Aníbal Mesa, from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of La Laguna, has achieved a position as assistant professor (temporary) doctor after demonstrating that his opponent inflated his resume by paying to publish in "predatory or predatory magazines". A disturbing and, nevertheless, internationally recognized term: the predatory journals. The department commission concluded, after Mesa's allegation, that the sociologist Josué Gutiérrez had fattened his file with six articles in which no anonymous researcher (peers) had supervised the writing, there was no evaluation of the experimental protocols or data analysis or they were very diffuse.
The problem is not unique to La Laguna and has enough scope for last September the State Research Agency sent a circular to scientists in which he warned of the increase in these predatory publications: "It is a system of dissemination of knowledge that contributes in a perverse way to the science of bad quality ". Mesa has counted 240 articles in 10 predatory journals of researchers from almost all Spanish universities and knowledge areas.
Spam Predatory companies bombard scientists with emails in English inviting them to publish. On many occasions they are addressed to them by their own name.
Incongruent titles. Most of the journals are based in India, China or Russia, but in their titles they include the American, British, European or Swedish word to simulate another origin.
Dark rates. It is not easy to know how much and how to pay and the huge price range: between 50 and 1,500 dollars. Although half is between 100 and 400 dollars (88 to 348 euros).
Suspicious advice It is striking that very few supposed researchers make up the editorial boards or information is hardly given about them.
No trace in the bases. The editor states on the web that his journals are indexed in many prestigious databases, but that is not the case. In many cases they are expelled for "editorial misconduct". Many pages close when they are persecuted, leaving the published works inaccessible,
Mesa recounts what happened: "I was surprised because we both had competed for an interim position a year before and there I took a lot of advantage in research because Joshua did not have articles in JCR [mide el impacto de una revista]. And a year later it turns out that we both get the highest score in research. " It did not fit. "The processes are very long. In my team we have an article accepted for publication since December 2017 and still does not leave. " In addition, Mesa got "rumors that there were colleagues at the university publishing suspicious things."
Lluís Codina, from the Department of Communication DigiDoc of Pompeu Fabra University, He explains it in a very graphic way on his blog: "It's as if an academic institution provides titles in exchange for money." The main problem, although it is the most striking, is not the money they have charged, the main problem is that they have provided the title to someone who has not demonstrated the knowledge and skills that the degree certifies, because it has not completed the subjects, nor passed the evaluations ".
In 2015, Cenyu Shen and Bo-Christer Björk, from the Hanken School of Economics of Helsinki, calculated that the previous year had published 420,000 articles in 8,000 predatory journals, compared to 53,000 in 2010. And the number does not stop rising in a context of extreme competition to publish in order to Accredit the sufficient merits to obtain a place or a complement. It is estimated that half of the predatory journals pay between 88 and 348 euros for leaving.
Magazine appeared almost two decades ago open access, modestly financed by their authors, that anyone can read, download, copy, distribute, print, search or link for free, as opposed to traditional paper, in which you have to pay to read them and in those with the greatest impact also to appear. Free access has been a great advance to expand science, but now it suffers discredit when thousands of predators sneak in.
Helsinki researchers also found that 75% of those published in the predators came from Asia - where many of the publications, especially China and India - or Africa and the publication period was between two and three months. . In classic journals it can take up to two years for the prolonged correction process. "The predators do not evaluate the quality of the work or standardized revision formats are applied with yes and no," says Mesa.
Josué Gutiérrez, dean-president of the Official College of Political Science and Sociology of the Canary Islands, says he did not know about the existence of these magazines "until very recently". He defends himself from the alleged fraud with an email: "The foundation of the university to establish if a magazine is predatory is that it is in a list that an anonymous person carries. That is, no reference institution or apparent seal of quality. Therefore, I think it is necessary to clarify these issues before proceeding to name certain academic journals as predators. "
Gutiérrez makes reference to the "Beall list" created in 2011 by librarian Jeffrey Beall, from the University of Colorado-Denver, to warn of the scams he named "predatory magazines." The list is now in anonymous hands, but there are other entities that produce white lists of scientifically legitimated journals. This is the case of the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), of the University of Lund (Sweden), which is the main database for open access journals. In the DOAJ, according to Mesa, Gutiérrez's magazines are not. Some expelled from the platform due to "editorial misconduct".
"You have to be careful not to put all the magazines in the same basket", insists on making clear Cristóbal Urbano, professor of Library and Information Science at the University of Barcelona. "Not to be open, being from countries of the scientific periphery, are predators magazines. Because that is a bit of what was accused to Jeffrey Beall, who put the focus of complaint in open access journals from developing countries, when ethical problems and malpractice in scientific communication may be occurring in many countries.
The rector of La Laguna, Antonio Martinón, remembers that the problem does not only concern his university. "The institution does not paint anything, it does not know where the articles are sent, it's something very personal". And he assures that they are taking the steps rigorously: "In view of what Mesa raised, we thought that there was a little regular behavior and as a result of the information of the inspector, I appointed an instructor to analyze if there have been irregularities that deserve some kind of sanction. " La Laguna investigates, in addition to Gutiérrez, five teachers of Educational Didactics and Research for the same reason
"Obviously, there are authors who are victims of deception, but others are in conflict with these practices, given that, knowing that they publish in non-legitimate journals, they pursue the benefit of publishing them in English easily, and even invite their colleagues as coauthors of the alleged scientific article, "said Andrés Falcón, former head of the inspection service of La Laguna, in a conference that met in November to their counterparts in Zaragoza.
"We will have to lay the foundations of the open publication system, so that we do not lose the quality controls: peer review, replication of the experiments, etc.", reasons the mathematician Carlos Andradas, rector of the Complutense University. "We must worry about rethinking the evaluation of the curriculum, including elements of quality rather than purely quantity, especially because it can lead to destabilizing economic factors. The institutions that dedicate money to finance the publication, will start to have many articles in these predatory journals and we have to go beyond the numbers ".
In the page MIAR (Information Matrix for the Analysis of Journals), of the University of Barcelona, which centralizes and disseminates the information of 42,000 indexed publications in a hundred databases, were forced to do a screening a year ago. "For example, from the same publisher of Asian countries without a lot of editorial trajectory, requests for admission to hundreds of journals were sent to us in a scientific way, for which reason we decided to put as a condition to accept them that they had to be present in some database of which we trace in our matrix. We removed thousands of MIAR magazines as a result, "calculates Cristóbal Urbano, full professor of Library and Information Science and researcher of the platform.
"It's amazing the bombing of emails that those magazines do to you. They call you by your name, they tell you where you have previously published to create an atmosphere of proximity. All promise you, at a relatively affordable price, super fast deadlines for review and publication in journals with very generic titles because their will is that between everything. The more thematic area they have, the more clients arrive, "continues Urbano. There are many publications of medicine (with their specialties), experimental sciences or engineering, and few of humanities, because they are usually free.
They have the aesthetics of the classic Anglo-Saxon journals. Even some of these publishers put a post office box in a developed country to appear to be published there, or convince someone of prestige to appear on the editorial committee or invent the names, "adds Urbano. "Some even copy the exact title of a prestigious magazine, those are already supplanters"