The Increasing Problem of Academic Pollution in Journal Publications

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, August 01, 2020 /24-7PressRelease/ — As environmental pollution is the introduction of contaminants that cause adverse changes in the natural environment, academic pollution is the introduction of dubious research into the international research environment. Academic pollution includes the publication of low-quality, unverified, inadequately verified, unreviewed, and/or poorly reviewed research. Published research is expected to be of high quality, as strict peer review and multiple revisions are required until the manuscript meets a certain qualitative standard, and every published manuscript is assumed to have gone through this process. However, in reality, the process often misses these objectives. This article addresses three aspects associated with increased academic pollution: predatory journals, open access, and fast-track publication (FTP).

The Triple Threat of Academic Pollution from Predatory Journals, Open Ac-cess, and Fast-Track Publications

These three factors cannot and should not be discussed in a single breath. Predatory journals are bad, period. Conversely, open access and FTP are concepts that stem from valid reasons, and any academic pollution they cause is basically collateral damage. They do a lot of good, but conceptually leave the door open for a little bit of bad to sneak in. There are a few ways that each can contribute to academic pollution.

Academic Pollution and Predatory Journals

Statistically, most predatory journals are based in Pakistan, India, China, and Africa. These journals generally maintain a very “international” appearance and do not shy away from creating a very “global” presence. Their business addresses are almost always in the United States, and impact factors are almost always fake.

Open access or otherwise, publication makes journals money. But why would any re-searcher want to publish in these journals? One reason is perhaps that a novice research-er simply bought into how “international” the journal appears. However, a bigger reason lies in the academic systems of these countries itself. The broadly believed perception is that a publication enhances both the academic exposure of the research and the academic visibility of the researcher. These predatory journals target individuals who are looking for neither.

As an Indian, I can attest that published research is important to include on your resume for several job profiles or even while one is undertaking their PhD research. This is where these predatory journals come into play. They are likely to publish anything – poorly re-searched papers, poorly written papers, and logically nonsensical papers. There is generally no peer review involved. With publication almost guaranteed without much fuss, it makes its way to the resume of the candidates. With no robust process wherein the employers of these candidates actually check the quality of the publication or the journal, such candidates do sometimes manage to advance their careers through publication in these journals.

Fun fact: As of 2017, there were as many open access journals as there were predatory journals.

How to Identify Predatory Journals

If an author wishes to avoid publishing substandard content in an unlisted journal, there is an easy way to check if your journal is predatory. Beall’s list is a list of predatory journals that honest research should stray away from. This may not be an exhaustive list, and researchers should always be on the lookout for “shady” attributes, such as an Ameri-can/British-appearing journal asking for payments in Pakistani Rupees. For researchers who are working hard on papers and want the honest, not-so-easy way out, there is always a chance that your work is logically sound and needs work only in terms of language. These researchers should consider getting their manuscript professionally edited.

Academic Pollution and Open Access Journals

Open access journal publishing makes research papers available online for free. This system was an answer to ever-increasing subscription rates for scholarly journals and a continuous decrease in library budgets. The purpose of open access publishing is to remove price barriers, including licensing fees, subscriptions, and pay-per-view fees, as well as barriers such as copyright and licensing restrictions. To make this a financially viable approach, these journals would charge an article processing fee.

This approach has evidently been successful and journals have been able to maintain strict quality standards while maintaining financial sustainability. Some highly respected journals, such as BMJ and PloS, have taken this approach. With the visibly evident success of this model, some businessmen have launched their own journals. These journals are predatory, unlisted, illegitimate, and uninterested in the quality of research. The number of researchers, research, and publications is increasing at a much faster pace than legitimate journals can accommodate. These journals prosper on the academic vulnerability of researchers who depend on publishing in journals for their academic survival.

Some studies suggest that sociocultural and political factors may also drive submissions to these journals by authors from some developing countries. Certain cultures and coun-tries tend to favor quantity of publications over quality, or simply policies that compel junior researchers (who often lack the necessary experience and resources for conducting high-quality scientific studies and completing scholarly acceptable articles) to publish in international journals. This is one example of the pressure to publish discussed earlier.

Academic Pollution and Fast-Track Publication (FTP)

FTP is something journals have had to be very careful in dealing with. Many large, reputable journals still do not offer FTP to authors. Several big journals like Nature and IEEE have started offering FTP, but every legitimate journal does emphasize that there is shall be no compromises when it comes to peer review.

FTP submissions are prioritized for review, with a promised response within a set period. This review prioritization comes at a price. And as is clear so far, any opportunity to increase revenue will inevitably be adopted by predatory journals as well. Although good journals struggle with processing FTP submissions from time to time, as the ecosystem at their end is stressed with shorter deadlines, with poor or absent review systems, predatory journals can accept as many manuscripts as authors can compose. That being said, there has been a backlash against FTP by several academicians, who claim that despite the legitimate peer reviews, the journal review system may have a rather subconscious “reciprocity bias,” — the willingness to do something beneficial (accept a manuscript for publication) for someone who has done something beneficial for you (paid you extra money).

The need for Open Access and Fast-Track Publications

Here we should bring Southeast Asian countries back into focus. The funding for a project in this region is often delayed, and there is a lower number of submitted manuscripts. Most researches need to refer to a lot of existing research, and if access to all this research is paid or only available on a pay-per-view basis, the budget may not even allow the research to proceed and the institute may not even approve the project. A lot of potentially brilliant research is canceled midway or fails to start. Open Access solves this issue to a good extent, helping to put developing countries on a level playing field with their Western counterparts.

In current times, when the world is fighting against COVID-19, every day counts until a vaccine or treatment is produced. The general public has never been so aware of scientific research being conducted around the world. Many even know the titles of prominent journals, perhaps not always for the best reasons (The Lancet comes to mind…). There are deaths associated with COVID-19 every passing minute, and FTP would allow for related research to be made available for other academicians as soon as possible so they can confirm, disprove, or build on the data. Given that the world is on a deadline, there is no good reason why research and peer review should be on a deadline as well.

The Bigger Picture of These Seemingly Small Intellectual Crimes

We can all agree that good ongoing research should always cite good existing research and that there should be no doubt about the accuracy of published research referenced by any ongoing experiment. However, when poorly conducted or poorly reviewed research gets the same visibility as reliable research, ongoing projects in the same field can be de-railed because researchers citing this work may take this content seriously and use it to confirm or undermine their study. Students attempting to publish their work may not understand the severity of this situation at an individual level, but the repercussions of low-quality publications are manifold.

Conclusion

If you are a researcher, always check if your journal of choice is blacklisted. Further, al-ways ensure that your journal is recognized by and listed with Scopus or are governed by a respected body like Elsevier, IEEE, or Springer, to name a few. If you are sure of the credibility of your content, English language editing might be all you need for a respectable publication. But be sure to avoid the perils of academic pollution when you submit your work to journals.

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