Bringing an end to predatory journals

WITH getting published seen as a fast track to gaining a professorship, it is no surprise that Malaysia has become a hunting ground for predatory journals.

In a paper titled “Predatory Publishing in Scopus: Evidence on Cross‑country Differences” published last month, Malaysia ranked fifth in “fraudulent publications”, amounting to 11.6% of predatory journal articles.

The survey conducted by two Czech Republic economists, Vit Machacek and Martin Srholec, analysed data from 172 countries in four fields of research between 2015 and 2017.

They mapped the infiltration of journals suspected of predatory practices into the citation database Scopus.

Prof Datuk Dr Abdul Wahab Mohammad said fraudulent journals started becoming a serious threat when these publications went online over a decade ago.

To address the problem, the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) deputy vice-chancellor (research and innovation affairs) said the upper management of universities must make it clear that there will be consequences if any academic staff is found to have published in predatory journals.

“The repercussions could be in terms of their career promotion or other disciplinary actions.

“Universities should also be proactive in identifying and preventing lecturers from publishing in these predatory journals.

“Sometimes it’s not easy to detect a predatory journal. An academic may need to really scrutinise and delve beyond the surface (to investigate the quality of the publication) because some of these journals appear legit, ” he told StarEdu.

Quality output, he said, is key to liberating Malaysian academics from the shackles of predatory journals that prey on unsuspecting victims.

Prof Abdul Wahab said this can be achieved by ensuring that writings and research papers are submitted only to publications classified as quality journals.

Journals with impact factors, he explained, meet this criteria.

“There are also journals published by well-known publishers that maintain their quality by having a proper peer review process. Libraries can play a role by identifying these journals, ” he said, adding that predatory journals should be identified and blacklisted by universities.

Varsities should also ensure that academics are able to balance their responsibilities as researchers and educators. While there must be a key performance index (KPI) for teaching and research, lecturers should be trained to learn how to handle both responsibilities effectively, he said.

“The KPI must be realistic and balanced, ” he said, noting that most academics who are excellent in research also excel in teaching.

Stressing that only a handful of lecturers are still publishing in predatory journals and that these practices are not very prevalent, Prof Abdul Wahab said those who do it are probably looking for quick research outputs either for promotions or to report research progress.

The process of publishing in predatory journals is a fast one, ranging anywhere between one to five weeks, whereas publishing in quality journals may take a few months or even years, he added.

Stringent measures

UKM goes through a strict process, Prof Abdul Wahab said, before it agrees to promote a lecturer to a professorship.

It has several committees and referees, internally and externally, who will verify whether an academic deserves the appointment. International referees, too, are part of the process.

“There are specific criteria – which are benchmarked against international standards – that must be met before they can be promoted, ” he said, citing the number of publications and citations of academics as examples.

Universiti Malaya (UM) vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Hamdi Abd Shukor said the country’s oldest varsity has a very complex and rigid system in place to ensure the credibility of its academics.

UM employs a strict and long assessment process when appointing and promoting academics, he explained, saying that they have initiatives like KPI evaluation through a points system.

“We also have our own mechanisms to prevent the publication of papers in predatory journals.

“These include the need for papers to be published in the Web of Science (WoS) indexed journals for science and technology.

“The journals listed in the WoS are not predatory as the publication process is strict, ” he said in a press release.

He posited three possibilities as to how academics ended up publishing in a predatory journal: they were unaware of it as the predatory journal shared a similar name to an existing, credible journal; their work was submitted by others to the predatory journal without their knowledge; or they deliberately published in the predatory journal but their contributions were small.

“Predatory journals are not recognised as a criterion for promotion at UM as we value quality publications. UM is among the universities with a very strict promotion process for professors – the criteria to be a professor are very high, ” he said.

Publishing in journals is not Universiti Malaysia Terengganu’s sole criterion in considering a lecturer to be promoted to a professorship.

The candidates go through various rigorous screening processes and they must meet the academic excellence requirements set out by the senate – the university’s highest academic body – and the appointment must be approved by the university’s Board of Directors.

Its vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Nor Aieni Mokhtar said other criteria include the academic’s teaching, supervision work, research, knowledge transfer, scientific presentation, leadership in academia and management, and the publication of books and articles in indexed journals.

“A committee at the university level will also verify the publication data of each candidate through official online search portals, such as WoS.

“If the committee finds unverified journals or ones that are not indexed by WoS, these articles listed by the candidates will be rejected, ” she said.

At this stage, the committee is able to detect any predatory journal, she added.

There are various filters in place to ensure that those being considered for the role of professor or associate professor are screened and evaluated transparently, fairly and prudently.

“These steps are taken to guarantee that the academics who are promoted are those with proven achievements in their respective fields, ” she said in a press statement.

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