Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

When most faculty publish in predatory journals, does the school become “complicit?”

with 15 comments

Derek Pyne

Predatory journals – which charge high fees and often offer little-to-no vetting of research quality – are a problem, and lately an easy target for authors eager to spoof the problems of the publishing system. Although many researchers try to steer clear, not all do – a recent paper showed that some top economists publish papers in potentially predatory journals. Now, a new paper in the Journal of Scholarly Publishing reports the problem may be even more widespread. Derek Pyne found that most of his colleagues at the School of Business and Economics at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, Canada have at least one paper in a predatory journal. We talked to Pyne about how his colleagues and administrators reacted to his findings – and how he believes they should address them.

Retraction Watch: Why did you decide to look at how many of your colleagues in the business school have published in predatory journals?

Derek Pyne: I knew that people had publications in predatory journals but I did not realize how widespread it might be until a colleague informed me of someone who I never would have expected to have predatory publications. I then wondered how many others that I had not suspected, might have predatory publications.  I investigated further and discovered that a majority of my department colleagues had predatory publications.  This increased my interest in predatory journals and I started following Beall’s blog and reading related research.  Then a Dean’s Research Award was presented to someone who had multiple predatory publications.  These awards are used to support tenure and promotion applications. At the same meeting, another person was congratulated for becoming the editor of a journal whose publisher was on the Beall list. At this point, I realized that there may be rewards for publishing in predatory journals and as far as I could determine, none of the previous research on predatory publishing had addressed the rewards.  I realized that I could fill this gap in the literature.

RW: How have your colleagues reacted when you share your results?

DP: The reaction while I was conducting the research was varied.  I learnt that some people resented working hard to get quality publications when others were given accolades for the greater number of publications predatory journals allowed them to achieve.

The paper was published while I was spending part of my sabbatical at the Athens University of Economics and Business.  I only had direct contact with specific people via email.  They tell me that there was little said in the business school.  However, when the related op-ed came out, an arts faculty person distributed a copy on a university email list.  Another arts faculty member than read the paper and emailed his summary and views to the list.  After this, I started getting requests for the paper from people across the university (particularly science and arts people).  It was put on the agenda of both an arts faculty council meeting and a university senate meeting (but it was not on the agenda of the business school’s faculty council meeting).  The minutes of the senate meeting are not public yet, but I’m told that administrators who had originally ignored my findings, suddenly spoke disapprovingly of publishing in predatory journals.

RW: In a recent Op-Ed in the Ottawa Citizen, you say the administration at the business school was less than enthusiastic about your results. Can you say more about that?

DP: In September of 2015, on my Annual Professional Activities Report (APAR), I included my initial finding that I had found that I was one of a minority of researchers in my department with no publications in predatory journals.  The dean requested, through the department chair, that I remove this from my APAR and resubmit it.  I did this but I don’t think he appreciated my rewording as his official APAR response letter quoted from my original APAR instead.  When I informed him that I had facts to back up my statement, he responded that he did not care about facts.  Things went downhill from there.  For example, later he said that the school had promotion and tenure committees to evaluate people’s research and that he thought it was arrogant of me to second guess them.

RW: You note that universities may be “complicit” in the problem of predatory journals. Can you say more about that, and what we can do to address it?

DP: I see no other reason why universities would ignore the issue when it reaches the extent of a majority of research faculty in a school publishing in predatory journals.  In the op-ed, I discuss possible reasons for this.

I have a couple of suggestions for addressing the issue.  One problem we have is that no one in our Dean’s office has a research background.  I would hope that administers with research backgrounds would place a greater value on honest research.  Moreover, I think they would be in a better position to recognize suspicious publication records.  Thus, the first action I would recommend would be hiring administrators with research backgrounds.

In addition, I found that the issue only got attention after my op-ed was published.  I am not saying that other universities would be unwilling to address the issue before getting to this point.  However, honest faculty have to be willing to stand up for academic integrity.  If internal actions cannot bring change, it is sometimes necessary to go further.  In my view, the job security of tenure is wasted on people who turn a blind eye to such wrong doing.

RW: Have you ever published in a predatory journal? Why or why not?

DP: I have not.  I did become an associate editor of a predatory journal published by the World Business Institute.  They had sent me an invitation with an application.  The requirements of the application seemed to be serious in terms of the minimum number of ranked publications they required.  I foolishly completed it and I was then appointed to the editorial board.  However, when I discovered that two other people in my department had also been appointed, I realized that something was wrong.  It took a long time to get them to remove my name, not only from their editorial board, but also from emails about conferences they organized in which they claimed I was on the scientific committee.  Finally, I started sending emails to keynote speakers of the conferences (and others) explaining the problem.  I think some of the speakers may not have been aware of the publisher’s nature as shortly after I took this approach, the publisher finally stopped using my name to promote their conferences.

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Written by Alison McCook

May 9th, 2017 at 9:30 am

Comments
  • CS May 9, 2017 at 9:56 am

    I love that approach to getting off the list! It does seem like authors might deserve some benefit of the doubt (at least once), given how easy it is to accidentally become an editorial board member. The possibility of network effects is very interesting – a lot of junior people look at where senior people have published, to get an idea of where they should be trying to publish. A few senior people publishing in these journals (and being too embarrassed to admit their gullibility) could set off a chain reaction. Given the rapid turnaround times, publication date might be a useful proxy for observing how the use of these journals spread within the school.

  • Williams Nwagwu May 9, 2017 at 10:04 am

    Hi Pyne, what really is a predatory journal? This terminology persists despite evidence of its meaninglessness. If a journal is predatory because it charges high fees and often offer little-to-no vetting of research quality” then all journals are predatory. How many high quality journals have not been implicated in publishing fake papers? Did that make the journals to be predatory? Is the problem the paper, the author, the editor or the journal? On routine basis, the big journals publish fake papers from professors in various fields. But those papers are retracted in order to save the big journals. But when the papers appear in certain journals, we condemn both the journal and the paper. What is happening? This interview smirks of an attention seeker, a holier than thou attitude.

    • Marco May 9, 2017 at 12:20 pm

      Predatory journals are those journals where the lack of any (substantial) peer review is a feature, rather than the occasional bug observed for mainstream journals.

      Many predatory journals combine this with incessant spamming, often poorly targeted, often use fake names of the sender (e.g., no one named Laura Hale would write that “Your work is too valuable to us and it’s perfectly fit for our journals”, as one did a few days ago), often use addresses that clearly are not the real workplace but merely a letterbox, often do not mention anything about publication fees while telling you to submit through an e-mail address, promise peer review but then don’t provide any, often claim to use plagiarism software but have clearly plagiarized papers anyway, often make various claims that are either meaningless or outright untrue (e.g. about indexing and impact factors), and often have people listed as Editorial Board members who have not agreed to be.

    • Leroy Chambers May 9, 2017 at 8:48 pm

      Williams Nwagwu
      Hi Pyne, what really is a predatory journal? This terminology persists despite evidence of its meaninglessness. If a journal is predatory because it charges high fees and often offer little-to-no vetting of research quality” then all journals are predatory. How many high quality journals have not been implicated in publishing fake papers? Did that make the journals to be predatory? Is the problem the paper, the author, the editor or the journal? On routine basis, the big journals publish fake papers from professors in various fields. But those papers are retracted in order to save the big journals. But when the papers appear in certain journals, we condemn both the journal and the paper. What is happening? This interview smirks of an attention seeker, a holier than thou attitude.

      Hi Williams, you are wrong. Predatory journals are indeed ‘pay to play’ with little or no vetting. At least in the field of the Life Sciences, the majority of credible journals do not require you to pay any publication fee except for printing color figures (in some cases). The two top scientific journals in the world, Nature and Science requires no publication fee. PNAS, Lancet, New England Journal of Medicine requires no publication fee and I can list hundreds more. Predatory journals are also a money making scheme as many of their ‘offices’ are in Bangladesh, India or certain parts of China. Their ‘managing editors’ are often fake and one or two people control the entire flow of information. There was a study a couple of months ago where a reporter who had no scientific experience, faked a CV and got appointed as Associate Editor of some predatory journal on cardiology. Also high impact journals rarely publish ‘fake papers’ and when they do they are eventually retracted and the authors face severe punishment by both their institution and even the government (if they were working with government grants).

      Fact is, people are now getting more and more aware of these predatory journals and having one of them on your publication should be a red flag on that person’s scientific acumen.

      • Williams Nwagwu May 10, 2017 at 5:48 am

        I wish I could recommend that we follow the recent thread in the discussion related to predatory journals in the listserve of Open Scholarship Initiative. Fake publishing is bad and must be condemned whether they occur in new or old world class journals. But it was so obvious that Jeffery Beal was using his site to attack genuine efforts at their initiation stages as well as journals whose authors are either unknown or unapproved by him on self-elicited criteria which big journals also fall prey to. Global journal curation cannot be subject to the opinions of a single scholar whose tie to traditional publishing practices, despite emergence of new approaches, is questionable. We must carefully decipher and address the changes, and of course challenges, the current open access revolution will impose on the ecology of scholarly publishing and how to manage them before we classify any efforts as garbage or otherwise. I insist that Mr Pyne’s “initial finding that I had found that I was one of a minority of researchers in my department with no publications in predatory journals” is impolite, detracts from team spirit and workplace ethics.

        • saša marcan May 10, 2017 at 5:03 pm

          Nah, Williams is right; Marco and Leroy are wrong on this one.

          Sadly, having followed the OSI listserv thread Williams speaks of, I got the impression that the scholarly comms community is still largely reluctant to recognize that Beall’s work was not only extremely biased and flawed, but also decidedly lazy and non-scientific in its approach.

          Meanwhile, Derek’s work featured here merely builds further on that wobbly non-scientific foundation set by Beall. Shoddy science all the way down when it comes to that particular subject.

          • Marco May 11, 2017 at 1:52 am

            Can you please indicate where I am wrong?

            I am happy to provide you evidence for each and every single claim I made in my comment. I might even dig up some stuff from InTech, if that is still archived somewhere in our system.

    • ICC May 15, 2017 at 10:29 am

      Buyer beware: This whole reply thread smells of sockpuppetry https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sockpuppet_(Internet)

  • TL May 9, 2017 at 11:16 am

    “Predatory publication” is a complete nonsense term. The publication is not preying on anyone. It is the predatory publisher who is preying on unwitting researchers to lure them into wasting their money and research by handing it over to some fly-by-night operation.

  • Sharon Kramer May 9, 2017 at 3:36 pm

    Whether it’s a pay-to-publish journal or a prestigious journal of an esteemed medical association, I think a university may well be complicit if it knowingly allows its imprimatur to be used to lend undue credibility to garbage science. But how can universities stop this without school administrators (not scientists) controlling what research gets published in journals?

  • saša marcan May 11, 2017 at 5:54 am

    Marco
    Can you please indicate where I am wrong?
    I am happy to provide you evidence for each and every single claim I made in my comment. I might even dig up some stuff from InTech, if that is still archived somewhere in our system.

    You’re wrong in supposing that the criteria are consistently applied, while in reality there’s plenty of double standards involved in any discussion of matters predatory.

    I mean sure, go ahead and dig up stuff from InTech if you think that would prove something (though having left there, and commenting on my own behalf here, I don’t appreciate you dragging them or any other third party into these comments). Point is, you can just as easily dig up the same kind of stuff from the so-called ‘reputable’ or ‘legitimate’ journals and publishers.

    That’s why Williams is correct and justified in calling out how meaningless the terminology is.

    • Marco May 11, 2017 at 10:06 am

      Can you please point out where I suppose that “the criteria are consistently applied”?
      I cannot see me making that claim anywhere, and wouldn’t do so, because I *know* the criteria are not always consistently applied. You are thus calling me wrong about an opinion I do not even have!

      That, however, does not mean that predatory journals/publishers do not exist. They clearly do. Journals and publishers whose sole aim is to get your money through highly misleading marketing strategies, including claiming to provide peer review while they don’t. The fact that so many hide their true names and provide addresses that are merely letterboxes should be sufficient to know these are people who know they are acting unethically. I must add to that that I am absolute certain, without being able to provide direct evidence, that quite a few scientists publish in these journals exactly because they know the peer review is essentially non-existent – while still maintaining in their reports to their institution that the paper was published in a peer reviewed journal.

      And no, I cannot dig up any of the issues I pointed out from any of the ‘reputable’ or ‘legitimate’ journals and publishers. I cannot say I have worked with all ‘legitimate’ and ‘reputable’ journals and Publishers, but I do have experience with ACS, Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, RSC, Wiley, PLoS, and Springer.

      • saša marcan May 11, 2017 at 11:00 am

        It’s what I read between the lines of your comment, because any criteria is useless and unfair if not consistenly applied across the board.

        I’m not getting involved in a prolonged discussion here on RW, but feel free to hit me up on gmail if you’d like me to address the rest of the points you make; address is my name dot surname at (no diacritics of course).

        • Marco May 11, 2017 at 12:07 pm

          Then you read between the lines incorrectly. Also, in my opinion there’s nothing wrong with criteria just because they are not used consistently. The problem is then with those being inconsistent.

          I have little interest in protracted discussions by e-mail.

  • Steven in Missouri September 14, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    How many publishers or journals have an academic connection to a University, Institute or research society or academic society of some type.
    Universities, schools or perhaps academic departments need to start their own publications, internal publications with their own internal review and editorial committee.
    The predatory journals are primarily businesses, and they can’t be blamed for wanting to make a quick buck out of an opportunity. There shouldn’t be any effort to suppress such journals but rather to out-compete them.
    With electronic publishing, I wouldn’t doubt that a lot of the traditional journals are going to disappear, since they’re probably not economically viable over the long term. Research grant money is becoming more difficult to access rather than easier or more available, so there probably will be less grant money coming in.
    In areas like medicine or pharmacology, the drug companies still are developing new medicines and are likely to be investing in research but grant money from NIH or national science organizations probably will become more difficult to access.
    As the cost of electronic publishing goes down, and it may drop drastically with the advent of artificial intelligence becoming more capable of participating in the publishing industry, there may be an absolute flood of publications in the future, so probably universities, research institutions, institutes and independent entities may start to publish their own research, perhaps in blog form. This may make turnaround time to publication shorter and accelerate research.
    Certainly, I would agree with the author that academic standing such as tenure shouldn’t be based on publications in predatory type journals, since if you have the money you can get about anything published, and have an extensive research profile filled with fluff without any substance. If academic institutions can’t get a handle on it right away, they are going to be left without any credibility and will be seen as boiler plate operations just trying to get a lot of publications on the rolls, with motivation to get grants and awards to keep the dept. out of the red.
    It probably will get down to economics in the end, since administrators are mostly concerned with payroll and getting enough money to run the dept. and probably they aren’t going to look too closely if the money is coming in.

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