When most faculty publish in predatory journals, does the school become “complicit?”

Predatory journals – which charge high fees and often offer little-to-no vetting of research quality – are a problem, and lately an easy target for authors eager to spoof the problems of the publishing system. Although many researchers try to steer clear, not all do – a recent paper showed that some top economists publish papers in potentially predatory journals. Now, a new paper in the Journal of Scholarly Publishing reports the problem may be even more widespread. Derek Pyne found that most of his colleagues at the School of Business and Economics at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, Canada have at least one paper in a predatory journal. We talked to Pyne about how his colleagues and administrators reacted to his findings – and how he believes they should address them.

Retraction Watch: Why did you decide to look at how many of your colleagues in the business school have published in predatory journals?

Derek Pyne: I knew that people had publications in predatory journals but I did not realize how widespread it might be until a colleague informed me of someone who I never would have expected to have predatory publications. I then wondered how many others that I had not suspected, might have predatory publications.  I investigated further and discovered that a majority of my department colleagues had predatory publications.  This increased my interest in predatory journals and I started following Beall’s blog and reading related research.  Then a Dean’s Research Award was presented to someone who had multiple predatory publications.  These awards are used to support tenure and promotion applications. At the same meeting, another person was congratulated for becoming the editor of a journal whose publisher was on the Beall list. At this point, I realized that there may be rewards for publishing in predatory journals and as far as I could determine, none of the previous research on predatory publishing had addressed the rewards.  I realized that I could fill this gap in the literature.

RW: How have your colleagues reacted when you share your results?

DP: The reaction while I was conducting the research was varied.  I learnt that some people resented working hard to get quality publications when others were given accolades for the greater number of publications predatory journals allowed them to achieve.

The paper was published while I was spending part of my sabbatical at the Athens University of Economics and Business.  I only had direct contact with specific people via email.  They tell me that there was little said in the business school.  However, when the related op-ed came out, an arts faculty person distributed a copy on a university email list.  Another arts faculty member than read the paper and emailed his summary and views to the list.  After this, I started getting requests for the paper from people across the university (particularly science and arts people).  It was put on the agenda of both an arts faculty council meeting and a university senate meeting (but it was not on the agenda of the business school’s faculty council meeting).  The minutes of the senate meeting are not public yet, but I’m told that administrators who had originally ignored my findings, suddenly spoke disapprovingly of publishing in predatory journals.

RW: In a recent Op-Ed in the Ottawa Citizen, you say the administration at the business school was less than enthusiastic about your results. Can you say more about that?

DP: In September of 2015, on my Annual Professional Activities Report (APAR), I included my initial finding that I had found that I was one of a minority of researchers in my department with no publications in predatory journals.  The dean requested, through the department chair, that I remove this from my APAR and resubmit it.  I did this but I don’t think he appreciated my rewording as his official APAR response letter quoted from my original APAR instead.  When I informed him that I had facts to back up my statement, he responded that he did not care about facts.  Things went downhill from there.  For example, later he said that the school had promotion and tenure committees to evaluate people’s research and that he thought it was arrogant of me to second guess them.

RW: You note that universities may be “complicit” in the problem of predatory journals. Can you say more about that, and what we can do to address it?

DP: I see no other reason why universities would ignore the issue when it reaches the extent of a majority of research faculty in a school publishing in predatory journals.  In the op-ed, I discuss possible reasons for this.

I have a couple of suggestions for addressing the issue.  One problem we have is that no one in our Dean’s office has a research background.  I would hope that administers with research backgrounds would place a greater value on honest research.  Moreover, I think they would be in a better position to recognize suspicious publication records.  Thus, the first action I would recommend would be hiring administrators with research backgrounds.

In addition, I found that the issue only got attention after my op-ed was published.  I am not saying that other universities would be unwilling to address the issue before getting to this point.  However, honest faculty have to be willing to stand up for academic integrity.  If internal actions cannot bring change, it is sometimes necessary to go further.  In my view, the job security of tenure is wasted on people who turn a blind eye to such wrong doing.

RW: Have you ever published in a predatory journal? Why or why not?

DP: I have not.  I did become an associate editor of a predatory journal published by the World Business Institute.  They had sent me an invitation with an application.  The requirements of the application seemed to be serious in terms of the minimum number of ranked publications they required.  I foolishly completed it and I was then appointed to the editorial board.  However, when I discovered that two other people in my department had also been appointed, I realized that something was wrong.  It took a long time to get them to remove my name, not only from their editorial board, but also from emails about conferences they organized in which they claimed I was on the scientific committee.  Finally, I started sending emails to keynote speakers of the conferences (and others) explaining the problem.  I think some of the speakers may not have been aware of the publisher’s nature as shortly after I took this approach, the publisher finally stopped using my name to promote their conferences.

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