Predatory publishing a growing problem, warn scientists
Published Saturday, October 7, 2017 10:30PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, October 7, 2017 10:40PM EDT
Predatory publishing is an increasing concern among scientists and the scientific community, as highlighted by three recent studies.
There are now approximately 8,000 suspected predatory journals that publish more than 400,000 articles each year.
The journals, which operate on a for-profit basis, are often publishing poorly researched and illegitimate science that could endanger scientific credibility and patients.
One study, published in September in the journal Nature, looked at more than 1,900 studies published in suspected predatory journals and found that the majority of them didn't meet the basic information requirements to be published by a legitimate journal.
The Ottawa researchers found that more than 90 per cent of studies claiming to be randomized controlled trials, a gold standard of scientific research, failed to describe how patients were assigned to different treatment groups. They also found that less than one-quarter noted whether patients and assessors were blind-controlled or not.
"We found that the quality reporting is way, way worse," study author and senior scientist at Ottawa Hospital research Institute David Moher told CTV. "It suggests these so-called predatory journals, that they don't have editorial oversight or peer review."
While predatory publishing has often targeted researchers who are young and from developing nations, the study noted that more than half of the authors in the papers came from middle- or high-income countries, and well respected institutions like Harvard -- many of whom were unaware they had contributed to a predatory journal.
"They feel embarrassed and very ashamed. These are clever people that have fallen for a trick," said Ottawa Hospital publications officer Kelly Cobey.
And even if the author realizes and tries to get their study taken down, articles are often held hostage and won't be retracted unless a fee is paid, according to some studies.
While some researchers are unaware they are being published in a predatory journal, another research project found that researchers can pay to have their name added to a scientific paper, even if they didn't contribute.
An experiment by medical writer and researcher Pravin Bolshete found that 16 per cent of the predatory journal editors were willing to add him as an author to scientific papers for a fee when he emailed them.
"The amount varied from $100 to $1,000. A few actually sent me abstracts and said I could choose to be an author," Bolshete told CTV News.
Bolshete says this is because promotions and grants are often influenced by the number of studies the scientist has published, so there is increasing pressure to publish more.
"Now it is time to make people aware of these practices and not to be involved," he said.
At other times, legitimate research simply disappears.
The Ottawa research team suggests that approximately 18,000 potentially good studies were lost to predatory journals.
"Sometimes, throughout the course of a study, a journal we are examining will no longer be available. For those who have put their work in the outlets [there's] no record whatsoever of their publication. They might have been better putting it in their filing cabinets," said Cobey.
The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute has now prepared a guide to help scientists avoid predatory publishers.
"We need to ensure [scientists] have the support [and] that they publish in the right places," said Cobey.
The World Association of Medical Editors has also issued a guide.
Scientists were once able to rely on Bealls List, which collected an extensive list of possible predatory journals. However author Jeff Beal has stopped updating the list after reporting pressure from other academics.
The problem is gaining urgency, and Moher says researchers and scientists need to stop the flow of studies to these predatory publications
"We need to take action while we can so that these journals don't over take the world," said Moher.
With a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip