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India cracks down on ‘predatory publishers’ following international investigation

01 Aug 2018
Cartoon man with magnifying glass looking through folders
Cracking down: an international investigation has discovered that some 400,000 scientists have published papers in so-called "predatory journals". (Courtesy: iStock/erhui1979)

India has vowed to end the “menace of predatory journals” after an investigation by a group of international media organizations discovered that many publishers of such journals are based in Hyderabad. Facilitated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and carried out by journalists from over a dozen media organizations including the New Yorker and Le Monde, the study found that since 2013 the number of journals run by so-called “predatory publishers” has tripled while some 400,000 scientists have published papers in such journals.

According to the investigation, more than 5000 scientists in Germany published articles in such journals that appeared not to uphold basic standards of quality. The German public broadcaster NDR notes that while the companies publishing such journals claim to follow international standards, the peer-review process is usually skipped with papers frequently being published within days of submission.

According to the NDR, these publishers take advantage of the pressure on scientists to publish and target them by e-mail, adding that while some researchers use the services offered to quickly publish research, many are victims of fraudulent behaviour. Indeed, the ICIJ notes that reporters successfully published numerous non-scientific papers with the publishers they were investigating.

Ending the “menace”

As part of the investigation, The Indian Express visited hundreds of publishers across India, and interviewed owners and editors. All the owners insisted they were running legitimate operations, but some editors noted they were yet to edit a single article. The publishers ranged from a one-person operation publishing 13 journals to OMICS Group, which publishes more than 700 journals. OMICS is currently being sued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in America, which claims it misrepresents its journals and hides publication fees. In September last year a court in Nevada granted a preliminary injunction requested by the FTC and ordered the publisher to stop “deceptive practices”. OMICS denies the allegations.

According to The Indian Express, there are now more than 300 companies in India publishing predatory journals, which charge publishing fees ranging from $30 to $1800. The newspaper says that Hyderabad, the capital of the state of Telangana, is the Indian hub of predatory journals with companies based in the city publishing 1500 journals.

Responding to questions related to the investigation, Prakash Javadekar, India’s human resource development minister, told Indian MPs that the government aims to “end this menace of predatory journals”. The government has now asked all universities to review a list of academic journals approved by the University Grants Commission – a statutory body charged with maintaining research and education standards in Indian universities – by 30 August.

In an apparent response to the investigation, the Max Planck Society issued a press release stating that predatory publishing “is rather a marginal phenomenon”. The society says that compared to the number of articles listed on database Web Of Science in 2017, the total number of articles distributed by OMICS is less than 1%. The organization states that while scientific publishing unfortunately attracts those not committed to scientific integrity the figures show that “predatory publishing does not… jeopardize research excellence in general”.

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