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 Table of Contents  
REVIEW ARTICLE
Year : 2022  |  Volume : 17  |  Issue : 6  |  Page : 328-333

Disseminating biomedical research: Predatory journals and practices


1 School of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Ottawa; Centre for Journalology, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa, Canada
2 Centre for Journalology, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa; Department of Family Practice, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Date of Submission01-Nov-2022
Date of Acceptance16-Nov-2022
Date of Web Publication22-Dec-2022

Correspondence Address:
Prof. David Moher
School of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Ottawa, Ottawa; Centre for Journalology, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa
Canada
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/0973-3698.364675

Rights and Permissions
  Abstract 


Predatory journals are journals that do not adhere to best editorial and publication practices. They often provide false or misleading information. Similarly, predatory journals have a long history of sending often aggressive and indiscriminate invitations to submit articles to them. Finally, these journals lack transparency regarding their operations. There are a large number of predatory journals that include hundreds of thousands of articles, including millions of participants who have participated in clinical research and thousands of animals included in preclinical research. The quality of reporting of these articles is disturbingly low. Unfortunately, these articles have been included in systematic reviews, meta-analyses and health policy documents. The extent to which the inclusion of these articles influence clinical practice guidelines and health policy is unknown. It is unlikely to be a zero influence. Similarly, these articles have managed to leak into what is considered trusted resources, such as PubMed. To combat the proliferation of predatory publishers and journals requires collaborative efforts on the part of many groups. Researchers need more education and resources about predatory journals. They need to be cautioned about responding to the aggressive and unsolicited E-mails they receive from these journals. Funders need to be more explicit about not allowing the use of article processing fees for publishing in predatory journals. Universities, other research organizations, and their respective libraries need to enhance their outreach concerning the problems of predatory journals and publishers. Similarly, there needs to be stronger guards against using publications from predatory journals in hiring, promotion and tenure portfolios. Finally, the research ecosystem should move away from conceptualizing whether journals are predatory or not, to a more nuanced view whereby journals and publishers are judged on their practices-high risk to lower risk.

Keywords: Journal and publisher best practices, predatory journals and publishers, training and education, waste in research


How to cite this article:
Khan H, Vieira Armond AC, Ghannad M, Moher D. Disseminating biomedical research: Predatory journals and practices. Indian J Rheumatol 2022;17, Suppl S2:328-33

How to cite this URL:
Khan H, Vieira Armond AC, Ghannad M, Moher D. Disseminating biomedical research: Predatory journals and practices. Indian J Rheumatol [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Jan 31];17, Suppl S2:328-33. Available from: https://www.indianjrheumatol.com/text.asp?2022/17/6/328/364675




  What is a Predatory Journal? Top


The status quo for scholarly publishing continues to reinforce the “publish or perish” advancement in academia. Since many academic institutions and funders rely on traditional metrics (e.g., number of publications; publishing in high-impact factor journals) for assessing current and new faculty[1],[2] researchers and trainees are under persistent pressure to publish to demonstrate their productivity in the hopes of advancing their academic careers. A prime example includes the implementation of the Academic Performance Indicator (API) in India. Introduced by the University Grants Commission (UGC) in 2010, API allows regulatory funding agencies like UGC to put considerable weight on the quantity of publications when promoting or hiring faculty.[3] Emphasizing quantity over quality of publications may not only diminish shared knowledge[4] but also foster an environment where exploitative and predatory practices begin to thrive and become normative.

Before 2010, little was known about what was considered “predatory” publishing. Jeffery Beall, a librarian and associate professor at University of Colorado, curated a list (Beall's List) of open-access publishers, who often under false pretenses, published any article for a fee, generally at the expense of the author.[5] More recent estimates show over 10,000 predatory journals are in existence.[6] At such a rate, predatory journals and publishers remain a lingering, global threat to the integrity of scientific research. Without quality checks, predatory journals continue to dump poor-quality science in the scientific community.[7] The most notable example includes the acceptance of a bogus paper consisting of a repetition of seven-words “Get me off your f***ing mailing list” (https://www.scs.stanford.edu/~dm/home/papers/remove.pdf) by the International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology, a predatory journal.[8]

Predatory journals and publishers are “entities that prioritize self-interest at the expense of scholarship and are characterized by false or misleading information, deviation from best editorial and publication practices, a lack of transparency, and/or the use of aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation practices.”[9] The term “predatory” can be synonymous to the aggressive nature and solicitation practices of predatory journals. A recent survey showed that individual faculty members receive between 1 and 10 E-mails per day for unsolicited requests for publishing manuscripts, conference presentations, and/or membership for editorial boards from predatory journals.[10] Daily solicitation E-mails are the hallmarks of predatory journals. These E-mails are deliberately designed to imitate legitimate journals. They may include a fictitious journal impact factor, promises of rapid peer-review process, and offer a low article processing charge (APC) for open-access publishing,[11],[12] all in an attempt to confuse and lure prospective authors.


  What's driving People to Publish in Predatory Journals Top


There are several reasons why researchers and trainees may be driven toward predatory journals. For one, academic institutions and funders' unwillingness to shift away from traditional metrics for assessing success continues to reinforce the “publish or perish” way to success, potentially swaying authors toward predatory journals as an alternative avenue for scholarly communication. The quantitative assessment of scientific production through journal impact factors, number of publications, and citations largely determine the status and recognition of academic researchers. Perceived pressure to publish was identified as a significant motivation to publish in a predatory journal in survey studies,[13],[14] and it arises not only from institutional and funder requirements but also from fear of judgment from fellow researchers.[15] In addition, traditional scientific publishing requires one to pass a rigorous and lengthy peer-review process – a significant hurdle for some[16] prospective authors may look for an “easy” way to ensure their research is published to remain academically competitive. Very low acceptance rates across high-end journals may also serve as a deterrent for authors. Similarly, publishing in open-access journals has become expensive, often outside the abilities of many researchers, particularly those in less-resourced institutions.[12] Such barriers to scholarly publishing have created a niche for predatory journals and publishers to exist; the fee to publish is often a magnitude cheaper than legitimate journals. In addition to the rigorous and lengthy peer-review process and low acceptance rates, many legitimate open-access journals require an APC.[17] The success of predatory journals may be attributable to its response to the unmet needs of under-resourced prospective authors. For prospective authors, especially those under social and financial constraints, predatory journals become an attractive, low-opportunity-cost alternative for career advancement.

The lack of awareness is another determining factor of why many articles end up in predatory journals. In a recent global survey consisting of 114 researchers, more than half were unaware or failed to identify characteristics of predatory journals.[18] Similarly, other than resources provided by libraries, universities and other research organizations offer little formal training about what predatory journals are and how to avoid submitting articles to them. Hence, it is crucial to raise awareness to enable prospective authors to recognize the signs of and the consequences of publishing in predatory journals.


  Epidemiology and Prevalence of Predatory Publishing Top


Shen and Björk[19] provide the most comprehensive data on the prevalence of predatory article publications, more than 400,000 as of 2014 publishers in about 8000 journals. These publications are coming from authors worldwide.[12] These publications are also being cited in health policy documents.[19]

Entities that have become known as “predatory” journals and publishers are permeating the world of scholarly publishing, yet little is known about the papers they publish. Moher et al.[12] examined a cross-section of about 1900 human and animal biomedical studies, recording their study designs, epidemiological and reporting characteristics. In their sample more than 2 million humans and over eight thousand animals were included in predatory publications. Only 40% of studies reported having ethics approval. Of the 17% of articles reporting their funding source, the US National Institutes of Health was most frequently named. Corresponding authors were most often from India (511/1907, 26.8%) and the US (288/1907, 15.1%). The reporting quality of work reported was poor and worse than similar samples from the legitimate literature. Many studies were missing key methodological details and findings. Thus, raising important ethical concerns since research in predatory journals is difficult to identify and not indexed in scientifically curated biomedical databases.

For example, OMICS International Publishing group is thought to be one of the largest predatory publishers.[20] Since OMICS published its first online in 2008, has grown into a publishing empire that, according to its website (https://www.omicsonline.org/) publishes more than 700 journals in health and other fields, as well as coordinating conferences (2000-3000 per year), deceived thousands of authors who published in its journals and attended its conferences.[21],[22] On March 29, 2019, based on evidence provided by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in Washington, D. C., a U.S. federal judge ordered OMICS to pay $50.1 million in damages for authors who were deceived. However, as the company is based in Hyderabad, India, it is not clear that any money will be collected. Furthermore, the company continues to operate with its predatory tactics.[20]


  Focus on Entering Trusted Sources Top


New studies, evidence syntheses, policy documents, and evidence-based practices largely rely on publications and journals indexed in trusted databases. However, trusted databases, such as PubMed or the Journal Citation Reports (JCR), have allowed the indexing of journals that do not meet best practices criteria in scholarly publishing.[23],[24] This is concerning as it potentially legitimizes research that has not been properly peer-reviewed. It has recently been shown that an alarmingly high number of predatory journals are indexed in PubMed, the freely accessible biomedical database maintained by the National Library of Medicine.[25] Manca et al. found that over 10% of predatory journals in neurosciences and neurology are indexed in PubMed.[26],[27] Moreover, Kratochvíl et al. assessed Biomedical Open Access journals indexed in JCR and found that a large number of journals did not comply with the criteria of transparency and best practice, such as providing the declaration of Creative Commons license, the affiliation of editorial board members, anti-plagiarism policy, or having ambiguous APCs.[24]

One of the consequences of the colonization of databases by predatory journals was described in a meta-epidemiological study.[28] Hayden et al. found that 9% of trials eligible to be included in a Cochrane review were published in presumed predatory journals. The trials presented inadequate conduct, reporting, and publishing characteristics. According to the authors, predatory publishing is problematic to systematic reviews as it dilutes the credible literature, increases the amount of poor-quality data, and includes duplicated or fraudulent data in systematic reviews.

These findings are alarming, as systematic reviews are often used to guide clinical practice guidelines and health policies. If predatory journals made their way to systematic reviews, so did they to policy documents. The main problem is that predatory journal papers are listed in scientific databases alongside reliable peer-reviewed papers, making it difficult for policymakers, researchers, and the public to identify them. In a pilot study, Brandts-Longtin et al. found policy documents citing randomized controlled trials published in predatory journals. These researchers are currently conducting a cross-sectional study to assess the impact of predatory journals on policy and guidance documents.[29] Preliminary results indicate that 472 policy documents in the area of health cited OMICS journals. Most of the policy documents originated from the US (174), Canada (34), and Australia (29). Government policy documents accounted for the majority of the documents with OMICS citations. This study demonstrates that it is essential that databases apply more strict criteria to include new journals and assess the already indexed ones on a regular basis. However, more studies are needed to assess the impact of predatory journals on policy documents.

While scientific databases contribute to predatory publishing, they are not alone. Research funding organizations also share this responsibility. A study tracking the funders of papers published in predatory journals were found to be largely funded by government agencies such as the NIH-HHS (US Department of Health and Human Services), US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Canadian Institute of Health Research.[25] Manca et al.[25] found that NIH-HHS (US Department of Health and Human Services) was the largest funder (94.1%) to pay for APC fees of articles published in OMICS journals, with more than 300,000 researchers funded annually. Most of the institutions covering OMICS APCs were universities (60%), followed by nonacademic hospitals (36%), nonacademic research laboratories (2%), and private companies (2%). This is not only a waste of money, typically in limited supply but also a credibility problem for funders.


  Gold Open Access Top


The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released in August 2022 a new policy for federal agencies.[30] The policy requires immediate access to all federally funded research results and supporting data upon publication, without embargos or paywalls. Although the policy will not require articles to be published only in OA pay-to-publish journals. It is possible to foresee an increase in articles submitted in OA journals, as happened in implementing of similar policies, such as the European Plan S. Open-access mandates are a virtuous initiative, and it has a great impact on the scientific endeavor, but they must be implemented considering some predictable outcomes. Some studies suggest that the unregulated open-access mandates by funding agencies might have influenced the rampant number of predatory journals.[31],[32] Therefore, it is essential to apply stricter regulations to prevent the use of grant money in predatory publishing. This could be done, for example, by allowing funded publications only in trusted journals or by monitoring and randomly auditing funded projects.


  How to Recognize and Respond to Predatory Journals Top


Predatory practices are becoming more sophisticated, and their consequences affect different stakeholders (e.g., funders, the public). Thus, it is important to address predatory journals and their publishers to avoid undermining the integrity of science and scientific publishing.[6]

There is no magic bullet to identify a predatory journal or publisher. As the Inter Academy Partnership report on predatory journals indicates, predatory publishing is likely better considered as a spectrum of activities from high risk to lower risk rather than as a binary concept (predatory or not).[6] One of the first and most important steps is to know what a predatory journal is. An international consensus definition has been reached on defining predatory journals, as provided above.[9] All journals are best recognized by their practices. Prospective authors should examine journal practices before article submission. For example, is the journal a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)?; is the journal listed on the Directory of Open-Access Journals ((DOAJ)) (good practice)?; does the journal indicate whether their peer reviewers are formally trained (excellent practice)?; does the journal provide an article decision within a few days (red flag practice)?; and does the journal provide a legitimate impact factor (best practice)?. If these practices are not reported, and others, including the transparency of journal operations, prospective authors should be extremely cautious about submitting an article.


  Other Solutions Top


Several initiatives have developed tools and resources to avoid predatory journals and to help researchers select journals and publishers before submitting their manuscripts. Using the opposite approach as the one used in Beall's list, the DOAJ provides a whitelist of reputable open-access publishers and awards the DOAJ Seal to journals that adhere to the criteria of best practices. Although very useful, the list is a binary, short-term solution, as the number of predatory journals is rapidly increasing, and the list should rely on external sources to update it. While the unfortunate termed “whitelist” and “blacklist” have been developed to help identify predatory journals, they are not a panacea. They are often behind a paywall making their use out of reach to the vast majority of those who need them. Similarly, there is little evidence that these checklists are useful in detecting predatory journals.[33]

DOAJ also developed 16 Principles of Transparency and best practices for scholarly publications, along with The COPE, the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association, and the World Association of Medical Editors.[34] The principles include items of the journal content, journal practices, organization, and business practices, and can also be used as a framework to find warning signs of fake journals.

Checklists have also been created to help detect predatory journals.[35] However, the large number of existing checklists may confuse and overwhelm researchers, as discussed by Cukier et al. Although one benefit to the continued development of such checklists, may be the creation of one evidence-based tool supported by their similarities, aiming to serve authors from all disciplines. The Think.Check.Submit initiative[36] stands out, as it provides researchers with a checklist to guide them in evaluating the journal and help identify credible sources. Similarly, the Compass to Publish tool (https://app.lib.uliege.be/compass-to-publish/), created by the University of Liège, aims to help distinguish fake journals and publishers by assessing the authenticity of journals through a series of questions.

Other initiatives have also looked at different stakeholders, as predatory journals do not deceive only researchers. The Center for Journalology (https://www.ohri.ca/journalology) at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute has developed a “one stop shop” of resources on predatory journals for other stakeholders, such as patients/public; researchers and institutions; journals, publishers, and societies. One of the available tools is The Journal Authenticator (Now called the Journal Transparency Tool)[37] which “checks” the journal operation transparency. This tool provides information about a journal to help users decide if they should interact with it (e.g., read, submit, and cite). The Journal Transparency tool and the InterAcademy Partnership[6] report advocate for conceptualizing predatory journals and publishers along a continuum rather than a simple binary approach (predatory or not). The recently released InterAcademy Partnership report provides a comprehensive overview of predatory practices, their players, prevalence, and preventing tools. The report acknowledges the complex scenario and ends with several recommendations for different stakeholders to be implemented in the short, medium, and long terms.

While tools and checklists are effective resources against predatory practices, they are mostly designed to help identify reliable or predatory journals, and they do not touch upon the root causes of those practices. The strategies must involve all the drivers and structures involved in scholarly publishing: researchers, institutions, funders, publishers, databases, libraries, and science governance organizations.

Therefore, first, it is essential to raise awareness and understanding of predatory practices and their threats by implementing robust training for all academic levels, librarians, institutions, and funders.[38] The educational approach should address knowingly and unknowingly predatory practices to assure scientific literacy Most importantly, the main driver of predatory practices should be the leading point in the discussion and long-term initiatives. Predatory publishers intensely exploit the way scholarly communication is disseminated, assessed, and commercialized, and there is a number of recommendations that can undermine them.

Institutions and funders should prevent and remove incentives from their funded and affiliated researchers to engage in predatory practices.[6],[39] They should exclude all papers published in predatory journals in promotion and tenure evaluation and refuse to fund, appoint, promote, or recognize repeated offenders.[40] They should also promote good publishing practices by advocating adopting responsible research assessment. Although this action seems like a simple task to implement, there is no simple way to do it. The Medical Council of India recommends some criteria for appointment and promotion.[41] Since the first inclusion of publication criteria in 2009, four amendments have been released from time to time. The definition of publications that would be included in the researchers' assessment to curb predatory journals was one of the main reasons for the changes. The criteria include the manuscript type, authorship, and indexing databases. The latest amendment, from February 2020, defines that only articles indexed in a list of databases would be considered. The list includes the DOAJ, PubMed Central, Citation Index, Sciences Citation Index, Expanded Embase, Medline, and Scopus. In the case of e-licensing journals, only articles indexed in DOAJ would be considered. The measure certainly limits predatory journals, even considering that they have already been found in trusted databases listed in the criteria. However, this is an important step to restrain predatory journals, regardless of their flaws. The researcher's assessment criteria should be revised regularly to adapt to new predatory scenarios and practices. It should move toward a qualitative peer evaluation by promoting good practices, awarding open science practices and peer review activities and minimizing the use of bibliometric evaluation and quantitative assessment.


  Conclusion Top


In the immediate future, it is unlikely that predatory journals and publishers will cease their operations despite the largest predatory publisher (OMICS) being fined $USD 50 million dollars by the United States' FTC in 2019. The continuation of predatory publishing is problematic for the entire research ecosystem and devalues trust in science. In the medium term, solutions must be sought and implemented. Electronic tools to help identify the best publication practices of all journals need development. Such tools can empower researchers to make better decisions about journal submissions, including avoiding journals with bad practices, including predatory journals. Hiring, promotion, and tenure committees must guard against the use of predatory publications in respective dossiers. University libraries need to provide more training and other resources to ensure journals with bad publication practices are starved of submissions.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
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