In India, even “scientists” from so-called “elite institutes” are publishing in shady predatory journals

India is a hotbed of these “open-access online, predatory journals” –– which has become one of the themes of these GEITP emails [i.e. weeding out, and identifying, fraud and corruption in science –– which clearly (and sadly) is becoming more rampant with each passing year]. This honest, straightforward editorial published in Science journal [see attached] is written by Priyanka Pulla, who, interestingly, is not a scientist, but a writer located in Bengaluru, India (come to think of it, I’m quite sure I’ve eaten a dish of Bengaluru at an Indian restaurant. It was very spicy.).

These predatory journals masquerade as legitimate scientific publications, but the papers are published with little or no peer review, while the publishing houses are getting rich quickly by charging authors exhorbitant “page fees”. Many scientists simply assumed that such “bottom feeders” are attracting papers from institutions in academia’s (what shall we say?) “outer orbits”. However, a new analysis has found that many of the papers in these predatory journals are coming from top-flight Indian research institutions.

The discovery has turned the spotlight on an academic culture in India –– which tends to prize Quantity of publications over Quality, when evaluating researchers for hiring and advancement in their careers. This is an especially big problem in the Life Sciences, which funded some of the research that ended up in predatory journals. “Biology, in general, has become ghastly, in that people are chasing the metrics. If you chase these surrogate markers of success, instead of creative scientific achievementce, we have a problem.”

A Science investigation (Oct 2o13) traced the publishers and editors of scores of predatory journals to India, and last year, a team reported in BMC Medicine that –– of a selection of 262 authors published in predatory journals –– 35% are Indian. Now, a graduate student in pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of Oslo has looked at the authors’ affiliations. They randomly chose 3,300 papers by Indian first authors, from 350 journals flagged as predatory by Jeffrey Beall, a library scientist at the University of Colorado in Denver. They reported in Current Science (9 Dec 2o16) that more than half the papers were by authors from government-run and private colleges, hotbeds of mediocre research.

However, about 11% of the papers were from India’s premier research bodies –– including institutions belonging to the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and the Indian Institutes of Technology. “Funding agencies have to be careful about where papers are published,” says a cytogeneticist at Banaras Hindu University (Varanasi, India).  Some blame the problem, paradoxically, on recent “attempts to improve Indian research output and visibility in the world”.

In response to concerns, UGC announced that it would change its performance metrics and compile a list of peer-reviewed journals in which researchers would need to publish. “That’s not the best solution,” says Vijay-Raghavan. “The fundamental problem is an ecosystem that values WHERE you publish and HOW MANY PAPERS you publish, rather than WHAT you publish. This needs to be changed”. Toward that end, DBT (in 2o14) required all published papers to be uploaded into a central suppository –– so that they can be judged, according to merit.  The department also plans to launch a preprint repository, to encourage sharing of findings before publication. Evaluating research by READING publications –– rather than focusing on numbers –– “will pull the carpet from under the feet of predatory publishers,” says Vijay-Raghavan.

Science 23 Dec 2o16; 354: 15111512

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