Top-ranking economists sometimes publish papers in open access journals deemed potentially “predatory,” according to a new analysis.
The findings contradict previous results that show that researchers who publish papers in “potential, possible, or probable” predatory journals (as defined by librarian Jeffrey Beall) are largely inexperienced.
According to the study, 27 of the most eminent economists (within the top 5% of their field) have published nearly 5% of their papers in predatory journals. These researchers published 31 papers in predatory journals in 2015 alone.
The finding — which is not yet peer reviewed — comes as a “big surprise,” co-author Frederick Wallace of the Gulf University for Science and Technology in West Mishref, Kuwait, told Retraction Watch.
At the end of last year, Wallace and Timothy Perri from the Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina noticed that 39 predatory journals were listed on the database Research Papers in Economics (RePEc). After some digging, the pair identified just under 1,300 papers published last year in predatory journals in RePEc, submitted by close to 2,800 authors.
Although only around 5% of the study’s sample authors who’d published in predatory journals (124 individuals) were registered with RePEc, 27 (around one-fifth) are listed among the top 5% of RePEc-registered authors.
Looking at the top-ranked 27 economists’ larger publication record, the authors found they have 2,120 publications (with an average of 79 papers per author); 104 (4.9%) of these studies appear in predatory journals.
Many of the authors were not just starting their careers, the study notes — at least half the 124 registered authors who published in predatory journals have extensive publishing experience:
The median period for the first publication is 2009-2010. Thus half the authors have 6+ years of experience since their first published paper.
According to “Economists behaving badly: Publications in predatory journals,” posted online in August in the Munich Personal RePEc archive, these 124 authors
have a median of eight total publications, with a median of two published papers in predatory journals, suggesting that predatory journal publications are important for the typical author.
In the study, the authors speculate about how prominent economists end up in predatory journals:
One possibility is that an inexperienced coauthor handled the submission and the experienced author was ignorant of the journal’s low quality. In most cases it is impossible to reject this hypothesis, but ten of the thirty-one papers published by top 5% authors in predatory journals in 2015 are single authored pieces, and another has two coauthors, both of whom are in the top 5% RePEc, so ignorance cannot be the only explanation.
Contrary to a previous paper that suggested many authors who publish in predatory journals are from developing countries, Wallace and Perri note the author list to be geographically dispersed, representing 90 different countries. Nevertheless, according to the study, eight countries account for nearly 50% of the sample studies (and slightly more than half the sample authors): Iran, United States, Nigeria, Turkey, Malaysia, Pakistan, Kenya, and China.
Wallace noted that universities have either rewarded or turned a blind eye on their faculty publishing in problematic journals. In contrast, he added, his institution has taken a stand against this practice, by not counting any publications in predatory journals towards promotions or annual evaluations.
One limitation of the study is that many predatory journals cover broad topics, so some papers included in the analysis may fall outside economics.
Mark McCabe, an economist at Boston University in Massachusetts and SKEMA Business School in Sophia Antipolis, France, raised some doubts over whether the findings truly represent how often the field’s top researchers are publishing in predatory journals. For instance, the top 5% in RePEc may not represent the true top 5% of the field, he noted:
1. In what type of non-predatory journals are these (top 5%) authors publishing papers (the difference between predatory and non-predatory can be very small)? Impact Factors? Publishers? etc. Are any of them among the top 100 journals in economics?
2. What are the institutional affiliations of [these] (top 5%) authors? Any top-ranked economics departments or business schools?
3. Where is the list of the predatory journals in which these 148 papers were published?
Actually, a broad range of people submit to predatory journals.
He added that he was also hesitant to draw too strong a conclusion from these findings:
I see this study as preliminary, and I am not sure it contains strong evidence.
Asked about the criteria RePEc uses to rank researchers, Wallace pointed us to this paper, which outlines the process RePEc uses to rate authors registered on the site using factors such as the number of papers, citations received, journal page counts, and views and downloads statistics.
Wallace argued that he believes that a high ranking in RePEC is something the field takes seriously:
I’d blow my own horn if I was listed as a top 5% researcher. I’d include it in my annual report every year.
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