India to train researchers in how to spot predatory journals

Scholars welcome new ethics training for doctoral students but want broader action to improve awareness

January 21, 2020
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India’s decision to require all PhD students to learn how to spot predatory publications as part of mandatory research integrity training has been welcomed by campaigners.

Under new guidelines published by India’s University Grants Commission (UGC), universities will be required to offer a 30-hour training course on research and publication ethics to PhD students before they can begin their studies.

The course will include modules on scientific misconduct, research integrity and research metrics, as well as hands-on sessions on how to identify predatory publications and research misconduct.

It follows concerns over apparently high levels of research misconduct in India, where almost 1,000 papers have been retracted in recent years, of which 33 per cent were withdrawn because of plagiarism, according to a recent Nature report. A sample of papers taken from predatory journals in 2017 also found that most came from India – where such publications are often based.

Anup Kumar Das, a researcher at the Centre for Science Policy at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told Times Higher Education that the policy was a “welcome move to offer a uniform and structured curriculum for Indian researchers”.

“The proposed new course will not only help them in understanding the best practices but also save them from publishing in bogus or predatory journals,” said Dr Das, who added that “existing compulsory research methodology courses have not equipped the doctoral students to practise responsible research [on a] par with the global standards”.

Dr Das said the pre-doctoral course should “facilitate improving the scholarship in Indian universities and research institutions”, but added that “similar short-term courses should also be introduced for the in-service faculty members and scientists”.

Kasturi Chopra, president of India’s Society for Scientific Values, which has campaigned for better research integrity practices, told THE that he was “happy that our UGC has finally understood the need for a suitable official document” on research integrity.

“Rapidly rising cases of unethical practices in science and technology publications globally [show] the need for exposure of undergraduate and postgraduate students to research ethics,” said Professor Chopra, a former director of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur.

However, he criticised the new guidelines as “poor and inadequate”, claiming that its advice to “teach academic ethics for two hours a week in a semester, followed by an examination, reflects the old-fashioned ‘teaching rather than learning’ process”.

Instead, universities should set out how they intend to “nurture ethical values” by encouraging open and regular discussion of research integrity – among both faculty and students, said Professor Chopra.

Many universities in the UK, Europe and the US require PhD students to undertake research integrity training, but this is not generally mandated by state-wide funding agencies.

Owen Gower, director of the UK Council for Graduate Education, said research ethics training was important, but “research ethics and integrity also require the broader research culture to reflect the values and standards we expect from our postgraduate researchers”.

“Mark Walport [chief executive of UK Research and Innovation] recently pointed out that we have a ‘hypercompetitive’ research environment, which leads to ‘too much bad behaviour’,” said Dr Gower, adding that “postgraduate researchers are not immune from that, and it can’t be fixed by ethics training alone”.

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