Staying ahead of predators – not that simple
EVERYONE claims to be against predatory publishing, but punishing those who are involved seems to be harder than one would expect. This was highlighted by a case recently investigated by University World News (UWN).
Contacted in April by a group of whistle-blowers based at Unisa concerning allegations that the university was protecting a senior academic alleged to have 16 publications in predatory journals – most published by KRE Publishers/Kamla Raj Enterprises between 2012 and 2018 – UWN contacted the institutional spokesperson and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) for comment.
No comment from the DHET was forthcoming. However, Unisa spokesperson Martin Ramotshela said the institution was satisfied that the credentials of the academic facing the allegations were “credible” and institutional records show that all the academic’s articles or publications were published in DHET-accredited journals. “The majority of these publications were published in 2014 and 2015, which pre-date the existence of the Beall’s list,” he said.
The institution condemns the publishing by its academics in predatory journals and subscribes to the Beall’s list and “utilises librarians to scrutinise journals or publications where its academics intend to publish before the articles or publications are submitted”, he added.
Confused by the emphasis on the dates of publication, UWN turned to Professor Johann Mouton from the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (Crest), for help to unpack the issue.
Mouton confirmed that while KRE Publishers are widely known to be predatory publishers, some of its publications did feature – until very recently – on the list of journals recognised by DHET, which rendered the department liable to pay the subsidies claimed.
How did it happen that the DHET list included predatory journal titles? The answer lies partly in a lack of governmental capacity and knowledge, and insufficient scrutiny.
Mouton said in addition to its list of approved South African journals, the DHET regards a number of indices as accredited. These include, inter alia, the International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (Ibss), the Web of Science and Scopus. Any journals on these lists are therefore indirectly recognised by the DHET.
He said that during the course of research for ASSAf in 2016, which informed the June 2017 article titled “The extent of South African authored articles in predatory journals” by Mouton and Valentine, published in the South African Journal of Science, it became clear that 40 or so journals listed by Beall also appeared on the DHET-approved lists at that time, particularly the Ibss list.
This was pointed out to the department, but not before it had paid the subsidies to a number of universities.
“Legally, the universities believed they were within their rights to submit these articles for subsidy because they appeared on accredited lists,” said Mouton.
He said when the department tried to recover some of these monies, they were threatened in one or two cases with legal action and chose to drop the matter.
The DHET list has since been updated and, at the beginning of 2017, the department sent a memorandum to all universities to say that in future it would not pay out subsidies if institutions submit articles that turn out to be published through predatory means.
Mouton said during his recent monitoring activities he noticed that KRE Publishers had been removed from the 2018 Ibss list.
On his urging, the DHET contacted new Ibss owners ProQuest, who confirmed that they had removed the publications because they were believed to be predatory.
“That means that for this year’s subsidy submissions which are going to the department for the 2018 year, no one can claim they were not aware. KRE Publishers are now off the Ibss 2018 list.”
Mouton said that since 2017, monitoring by Crest has shown that the number of predatory publications has decreased – 180 were identified in 2016 and only 125 were submitted in 2018 for 2017 subsidies.
“This is a result of greater awareness and last year the department refused to pay subsidies to those deemed to be predatory.”
Mouton said part of the solution to the “malaise” lies in more firmness on the part of the government.
But the situation is highly fluid and requires constant monitoring as predatory publishers have “got wise” to scrutiny.
Mouton said he believes, but has not yet been able to verify, that some publishers are buying up some of the more lucrative predatory journal titles which then migrate from one index to another, causing a great deal of confusion among academics and administrators alike.
The next big challenge is dealing with predatory conferences and conference proceedings.
Watch this space.
♦ This articles were published on the
SINCE 2017 the number of predatory publications has decreased. | SHARON SERETLO