Scholar behind predatory journals exposé says study ‘backfired’

Academic at Thompson Rivers University was banned from campus after revealing his colleagues’ wide use of predatory journals

November 14, 2018
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No fear: a scholar who hoped to discourage colleagues from publishing in predatory journals worries he may have emboldened them instead

A Canadian academic who published research on his colleagues’ use of predatory journals has claimed that his university does not “understand the concept” of academic freedom after he was banned from campus.

Derek Pyne, associate professor of economics at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, has been barred from campus since May and was briefly suspended without pay in July after he released a paper revealing that the majority of researchers at the institution’s business school had published in predatory journals. The article, published in the Journal of Scholarly Publishing in April 2017, adds that such publications are positively correlated with receiving internal research awards.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) has launched an investigation into the case to determine whether Dr Pyne’s academic freedom was violated. The university has said that it will not participate.

CAUT executive director David Robinson said that Dr Pyne “feels that following his exposé…he was subject to retaliatory measures that culminated in his suspension and subsequent banning from the university”.

Dr Pyne told Times Higher Education that he hopes “public pressure will lead [the university] to second-guess their actions”.

“I received an email from a union steward saying that the HR director indicated that I may be back at work by the end of the month, so I would say that it already appears to have had some positive effect,” he said.

Last year, the controversial “Beall’s list” – a website created by University of Colorado Denver librarian Jeffrey Beall that flagged journals with questionable publishing practices – was shut down. Dr Beall claimed that “intense pressure” from the university forced him to close the site. Researchers said that the closure was a “substantial loss” to the academic community and would “make it easier” for predatory publishers to operate.

Dr Pyne added that he had hoped his research would “bring some changes in the institution” but said that colleagues were still publishing papers in predatory journals. He said that he thought some academics were more encouraged to do so when they realised “everyone else was doing it”.

“I thought it might discourage people, but I think it may have backfired,” he said.

When asked how he would assess the state of academic freedom at Thompson Rivers, he said: “At TRU, I don’t think they understand the concept.

“TRU used to be a college, and we still have a lot of people who have teaching-only jobs – they don’t have research responsibilities. Many of our administrators don’t have research backgrounds…and I think they don’t really understand the concept.”

Christine Bovis-Cnossen, Thompson Rivers’ interim vice-chancellor, said that the institution was “unequivocally committed to the principle of academic freedom for all of our faculty members”.

She added that the university’s faculty association was “fully entitled to grieve the discipline imposed on Dr Pyne” but no such “grievance related to academic freedom has been filed”.

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Reader's comments (4)

An article targeting a wide audience has to be self-explanatory. You have yo define the term "predatory journals" early in the article
This concept of predatory journals is confusing. Monopoly by high impact journals the so called Scopus is pushing the cost of accessing research articles to unattainable costs. Its like these guys are running profitable companies now with big profit margins. We publish to avail information and quality of live not to enrich a few who are now gate keeping others by the philosophy of predatory and high impact. I find this confusing and difficult to determine who is really truthful on this matter.
I would say that the predatory journals are the ones who email me soliciting papers. Why do they do this? I am not a social scientist/biologist/telecoms engineer etc, so why do they think I a suitable for writing a paper in their journal? In short if they have to email so randomly and refuse to stop when asked, they are predatory.
The whole issue of Academic Freedom now seems to be tied to those who would restrict freedom of speech in general, simply researching things that others don't want researched initially risks comments that they may be 'offended' as their personal beliefs trump both. With censorious attacks on said researchers and doxxing to follow, the toxic effects of anti-social media, the echo-chamber twattisphere in particular, should not be underestimated. This then links to the corrosive effects of institutional reputation protection, often enacted not by the academic body but by the 'professional' managers appointed to run the money making business of the institution. Very few have the ability to resist such attacks from so many angles, and those that dare to are often made an example of in the most vindictive way possible. Such is life in Academia these days.


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