely be for the good of science and the scientific community.

And Lacey Earle, Vice President, Business Development of Cabell’s seems to be knowing the reasons why Beall had to take down his website:

Meanwhile, Emil Karlsson has posted the links to the cached copies of Prof. Baell’s lists.

 

India’s white list to curb researchers from publishing in predatory journals

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The UGC’s white list should be adopted by CSIR, IMCR, ICAR, IITs, IISERs and NITs as well.

In a bid to tackle the growing menace of researchers publishing in predatory journals, the University Grants Commission notified on January 10 a list of journals in different disciplines where researcher scholars and teachers can publish their papers. Only papers published in the approved journals 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. “This is a dynamic list which may be reviewed from time to time,” says the notification.

The list was approved by the Standing Committee constituted by the UGC last year. The list contains 38,653 journals (list-1, list-2, list-3, list-4 and list-5). The list of journals in each subject was identified by subject expert committees and sent to the Standing Committee for final approval.

“This is only a tentative list.  The list of journals was taken from Scopus. Lists of journals sent for consideration by different universities are yet to be taken into consideration. We will do it shortly,” says Satish Kumar, Under Secretary, UGC, Delhi. “The list mainly covers different fields in science. Journals in social science and humanities are yet to be included.”

The UGC had taken up the mammoth task of preparing a white list of approved journals to curb researchers from publishing in predatory journals. India is home to the largest number of predatory or bogus journals and growing number of researchers from State and private universities have been publishing in such journals.

Predatory journals rarely peer-review manuscripts and publish even sub-standard manuscripts that contain plagiarised content and falsified and fabricated data. Predatory journals rarely index papers with standard indexing bodies and are more focussed on article processing fees.

predatory-optimizedA recent study in the journal Current Science found that 51 per cent of papers published in predatory journals were by researchers from colleges affiliated to universities and autonomous colleges. Even researches from private universities/institutes (18 per cent), State universities (15 per cent) and national institutes such as ICAR, ICMR, CSIR institutes, IITs and IISERs (11 per cent) had published in predatory journals.

“The main objective of preparing the list is to discourage researchers from publishing in predatory journals,” Mr. Kumar says. “Though government institutions, IITs, IISERs and NITs don’t come under the purview of UGC, it is up to those institutions to adopt this list. If they wish they can use this list at the time of recruitment and promotion.”

While predatory journals have been mushrooming at an alarming rate in India, research scholars and teachers have been publishing their work in such journals to meet the UGC’s stipulation — at the time of recruitment candidates should have published two research papers from his/her Ph.D. work, of which at least one must be in a refereed journal. Similarly, points awarded for publishing papers in journals with different impact factors (between 1 and above 10) are taken into account while considering a person for promotion. With publishers of predatory journals giving themselves meaningless impact factors, those publishing in such journals were able to meet the requirement for recruitment and/or promotion. Predatory journals are by rule open access journals.

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Jeffrey Beall’s blog shuts down

Luckily, the UGC has come up with the list at a time when Prof. Jeffrey Beall’s blog (Scholarly Open Access), which had a long list of confirmed and suspect predatory journals that any serious researcher can stay away from, has shut down. “Sorry, but you are looking for something that isn’t here,” says a message posted on his blog. He has 6,750 followers.

Prof. Beall, who is a Scholarly Communications Librarian at Auraria Library, University of Colorado, Denver, was the first to coin the term “predatory journals”. He had single-handedly highlighted the ways in which predatory journals have been trapping innocent researchers and providing a platform for dubious manuscripts to be published.

Though many publishers have been bitter with him for exposing them, his efforts have been well appreciated by many in the scientific community, especially those who were genuinely not aware of the ways of predatory journals. The reason why the blog content is missing is not known and I am yet to hear from him?

Meanwhile, it appears that Prof. Beall’s predatory journal list and list of publishers of such journals will soon reappear in a new avatar.

‘Journal’ publisher in the dock for duping researchers

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The home page of OMICS Group, which has Hyderabad, India as its principal place of business. – Photo: R. Prasad

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has charged OMICS Group Inc, a Nevada corporation with Hyderabad, India, as its principal place of business, the publisher of “hundreds of purported online academic journals with deceiving researchers about the nature of its publications and hiding publication fees ranging from hundred to thousands of dollars”. The complaint is also against two other affiliated companies.

The FTC, which is an independent agency of the U.S. government and created by statute, has filed a complaint with the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada for permanent injunction and other equitable relief. “The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest,” a FTC press release says. The OMICS Group has since at least 2009 published online publications “styled as academic journals”.

Mr. Kishore, a lawyer at OMICS’s Hyderabad office, told me that the group has already responded to the complaint. Citing confidentiality, he refused to divulge further details.

In many instances, articles published by OMICS Group are not peer-reviewed, journals’ impact factors are not calculated by Thomson Reuters, nor are their journals included in PubMed Central. In order to solicit articles and manuscripts from consumers, the publishers claim that “various academic experts serve as editors, are members of the editorial boards, and consumers’ articles are subject to industry-standard peer review before publishing. They also represent that their journals have high impact factors”.

But “in reality, in many instances, the academic experts identified by Defendants [OMICS Group] lack any connection with Defendants’ journals. Further, in many instances, articles submitted for publishing do not undergo standard peer review before publishing. And journals’ impact factors are not calculated by Thomson Reuters, nor are their journals included in PubMed Central” the FTC’s complaint says.

In April 2013, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Public Health Division had sent a cease-and-desist letter to OMICS Group as it had claimed that their “journals are indexed in PubMed Central and for using quotes from and photographs of NIH employees on its websites without permission”.

The Group “fails to disclose, or disclose adequately, that consumers must pay a publishing fee for each published article. In many instances, consumers only discover that their articles will not be peer-reviewed and that they owe fees ranging from several hundred to several thousands of dollars after Defendants inform them that their articles have been approved for publication. Consumers’ attempts to withdraw their articles are frequently rejected, thereby preventing them from publishing in other journals,” the complaint states.

Various enticements

To entice researchers to submit manuscripts to their journals, the Group resorts to “email solicitations regarding the reputation and credibility of their journals and their publishing process”. As in the case of all predatory journals, in numerous instance, editors, members of editorial boards, or otherwise associated with the Group’s journals “either have not agreed to be associated with the journals or initially agreed to serve as editors, but later changed their minds and asked to be removed from its websites, with no success”.

In numerous instances, peer reviewers “either never receive any manuscripts to review” or discover that “the articles have already been approved for publication”.

When researchers wish to withdraw their articles “either because they were unaware of the publication fees or because they doubt the journal’s legitimacy due to its questionable review practices, Defendants nonetheless publish the article over consumers’ objections” thereby preventing researchers from publishing their work in other, more reputable publications.

Related stories and links:

Fake journal publishing flourishes in India

On the Net, a scam of the most scholarly kind

Published in The Hindu on August 28, 2016

White House expands Open Access

Published in The Hindu on February 28, 2013

At last, papers arising from research work funded by tax-payers’ money and published in subscription journals will become open access in about a year after they are published. The latest decision by the Obama Administration will be applicable to all agencies with over $100 million in annual R&D expenditure. About 14 agencies, including NASA, FDA, NSF will be covered by this mandate.

Was the decision in any way influenced by the government’s role, in whatever way, in the untimely death of Aaron Swartz, the activist who firmly believed in freeing up information that was behind paywalls? “Aaron Swartz fought tirelessly for open access to information and the free diffusion of knowledge, and the principles he worked so hard to advance are embedded in the Directive. But this Directive was a long time in coming,” noted Heather Joseph in an email to this Correspondent. Ms. Joseph has served as the Executive Director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) since 2005. She works to increase access to research locked up in journals.

“It is the result of four years of careful deliberation within the Obama Administration, along with extensive White House consultation with stakeholders. The “Open Access” movement has spent the last decade working to make taxpayer-funded scientific research freely accessible and fully reusable in a digital environment. We believe that Aaron would have seen today’s action as the giant step in the right direction that it is,” she noted.

All the agencies are first required to submit a draft plan within six months. And while devising the final plan, each agency is required to use a “transparent process” to solicit views from all stakeholders — the users of research results and civil society groups included. “I think we will see many of the agencies move fairly quickly with the planning process, and could see some policies actually enacted by the end of 2013,” she hopes.

The memo reflects the landmark decision of 2008 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to make papers freely available a year after they are published. That the NIH policy has been successful has been amply demonstrated — more than 90,000 manuscripts have been made publicly available each year, and more than 7,00,000 unique users access material from PubMed Central every day.

It is quite surprising that it took more than four years for the government to enact this. For, publishers who in 2008 raised concerns that the NIH model would hamper their business, have never complained since. “In the four years that the policy has been in place, no publisher has presented any data [to corroborate] that they have been harmed by the policy,” Ms. Joseph states. “Agencies could have, and should have, acted without this directive.” Prof. Michael Eisen, the co-founder of Public Library of Sciences (PLoS) too echoes the same message in his post.

A careful reading of the memo brings out the fine print. It clearly shows that instead of moving forward, the belated decision is at best a retrograde move. Aside from making a year’s embargo a norm, the government has given the individual agencies the freedom to make a case for changing the embargo duration — either reduce or extend it.

In a caustic post, Prof. Eisen, underlines that this effectively gives the publishers a handle to further extend the embargo duration. In her mail Ms. Joseph notes: “I think it will be extremely difficult for an agency to make a persuasive case that the public’s interest would be better served by waiting ‘longer’ to release articles.”

The reason why Prof. Eisen thinks the flexibility would only be used to increase the duration is not difficult to understand. The White House memo goes to extraordinary lengths to articulate the “valuable services” rendered by publishers in providing “quality” work. “It is critical that these services continue to be made available,” clearly reveals that the White House will do nothing to undermine the publishers’ interests.

Little wonder then that the publishers have welcomed the announcement without any objections. In fact, they have gone on record to state that the success of the policy depends on how agencies use the flexibility “to avoid negative impacts” by the way information is communicated. That surely foretells what is about to unfold in the final plan of the different agencies in the coming months.