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To Catch a Predatory Publisher

A former program officer at the National Institutes of Health is calling for measures to clean up scientific publishing. 

Writing in The Scientist, Kailash Gupta says that there has been an explosion of online scientific journals, some of which are focused on making money with little regard for quality control. These include publications with overlapping disciplines meant to increase the number of published papers but which are staffed by young business managers without scientific or publishing backgrounds.

Worse are publications that have decided to skip the peer-review process but still present themselves as scientific journals and target researchers who only want to publish their work. And some publications, Gupta writes, have even used the names of legitimate journals that are not published online, such as Archives des Sciences and Wulfenia

The number of such "predatory" publications has risen from 18 in 2011 to 860 in 2015, Gupta says, citing data culled by Jeffrey Beall of the University of Colorado Denver's Auraria Library. 

He adds that legitimate publications have also tripped up and notes that BioMed Central recently told its editors that some studies have used fake reviewers. The publisher of 275 online journals identified about 50 articles that were not reviewed properly, including some that had been reviewed by their own authors who set up bogus email accounts and suggested those fake identities as reviewers in their manuscript submission.

Gupta, who also was the founder and editor-in-chief of AIDS Research and Therapy, suggests a number of steps to combat the problem. First, the pressure on researchers to publish needs to be mitigated.

"The value that both funders and tenure committees put on publication record drives scientists to publish marginal advances, which predatory publishers are all too happy to post online," he says. "Funding and promotion decisions should not be based on the number of publications, but on the quality of those publications and a researcher's long-term productivity and mentorship." 

He also recommends greater vigilance in spotting and getting the word out to scientists about fake journals and fake articles. The price for online publication should be controlled, he added, and mechanisms need to be created to pay and acknowledge reviewers.