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Beware of fraudulent journals

Research sponsors often require publication in journals where material is freely available. The market for non-serious journals has simply exploded, and the review system is buckling. LiU researchers have been affected too.

VarningIn the middle of February this year it came to light that the scientific journal Didaktisk Tidskrift had not sent articles for peer review–anonymous review by colleagues–despite claiming to have done so. The editor, Professor Tomas Kroksmark of Jönköping University, admits that only 15 of around 500 articles published over the years had been reviewed by the journal’s editorial board. He also told the newspaper JönköpingsPosten that he thinks “it is unfortunate that there was the impression that every article would be reviewed”.

The professor has been found guilty of scientific misconduct, and David Lawrence, head of LiU Electronic Press, made a quick search in Diva. He found 15 articles from LiU researchers in the area of education science published in Didaktisk Tidskrift. Their articles will now be downgraded from “peer reviewed” to “”general scientific contribution”.

Andreas Fejes“In the case of Didaktisk Tidskrift it was always a bit unclear as to how their review procedure worked and we can only support the libraries in LiU and Gothenburg in their move to downgrade the articles, even though they may well be of high scientific quality. I have also spoken to the authors here in the university to reassure them this is no reflection on them whatsoever,” says Andreas Fejes (at left in picture), professor of Adult Education and learning, and Pro-Dean in the Faculty of Educational Sciences.

Writing articles in scholarly journals was not particularly common in educational sciences until ten years ago.
“Publication today is a totally different animal and many of our colleagues have not kept up with developments. It is us research directors who need to give sound advice, both to graduate students and to our colleagues. We in the faculty can highlight the issue, raise awareness and provide information, and we are working on these things now together with Mr Lawrence,” says Professor Fejes.



skärmdump ScienceBut the whole peer review system is in question; who has time to do the reviewing?

In October last year, Science published an article by scientific journalist John Bohannon of Harvard University under the headline “Who’s Afraid of Peer Review?”.

Mr Bohannon faked a scientific article about a molecule that could inhibit the growth of cancer cells and got his computer to generate a number of variations from different fictional universities. He sent them off to 304 different journals that use open access–where you pay for publication and peer review–and where the journal’s articles are openly available on the Internet.

A reviewer with not much more than a basic secondary education should quickly be able to find the obvious flaws in the article, Mr Bohannon writes in his article in Science. But in spite of this, his article was approved for publication in almost half the journals.

His aim was to expose the trend towards a “Wild West” approach in the branch. Peer review is promised but rarely happens, if at all, and the number of publishers who see the opportunity to earn easy money from every scientist’s need for qualifications is ballooning around the world–especially in Asia. But even journals belonging to reputable publishing houses like Elsevier, Wolters Kluwer and Sage were prepared to publish the fake article, while a small Indian publisher quickly spotted the bluff.

Mr Bohannon’s prank has of course also attracted some criticism, due to the fact that he only sent the articles to open access journals. The publishing houses that operate serious open journals–of which there are an increasing number–see it as sabotage against their work.

David LawrenceMore and more research sponsors, both in Sweden and internationally, require open publishing, and it has also become clear that open published articles are read and cited more.
“These frivolous journals are a major, increasing problem,” Mr Lawrence (at left in picture) remarks.

One librarian at the University of Colorado has produced a list of publishers that in his judgement are not serious.
“The list is somewhat controversial; some of the publishers certainly have both serious journals and non-serious ones,” says Mr Lawrence, pointing out that there is still good reason to be careful with them.

They have no ranking impact factor, and generally the articles never get cited. Nevertheless in Diva he found 48 articles written by LiU researchers over the last two years and published in journals which appear on the list. This in fields such as medicine, sensors, healthcare and also some in physics in publishing houses such as MDPI, Bentham Open and Scientific Research Publishing.

“I am surprised at how many there are. This is something that needs to be discussed. It is not sustainable for academic standards at LiU over the long term to have articles in this type of journal.

TidskrifterMDPI is a bit of a special case, however. They have a number of low ranking journals that are in the Web of Science, but there is apprehension around some of their newly-founded publications.
“The recommendation is therefore to avoid publishing in their journals. It is better to publish direct in Diva and retain your entire copyright,” he says.

Mr Lawrence sheds light on yet another proof of the increasing impudence in the branch.
The British site Publish Fast promises, for a fee, naturally, to jump the queues and make sure that your article makes onto the fast track to the right editor.  They also show diagrams of articles they helped get into reputable journals from 2011 to today.
“The domain was registered a few weeks ago,” explains Mr Lawrence,
“But I don’t thing any LiU researchers would follow along with that.”

Story: Monica Westman Svenselius


David Lawrence’s tips for exposing frivolous journals:

  • Poor English on the journal’s website.
  • Few or no citations in Google Scholar
  • Very broad subject coverage
  • If a large number of journals were started recently
  • If the time lapse for peer review is short, sometimes three to ten days
  • If they have names very similar to the serious journals
  • If they make reference to a long list of indexes.

If you have the least doubt, email or call Mr Lawrence.

“It is quick and simple to check when you get the hang of it. I am more than happy to come and visit departments and divisions to provide information.”


Related Links

LiU University Library, Dubious publication
The Colorado list of dubious publications
Scandal in Jönköping, Svenska Dagbladet, February 2014
University of Gothenburg comments in SvD
Who’s afraid of Peer Review, Science, October 2013

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Last updated: 2014-03-13