Predatory journals a ‘global problem’, study warns

Research reveals majority of authors publishing in illegitimate journals come from wealthy countries

September 6, 2017
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Most papers that are published in suspected biomedical predatory journals are written by researchers in high- or upper-middle-income countries and many are based at prestigious institutions, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Ottawa and Ottawa Hospital say that their findings, published in Nature, debunk “the common belief that predatory journals are only a problem in low-income countries”.

They found that the corresponding authors of papers published in so-called predatory journals were most likely to come from India (27 per cent), followed by the US (15 per cent), Nigeria (5 per cent), Iran and Japan (both 4 per cent).

Overall, 57 per cent of the papers’ corresponding authors were from high- or upper-middle-income countries as defined by the World Bank, according to the research.

Meanwhile, the University of Texas (11 articles across all campuses) and Harvard University (nine articles) were among the eight institutions with the most articles in such journals.

The US’ National Institutes of Health was the most frequent funder mentioned among the 17 per cent of sampled articles that credited one.

Predatory journals wave through scientific papers with little or no checks on their credibility, and make money by charging academic authors an article publishing fee.

The study was based on an analysis of 1,907 research papers published in 220 suspected biomedical predatory journals, randomly selected from lists compiled by the University of Colorado Denver librarian Jeffrey Beall. The controversial lists were taken offline in early 2017 but remain available in web archives.

David Moher, clinical epidemiologist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and associate professor at the University of Ottawa, says that predatory journals “publish research from scientists around the world, including those based at prestigious high income institutions”.

“Frequent aggressive solicitations from predatory publishers are generally considered a nuisance for scientists from rich countries, not a threat to scholarly integrity," he adds. "Our evidence disputes this view.”

However, the authors caution that the results should be interpreted in the context of the overall scientific output for each country and institution. For example, the US publishes more research than any other country, and the vast majority is in legitimate journals.

The study also found that the quality of research was generally worse in suspected predatory journals and such papers consistently failed to report key information necessary for readers to assess, reproduce and build on the findings.

“Clinical trials published in predatory journals are much less likely to provide information on research ethics approval, trial registration and randomisation into treatment groups. These details are essential for other researchers to be able to gauge the validity of the results,” said Larissa Shamseer, a PhD student at the Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa and co-author of the study.

Dr Moher adds: “By extrapolation, we estimate that at least 18,000 funded biomedical-research studies are tucked away in poorly indexed, scientifically questionable journals. Little of this work will advance science. It is too dodgily reported (and possibly badly conducted) and too hard to find.”

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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