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International expert Jeffrey Beall on how to identify predatory publishers

May 20, 2016

On 19 May this year, Project 5-100 and NUST MISiS organized an international seminar “Strategies to identify unethical publishing practices.” Jeffrey Beall – a renowned expert on low quality journals that charge money for publications – was the keynote speaker.

Beall is a librarian and associate professor at Auraria Library at the University of Colorado, Denver. Since 2009, he has been writing a blog where he publishes regularly updated lists of potentially predatory journals and publishers.

During this seminar, Mr. Beall shared his expertise of how researchers can recognize a predatory journal. Such journals offer to print your publication for money, but do not charge readers anything, simply leaving your paper in open access.  They send out letters to scientists from suspicious e-mail addresses and quite aggressively solicit your “business”. Potential authors should be wary of “impressive” words in the names of such publishers (like “international”, “global”), and of too many fields and subjects represented in the journal. Another identification feature – and probably the most important one – is the fact that the period between accepting and printing a publication is very short, which means that papers do not undergo peer review. 

According to Beall, one publisher can have up to 100 predatory journals. “The recent increase in the number of such publications has to do with the fact that this business is extremely profitable”, Beall offered. According to the Professor, when assigning academic credit, many universities all over the world count only the number of their employees’ publications and disregard their quality. “Demand generates supply”, the expert concludes. Predatory publishers are constantly adapting to the market situation, for example, by lowering the price of publications in their journals. 

Anton Stativka (Deputy Head of University Liaisons at Project Office 5-100) discussed Project 5-100’s experience of analyzing potentially unethical publishing practices. He said that the problem with “trash” publications is fairly new for Russia, because the goal to be “visible” was set for Russian universities only in 2012.  Nevertheless, the universities are already aware of reputational risks related to publications in predatory journals. The speaker presented several examples of academic journals excluded from Scopus in the past few years and identified some common features which point to a potentially unethical publishing practice. 

Stativka listed the following indicators which the Project Office pays special attention to when analyzing the universities’ publishing activity, especially when these indicators change dramatically and rapidly: the sudden presence of certain previously unrecognized journals in the overall list of the university’s publications; a suspicious imbalance in the types of publications; certain abnormal citation indicators for the university’s articles in a given year. The fact that these indicators are open and are in public domain should stimulate the universities to take the appropriate measures necessary to protect their reputation. Moreover, according to Nadezhda Polikhina (Deputy Executive Director at Project Office 5-100), Project universities are already regarded by the university community as a type of a benchmark, which imposes additional ethical obligations on these “role models”.

Alexei Okunev (Vice Rector for External Affairs at NSU) continued on the topic of university reputation in his presentation “Deficiencies of rating methodologies when counting low-quality publications”. He noted that bibliometric and reputational indicators of universities are interrelated in university rankings. Thus, it is almost impossible to hope for a better reputation score without good bibliometric indicators. At the same time, if a university artificially increases the bibliometric indicator, its reputation in the academic community will ultimately suffer. 

Speaking of a future possibility to publish university rankings in Russia, Okunev added: “Our ratings will have to help us understand where we are from our international reputation point of view and not just find a combination of numbers which will take a university to the top 100. The existing bibliometric indicators are imperfect. We need to come up with other indicators which would do a better job of reflecting the goal set before us – improving the reputation of Russian researchers”. The participants in the seminar agreed that when a measurement tool becomes the end-goal, it stops being a valid measurement tool. 

Certain cases of Project 5-100 universities were presented by Timothy O’Connor (Vice Rector for Education at NUST MISiS) and Vitaly Bagan (Head of Strategic Development at MIPT). O’Connor spoke about the work of the Center for Academic Writing at NUST MISiS which helps the university’s employees to improve the number and quality of their articles in the Web of Science and SCOPUS.

Bagan illustrated MIPT’s experience of supporting its employees’ publishing efforts. Since the launch of Project 5-100, thirty-five labs have been opened at MIPT, which has helped to increase the number of scholarly publications produced by MIPT. Also, an incentive program for publishing activity has been in place for several years at the university. According to Vitaly Bagan, MIPT is protective of its reputation and has never done anything to artificially raise its citation scores. “When scientists are motivated to exaggerate their indicators by publishing their papers in “trash” journals, we get researchers who are willing to do this for financial gain. That’s why our main motivation was not to create such a stimulus”, Bagan concluded. 

Alexei Falaleev (Head of Expert Support at Project Office 5-100) believes that when employees are compensated for the very fact that their publication came out in a Scopus-indexed journal, even the strongest research branches of a university will suffer. Falaleev went on to add, “In such cases the university will be the losing party,” 

According to Elena Shtanskaya (Head of International Science and Technology Projects at NUST MISiS), most of the young generation of scientists want to have articles published in high-quality journals and do not agree to having their articles published in not-so-reputable publications, even if this is quicker. Shtanskaya adds: “Our policy has never been based on numbers. We have always put science and creativity first”. 

Summing up the results of the seminar, Jeffrey Beall said: “All universities are struggling with publication ethics. Russian universities have achieved some important, positive results..

To conclude, let us add that this is the first time that the American expert has visited Russia. The day before the seminar, he made two presentations at the 5th International Conference “World-Class Academic Publisher 2016: Publication Ethics, Peer Review and Preparation of Publications”. 

The conference was organized by the National Electronic and Information Consortium (NEICON). During the conference, a round table titled “Preservation of the integrity of scientific research and communications as a global ethical problem” was organized by the Association of Scholarly Editors and Publishers at which Project 5-100 representatives were featured as speakers.