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

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          Abstract

          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: 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.) 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. 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.

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          Most cited references 13

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          Medical Council of India

          (1997)
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            Best practices for scholarly authors in the age of predatory journals.

             J. Beall (2016)
            'Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence, is the key to understanding our potential.' Margaret J Wheatley. The focus of any academic or research author is to share his or her findings, and to gain respect and reward for publishing. The ideal journal is one that not only publishes an article quickly but also helps the author to improve the article before publication through peer review, selects only the best research so that the author's article lies alongside other high quality articles, and provides maximum (and long-term) visibility and access to the article. Unfortunately, in the real world, authors need to make tradeoffs between high quality journals, those that work quickly, those that are willing to accept the article and those that provide the best access. Into this mix has come the potential of open access as a means of increasing visibility: journals publish the article without a subscription barrier so anyone, anywhere, can read the article. However, the growth of open access (pushed by institutions, grant bodies and governments as a means of improving human health and knowledge) has come with some unforeseen consequences. In this article, Jeffrey Beall discusses one recent phenomenon that has arisen from the open access movement: that of 'predatory publishers'. These are individuals or companies that use the open access financial system (author pays, rather than library subscribes) to defraud authors and readers by promising reputable publishing platforms but delivering nothing of the sort. They frequently have imaginary editorial boards, do not operate any peer review or quality control, are unclear about payment requirements and opaque about ownership or location, include plagiarised content and publish whatever somebody will pay them to publish. Predatory publishers generally make false promises to authors and behave unethically. They also undermine the scholarly information and publishing environment with a deluge of poor quality, unchecked and invalidated articles often published on temporary sites, thus losing the scholarly record. Jeffrey Beall, a librarian in Denver, US, has watched the rise of such fraudulent practice, and manages a blog site that names publishers and journals that he has identified as predatory. While Beall's lists can provide librarians and knowledgeable authors with information on which journals and publishers to be cautious about, several legitimate publishers, library groups and others have joined forces to educate and inform authors in what to look for when selecting journals to publish in (or read). This initiative, called Think. Check. Submit. (http://thinkchecksubmit.org/), was launched in the latter half of 2015 and hopes to raise awareness of disreputable journals while clearly separating them from valid, high quality, open access journals (of which there are many). PIPPA SMART Guest Editor.
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              Committee on publication ethics

              http://publicationethics.org The basic tenet of good publication practices is faith and confidence in the peer review process. In order to select the best quality of articles, the review and publication process has to be transparent, methodical and impartial. All stages of this process are explicitly built on ethical principles and informed decisions, most of which are based on the distinctive vision of the editors. The quality of research published in a journal depends in turn on the trust that researchers, authors and readers repose in the editorial policies of the journal. The influence of powerful financial and intellectual interests sometimes comes in the way of these policies. This makes it imperative to have clear guidelines and unambiguous policies in order to ensure the ethical treatment of all aspects of the editorial and publication processes. What started out as an informal group of editors concerned at the increasing instances of authors flaunting scientific integrity evolved later into the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) in 1997. COPE is now a registered British charitable organization and has a number of leading journals and editors as its members. Editors of scientific journals are encouraged to submit issues relating to the integrity of the work submitted for publication and the website (http://publicationethics.org) acts as a forum for these wide-ranging discussions and their possible redressal. The summaries of all cases and their outcomes are posted on the website and act as a guide for authors and editors, alike. Flowcharts on handling common publication lapses are present in a section of the website. Seventeen different issues pertaining to misconduct are available. They provide solutions to problems such as redundant publication, plagiarism, fabrications of data, authorship problems, undisclosed conflict of interest, complaints against authors and reviewers and various types of ethical indiscretions. The section on guidelines has the code of conduct for its member editors, which encourages them to work for improving the journal by ensuring adherence to quality, freedom of expression, maintenance of integrity and that of adopting a stance of not letting profits come in the way of achieving high intellectual standards. The code also advises the members to meet the needs of the authors and readers and to publish corrections, retractions and apologies, if required. The research section has details of the work carried out at different places in terms of publication misconduct by grants provided by COPE. Projects on detecting plagiarism, author’s awareness about publication ethics have been successfully completed. The Forum is perhaps the most interesting section of the website. It hosts all Annual Reports between 1998 and 2008. These reports provide a summary of individual cases linked to the actual description of problem, the advice by COPE, follow-up by the journal and the resolution. The Cases section contains an indexed version of all cases submitted to COPE. These reports and cases should be essential reading for all aspiring authors and those interested in implementing good publication practices. The Seminar section lists the content from annual seminars organized by COPE. A perusal of the contents reveals a number of interesting cases; the 2010 seminars on plagiarism in the electronic age, cultural differences in plagiarism and screening for plagiarism using a web-based service are remarkable eye-openers. The publication ethics blog allows members to post comments and to engage in discussion on varied relevant topics. The newsletter of COPE called ‘Ethical Editing’ is also available for download. In addition to news and reports of meetings, it has general articles which tend to demystify some of the more daunting aspects of publication ethics. The contents of the website are not for the newbie, there is a distance education course in the offing but its details are not available. The problem of misconduct in scientific publication in the developing countries as a unique identity does not find a place on the website. Indian journal members are primarily those from large publishing houses. Smaller Indian journals have not been represented despite a discounted membership rate. The overall accent of the website is to create awareness about publication ethics and it succeeds in doing so by its content. However, most of the text is uninspiring and only a diehard editor will go through the website in a concerted effort to find solutions. A more pleasing layout with visual appeal and ease of navigation would be more appropriate for such a topical website.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Indian J Community Med
                Indian J Community Med
                IJCM
                Indian Journal of Community Medicine : Official Publication of Indian Association of Preventive & Social Medicine
                Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd (India )
                0970-0218
                1998-3581
                Jul-Sep 2016
                : 41
                : 3
                : 169-171
                Affiliations
                Department of Community Medicine, GMERS Medical College, Sola, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
                [1 ]Department of Epidemiology, Indian Institute of Public Health-Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
                Author notes
                Address for correspondence: Dr. Pradeep Kumar, A 1/7 Swagat City, Adalaj, Gandhinagar - 382 421, Gujarat, India. E-mail: drpkumar_55@ 123456yahoo.com
                Article
                IJCM-41-169
                10.4103/0970-0218.183586
                4919927
                27385867
                Copyright: © Indian Journal of Community Medicine

                This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike 3.0 License, which allows others to remix, tweak, and build upon the work non commercially, as long as the author is credited and the new creations are licensed under the identical terms.

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