Fighting Predatory Journals in Africa: The Tale of a Young Moroccan Scientist

Khalid El Bairi discusses the problem of predatory journals, providing his personal experiences in challenging this issue in Africa.

The open science movement has radically transformed access to research worldwide. Notably, the number of for-profit open access journals has increased dramatically during the last few years. In parallel, predatory open access issue arose as a recent trend and a side effect of this academic publishing initiative. This new model collects article processing charges from authors and provides rapid publishing services without constructive and proper peer-review. These prolific and fraudulent journals are now well-known, and have features such as plagiarism, duplications, fake metrics, and spam invitations to publish with low fees and join their unlimited editorial boards1,2. Moreover, predatory journals are ready to publish practically every submission, threatening scientific integrity. Unfortunately, well respected indexing databases such as Scopus can also be infiltrated by these predatory journals, which make the detection of their predatory behavior difficult in some cases3-6. This paid-for database is used in several African countries as a standard for academic advancement, grants, and funding support. Scopus discontinues journals that do not meet its standards after a re-evaluation by an advisory board. However, publications from suspended journals in the database remain readable without any useful mark of their predatory patterns which may be regarded as legitimate research.

I always wondered if indexing databases check whether journals perform peer-review of published articles or not. To the best of my knowledge, these databases only assess the journal according to available data on journal policy, standing of the editorial board, regularity of publications, and online information availability3,7, without demanding peer-review reports. Hence, the abstracting criteria of highly regarded databases such as Pubmed/Medline, Scopus, and Web of Science need to be revised to include a regular verification of peer-review reports.

Researchers from developing countries face the challenge of sharing their results in real scientific journals. This has caused a significant negative impact on research, particularly for authors in countries with limited resources. Africa is a hot target of these predatory journals4. Authors with limited resources in these settings cannot afford the high fees of open access publishing, and therefore publishers should consider full waivers without restrictions. The World Bank classification is not a good measure to select authors who can benefit from full or partial waivers. I am an author from a country that benefits from a 50% waiver, but I cannot pay these fees to share my findings in open access journals. In my opinion, the Beall’s list should be extended to include those “for-profit” peer-reviewed journals that do not waive the charges of open access publishing for countries and teams with limited resources. In addition, hybrid journals should continue their model, instead of transformation to gold open access and also allow preprints to be deposited in servers without restrictions. Preprints are a good alternative to share data instead of wasting authors’ efforts in predatory journals. Importantly, governments and organizations should take appropriate legal actions against predatory journals and also regularly control publishers’ policy to lower the article processing charges as they are overestimated.

I started making young scientists aware of this tragedy several years ago using social networks. Many colleagues, including university professors, did not accept this idea; I was asked several times to end my talks about this topic publicly because it might hurt their academic statute. I felt guilty because this matter may cause damages to some scientists. “Who is this guy?”, “Be careful when working with this guy”: I heard this several times, and I was told that this kind of data should be provided by a “senior researcher”. Some of the difficulty surrounding this this issue comes from the fact that a number of African scientists publish dozens of papers in these predatory journals during their career. Unfortunately, many of them become professors at academic institutions without the required expertise in publishing ethics and research integrity.

Working under this pressure has not discouraged me to maintain my talking about this topic on social networks and participate in this fight. Promisingly, we were also effective in organizing several webinars to share awareness on predatory journals in collaboration with Moroccan scientific societies and research institutes. We were successful in attracting more than 7000 PhD students and health care professionals, as well as senior investigators, to participate in a certified masterclass program to encourage them in engaging against predatory journals. Young scientists have enthusiasm and skills to communicate effectively and provide up to date information for researchers. Thus, this should motivate stakeholders in African academic institutions to engage this youth with innovative ideas to plan strategies and build capacities to fight this challenging issue in the continent. In this time of unfortunate anti-youth attitude in some countries, I hope that young researchers will be given an opportunity to progress research in Africa.

By my final years at med school, I had realized that toxic hierarchy guided by deficient leaders is a principal indicator of poor scientific progress. Africa without its young scientists will be impotent by the rapid advancement seen in all areas of science. Dear decision makers in Africa, please stop considering young researchers as inferiors!

“I believe that in the future, you –the young scientists– will solve these global problems”. Hiroshi Amano, Nobel Laureate in Physics 2014

 

The content of this paper reflects the author’ perspective and not of his institution of affiliation.

 

References

  1. Owens JK, Nicoll LH. Plagiarism in Predatory Publications: A Comparative Study of Three Nursing Journals. J Nurs Scholarsh. 2019;51(3):356-363. doi: 10.1111/jnu.12475.
  2. Shen C, Björk BC. ‘Predatory’ open access: a longitudinal study of article volumes and market characteristics. BMC Med. 2015;13:230. doi: 10.1186/s12916-015-0469-
  3. Cortegiani A, Manca A, Lalu M, Moher D. Inclusion of predatory journals in Scopus is inflating scholars’ metrics and advancing careers. Int J Public Health. 2020;65(1):3-doi: 10.1007/s00038-019-01318-w.
  4. Macháček V, Srholec M. Predatory publishing in Scopus: evidence on cross-country differences. Scientometrics. 2021:1-25. doi: 10.1007/s11192-020-03852-4.
  5. Severin A, Low N. Readers beware! Predatory journals are infiltrating citation databases. Int J Public Health. 2019;64(8):1123-1124. doi: 10.1007/s00038-019-01284-3.
  6. Duc NM, Hiep DV, Thong PM, et al. Predatory Open Access Journals are Indexed in Reputable Databases: a Revisiting Issue or an Unsolved Problem. Med Arch. 2020;74(4):318-322. doi:10.5455/medarh.2020.74.318-322.
  7. https://www.elsevier.com/solutions/scopus/how-scopus-works/content/content-policy-and-selection (accessed 14 May 2021).

 

Khalid El Bairi

Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy

Mohammed Ist University, Oujda, Morocco

Email: k.elbairi@ump.ac.ma

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