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Indian J Community Med. 2016 Jul-Sep; 41(3): 169–171.
PMCID: PMC4919927

Pandemic of Publications and Predatory Journals: Another Nail in the Coffin of Academics

Academic competency is assessed by publications in journals, more so in peer reviewed journals, which give immense satisfaction and pride to the researcher. In a rapidly changing scenario, the motivation to write a research paper might go beyond name, fame, money, and the desire to contribute to the body of knowledge; more importantly now, it is to enhance one's biodata in the job market or in getting promotions. As per the “Medical Council of India (MCI) guidelines for appointments and promotions of medical teachers,” research publication is an essential requirement.(1) Although the MCI has done so with a noble intention to improve the qualities of evidence-based teaching and also motivate medical teachers in research, the guidelines were taken up by many of us as a check for promotions and appointments (“publish or perish syndrome”).(2) After these guidelines, there was a mad rush among the academia to publish, leading to a pandemic of publications where the authors are willing to pay for a publication. It ultimately led to the birth of “predatory journals.” The word predatory journal, as coined by Beall refers to the journals which do not aim to provide a platform for generating scientific evidence or to promote, preserve, and bring something new to the existing literature/evidence but on the contrary, the mission is to exploit the open-access (OA) model for their own profit.(3) As per the Beall's List of 2015, potential/possible/probable predatory publishers and journals were 693 and 507, respectively. It was an increase of 97% (of publishers) and 75% (of journals) in the last 5 years and 3 years, respectively.(4) To understand the phenomenon of predatory journals, it is important to understand what OA is. It refers to online research outputs that are free of all restrictions on access (access tolls) and use (copyright, license, etc.).(5)

Once an academic work is accomplished, the researcher thrives to share the same with the rest of the fraternity. There are multiple ways in which authors can provide OA to their own work — one way is to publish it and then self-archive it in a repository where it can be accessed for free such as case studies with their own institutional repository, or a central repository such as PubMed Central (PMC) (green OA).(6) Some researchers also use an alternative whereby they index their works in some existing publication indexing systems/other databases (research gates). A second way authors can make their work OA is by publishing it in such a way that makes their research output immediately available (gold OA).(7) Gold OA is for those articles for which authors (or their institution/funder) pay a specific fee often referred to as article processing charge (APC).(7)

The modus operandi of predatory journals is simple; they spam academic e-mail lists with journal announcements, calls for papers, review invitations, and invitations to serve on editorial boards. Furthermore, they claim to get the article peer reviewed but in reality, their peer review process is a namesake. Some publishers even promise a super-fast review (?) in lieu of fast-tracking charges. There are no credentials to such predatory journals and there is always a threat of these publishers disappearing overnight and with it all the published research work including the genuine one.(8) Therefore, researchers now have to be careful while submitting their work to such journals to ensure that they do not become victims to predatory journals.

With a rapid increase in the number of predatory publications, the MCI in September 2015 came up with a “clarification” on what constitutes “research publications.”(9) But the clarification itself turned out to be debatable and raised more queries than it could solve. As per the new guidelines:

  1. Electronic (e) journals are not be considered; however, this would lead to the disqualification of publication in high quality, widely read/followed journals that are published only in the electronic format (the PLoS group of journals, the Biomed Central or BMC journals, long version e-articles in BMJ, etc.)
  2. Indexing criteria include only six databases (why only six?). It has ignored the Indian Medical Journal database (IndMed/MedInd) funded by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). IndMED indexes about 100 journals from 1985 onward from India and also supplements international indexing services such as PubMed.(10) Out of the six databases included, one is very liberal and is known to accept every journal including pure “in-house” type and those which also publish nonacademic articles.
  3. New guidelines include publication in both national and international journals at par irrespective of the credibility of the journal. Any journal with India/Indian prefixed in its title with good quality articles and peer review process is not inferior to any journal published from a developing, underdeveloped, or even a developed country with poor quality articles, which is perceived as international. Since both are at par, researchers prefer an international journal over a national journal (even if the former is a predatory type).

Despite the appreciable and noble intentions of the MCI, it might not stop, eliminate, or control the mushrooming of predatory journals; on the contrary, it has pushed more such journals into luring potential authors.

The entire onus lies on the authors and hence, they need to be cautious in avoiding such predatory journals. Various frameworks are available for identifying the predatory journals largely based on the Code of Publication Ethics (COPE)(11) but a few important points helpful in identifying potential predatory journals are very objective such as the use of boastful language claiming to be a “leading publisher”; scrutiny on the archives can be good and it might identify journal publishes papers that are not academic at all, e.g., essays by lay people, non-contemporary, polemical editorials, or obvious pseudoscience. A noteworthy initiative called “Think. Check. Submit” by a group of researchers was launched in early 2015 with the sole aim of raising awareness of disreputable journals while clearly separating them from valid, high quality, open access journals.(12,13)

It will also be relevant for novice writers to go through a very methodically created virtual checklist on how to check a journal's credentials and how to assess a journal's true nature in a thought-provoking editorial suggested by Yucha.(14)

The MCI as a regulatory body must deal with frivolous and fraudulent predatory journals and should come out with a list of journals where research articles shall be published. It should also broaden the list of databases and incorporate a few reputed e-journals. Such a list cannot be static and must be updated from time to time. All this can be possible only after the MCI deliberates with members of editorial boards, members of the academia, and journal publishing houses.

With the arrival of the new team at IJCM, we assure you all that our editorial board will ensure high standards of editorial integrity. All prospective authors, especially the postgraduate students and young faculty members might not necessarily be aware of such “predatory” online journals or may not be able to differentiate them from legitimate journals; hence, the esteemed senior faculties shall act as mentors and help these budding professionals in selecting the best possible journal to get peer recognition and deliver constructively in assisting in shaping better policies and programs.

References

1. Medical Council of India. Minimum Qualifications for Teachers in Medical Institutions Regulations, 1998 (Amended upto May 2015) [Last accessed on 2016 May 11]. Available from: http://www.mciindia.org/Rules-and-Regulation/TEQREGULATIONS-16.05.15.pdf .
2. Colpaert J. The 'publish and perish' syndrome. Computer Assisted Language Learning. 2012;25:383–91.
3. Beall J. “Predatory” open-access scholarly publishers. Charleston Advis. 2010;11:10–7.
4. Beall's List of Predatory Publishers 2015. Scholarly Open Access: Critical analysis of scholarly open-access publishing. [Online] [Last accessed on 2016 May 24]. Available from: https://scholarlyoa.com/2015/01/02/bealls-listof-predatory-publishers-2015/
5. Peter Suber. Open access overview: Focusing on open access to peer-reviewed research articles and their preprints. 2006. [Online] [Last accessed on 2016 Jun 3]. Available from: http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/overview.htm .
6. OA journal business models: The Open Access Directory, 2016. [Online] [Last accessed on 2016 Jun 3]. Available from: http://oad.simmons.edu/oadwiki/OA_journal_ business_models .
7. Open Access. Wikipedia: The free Encyclopedia, 2016. [Last accessed on 2016 Jun 3]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_access#cite_note-Suber2012-14 .
8. Natarajan S, Nair AG. “Fake Books” – predatory journals: The dark side of publishing. Indian J Ophthalmol. 2016;64:107–8. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
9. Medical Council of India. Circular No. MCI-12(l)/2015- TEQ/l3l880. [Last accessed on 2016 Jun 3]. Available from: http://www.mciindia.org/circulars/Circular-03.09.2015-TEQ-PromotionPublication.pdf .
10. IndMED: National Databases of Indian Medical Journals, 2016. [Last accessed on 2016 May 8]. Available from: http://indmed.nic.in/
11. Committee on Publication Ethics. [Last accessed on 2016 Jun 3]. Available from: http://publicationethics.org/
12. Think, Check, Submit: Choose the right journal for your research, 2016. [Last accessed on 2016 May 24]. Available from: http://thinkchecksubmit.org/
13. Beall J. Best practices for scholarly authors in the age of predatory journals. Ann R Coll Surg Engl. 2016;98:77–9. [PubMed]
14. Yucha C. Predatory publishing: What authors, reviewers, and editors need to know? Biol Res Nurs. 2015;17:5–7. [PubMed]

Articles from Indian Journal of Community Medicine : Official Publication of Indian Association of Preventive & Social Medicine are provided here courtesy of Wolters Kluwer -- Medknow Publications