New Delhi: A glut of fake scientific journals, which publish dubious research for money, has been posing many challenges for the world’s research community of late. Despite many warnings issued by the publishers of legitimate journals to stay away from their fake/duplicate counterparts, many gullible researchers fall for them as these journals resemble the real things in look and feel. A new study suggests fake journals could also be evolving to bypass the standard ways to filter them out.
Usually a publication that proactively seeks research papers from scientists and publishes low-quality journals without a reliable editorial board and peer-review system is dubbed ‘predatory’. Predatory publishers often engage in forgery, plagiarism and incorrect indexing practices. They also falsify editorial boards and lure researchers by claiming to offer better services and assured publication.
Editor’s note: However, the ‘predatory’ prefix has been finding less acceptance because, in many contexts, they don’t prey as much as collude with willing researchers eager to have published papers to their name. •
Following a public outcry over their proliferation, paralleled by a media exposé together with regulatory pressures in some countries, fake journals have appeared to be cleaning up their act and become more meticulous about fulfilling certain criteria used to judge journals. However, they have been doing so by implementing cosmetic, as opposed to substantive, changes in the quality of their work.
Naman Jain, a computer science student at IIT Gandhinagar, together with Prof. Mayank Singh, have found that although predatory journals haven’t been following standard norms set by various committees on open-access publications, they have started to visually mimic good-quality journals. As a result, according to their study, researchers are finding it harder to distinguish between authentic and fake journals using the standard criteria.
Editor’s note: Until recently, an American librarian named Jeffrey Beall maintained a list of such criteria, together with a list of titles that appeared to violate those criteria on his blog. The Beall’s list – as it came to be known – was used widely to identify potentially fake journals. However, Beall removed the list after multiple publishers alleged that their titles had been mistakenly added to the list, affecting their reputation. The list has been archived here. •
Jain and Singh evaluated a set of journals published by OMICS, a Hyderabad-based publisher noted for their predatory practices, as well as another set published by the reputed BMC Publishing Group. Both publish hundreds of open access journals across several disciplines. The duo compared parameters like impact factors, indexing in digital directories, contact information, submission process, editorial boards, gender and geographical data and editor-author commonality.
When they analysed the data, they found OMICS to be ‘evolving’ to better evade quality checks. Of the 35 criteria listed in Beall’s list, and which could be verified using information available online, 22 were common to OMICS and BMC. Of these, OMICS and BMC both checked five but OMICS also checked 13 others that BMC didn’t. For example, OMICS seemed to have commenced an online submission process similar to other well-known publishers. Earlier, it used to accept manuscripts through email. In sum, OMICS dodged most of the Beall’s list criteria and emerged as a reputed publisher.
“It is increasingly becoming hard to distinguish between authentic and predatory journals using a standard list of criteria or rules,” Jain told India Science Wire. “The standard criteria need to be updated and our work shows which are the ones that may need to change.” He is set to present his findings at a scientific conference in November 2019.