India takes aim at predatory online open-access (fake) journals

From time to time, these GEITP pages report on those infamous “predatory online open-access journals,” more than 15,000 of which have flooded academia emails during the past decade. Although most appear to list some address in the U.S. as their “home base”, the “publishers” generally reside in India, China, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia; sometimes a single family can pretend to be editors/publishers and — by play-acting to carry out normal peer reviews — they will accept any manuscript for publication, as long as the authors pay exorbitant PAGE CHARGES, thereby profiting hundred of thousands, even millions of US dollars during any one year. Each day many of us receive dozens and dozens of these emails, asking to please publish in their journal, attend a fake conference, or join their editorial board.

These predatory journals are at least an irritant — if not a threat — to science. But in India [see attached 2-page editorial], some universities have now recommended inclusion of such publications in the coun­try’s ‘white list’ of approved journals. Currently, the government is cracking down on this practice, which scientists say came about as a result of perverse government incentives. “We will end this menace of predatory journals,” Prakash Javadekar, Minister for Higher Education, told parliament (July 2o18). Universities now have until the end of August 2o18 to revise their recommen­dations for the journal white list to avoid predatory publications.

Predatory journals are a problem because research funding is wasted on deceptive pub­lishers that don’t deliver what they promised. A major international journalistic investigation, published in July in multiple media outlets, estimated that the number of papers put out by five major predatory publishers has tripled since 2o13 — to ~175,000 articles. Many publishers that host suspected predatory journals are based in India, and multiple studies have found that a high pro­portion of articles in such journals come from academics in India. Many Indian academics blame this situation on the nation’s system for assessing academic performance.

In 2o1o, India’s higher-education regulatory and funding agency, the Univer­sity Grants Commission (UGC), introduced a system for evaluating academics called the Academic Performance Indicator — which places considerable weight on the number of research publications. Universities have been mandated to use this indicator to hire and promote faculty members. However [see attached editorial], scientists have complained that this practice encourages academics and universities to focus on the quantity of publications, rather than their quality.

Nature 30 Aug 2o18; 560: 537–538

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