Over the past year, much has been said about the lack of trust in science and the need to distinguish legitimate research from misinformation, disinformation and other forms of error. But how? Many commentators have stressed the importance of peer review – the process by which scientific claims are examined for validity by other researchers with expertise in the relevant fields, before the articles are published. These observers insisted on the fact that the publication of a study in a peer-reviewed journal is a mark of legitimacy. Although this type of publication does not guarantee the accuracy of a study, it does indicate that its methods and conclusions have been verified by appropriate experts. At least that’s the theory.
A recent development, however, threatens to undermine this criterion for distinguishing scientific sense from nonsense. This is the rise of “predatory newspapers”. These journals claim to adhere to scientific standards, but do not. Typically they to offer authors publish quickly, in part because they don’t take the time to do high-quality peer reviews. They also don’t check papers for plagiarism, flawed methods, conflicts of interest, or missing ethics committee approvals. Yet these journals make a lot of profits, collecting millions of dollars in author fees.
This is a big problem for society, not just for science. A study concluded that 8,000 predatory journals collectively publish 420,000 articles each year, nearly one-fifth of the scientific community’s annual output. 2.5 million logs. medical news on medical landscape noted that questionable research funded by commercial interests can circumvent proper verification via publication in a predatory journal. These articles are listed in scientific databases alongside legitimate journals, making it difficult for researchers and policy makers to discern the difference.
At best, it’s a huge waste of resources. At worst, it can put people’s lives at risk because doctors and patients may falsely accept false claims about insufficiently tested medical treatments, supplements, and drugs, and invalid studies falsely influence public policy. And the danger is growing: more and more of these predators are popping up every year.
Why do scientists publish in these journals? One answer is money (or rather lack of money). Prestigious scientific journals charge their authors for publication, indicating that the costs cover careful editing and revision. These “page” fees can add up to thousands of dollars. Well-funded academics charge these costs to outside grants, or wealthy institutions may cover the costs of a researcher. In contrast, the typical fee for a predatory log is less than $200which helps explain why the authors of articles in these journals are disproportionately located in less wealthy countries and institutions.
Another reason is visibility: Predatory journals provide more opportunities for researchers to have their work published and cited, which helps them secure jobs and grants. This reflects the perverse incentives of the “publish or perish” practices of science. It’s no secret that researchers are often judged more on the quantity of their output than on its quality. Universities emphasize metrics such as number of papers published and citations when making hiring, tenure, and promotion decisions.
To warn academics about predatory journals, the Librarian Jeffrey Beall compiled a list of them in 2008. But his approach has been criticized as subjective and even defamatory. Other lists were also subject to disputepartly because there was no agreement on precisely how to define predation.
Recently, after much debate, some researchers have come to a consensus definition; this includes presenting false and misleading information, among other characteristics. As a result, scientists can now make more useful lists. That’s all well and good, but it addresses the symptoms more than the disease.
To end predatory practices, universities and other research institutions must find ways to correct the incentives that cause researchers to prioritize publication quantity in the first place. Setting a maximum limit on the number of papers that hiring or funding committees can consider might help, for example, as would placing less importance on the number of citations an author gets. After all, the purpose of science is not simply to produce papers. It’s about producing stories that tell us something real and meaningful about the world.