An interesting reflection on questionable publishers/predatory publishers and professional development responses to them as viewed from the frame of Pakistan. We have included links to 13 related items.
Academic integrity and ethical scientific research not only reflect the trustworthiness of the higher education institutions but also boost the respect and ranking of those institutions, their regulatory organisations and the countries they are based in. Academic institutions from high-income countries continuously strive to improve the quality of education and research to ultimately raise their ranking and prestige. However, higher education institutions in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) have a relative lack of quality education, training and mentorship. During the last few years, the Journal of Pakistan Medical Association has published papers for increasing awareness of predatory publishers and conferences among the local and regional academic community.1-5 The debate on predatory publishing led to the idea of revising the terminology, given that such publishers are not “predators” and solely responsible for this dark side of science, but some unethical researchers who deliberately publish in these journals are also equally responsible. 6 That is, these unethical authors publish in predatory journals knowing that the existing system would not catch them. Such authors are also likely to be involved in other unethical practices, such as plagiarism, fabrication, falsification, and questionable peer-review. The year 2020 was difficult for all of us, but it was also a learning experience. The rapid surge in the number of publications on COVID-19 forced the journals to fast track the peerreview process for rapid dissemination of information. However, this also revealed several loopholes in the process of scientific publishing, including research fraud and compromised peer-review. 7-9 For instance, Retraction Watch (https://retractionwatch.com), a blog that reports on the scientific misconduct and retractions of publications, has provided a list of papers on COVID-19 that were retracted for suspected scientific misconduct (see here: https://retractionwatch.com/retracted-coronavirus-covid-19-papers/). Some of the relevant ethical issues in scientific publishing include paper mills, and fake peer-review. Therefore, this editorial aims to bring awareness about paper mills and fake peer-review among the regional and global scientific community. In addition, suggestions are provided to address these unethical practices in low- and middle-income countries. Scholarly black market is a term which often includes fraudulent and questionable publishers, sale and purchase of scientific papers (i.e., paper mills), unprofessional language editing agencies, and unethical (graduate) research supervision. 10,11 “Paper mills” are paid agencies that provide variety of services to their customers, ranging from data to fabricated scientific papers. 12 These questionable services are on a rise in LMICs for purchase by individuals in need for publishing a paper either to complete a degree (e.g., masters) or for career advancement (please see for a detailed list of papers on paper mills: https://pubmed. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/?term=% 22Paper+mills%22). Paper mills are run by group of individuals who do not necessarily have expertise and knowledge of research related to a specific field. Paper mills usually allure individuals to use their services through two approaches. First, they advertise on social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) using lucrative statements, such as “get your papers published in ISI indexed journals” or “get your papers published in international journals” or “get your papers published in high impact factor journals”. Sometimes this advertisement may be in the shape of enticing email invitations, similar to how most of the predatory journals do. The second approach is that the individuals running these paper mills use a middleman (usually someone who availed their service before) who identifies clients for them. The clients of these services are students (e.g., bachelors, masters) or academics in urge for publications. 13 For instance, postgraduate students might utilise the services offered by paper mills to get their research thesis or dissertation. Most of the content of such theses or dissertations is either fabricated or plagiarised. Unfortunately, this ‘easy to go’ route prevents such individuals from learning the craft of research. Further, some academics also avail the services of paper mills for completing the required number of publications for promotion or for other benefits (e.g., monetary incentives). Authorship for sale is another ethical issue where one can get the authorship of a paper by paying some money. 14,15 Such practices should be a matter of grave concern for the academic community as this will produce researchers with no research integrity and skills. 16 Moreover, these unethical exercises seriously affect the competence and conduct of students in their future professional life, which would ultimately have a negative effect on industrial and economic growth of the country. 17 The peer-review process is an integral part of the assessment of the scientific quality of a research paper. A paper published in 2018 reported that there were more than 600 records for fake peer-review in RetractionWatch (http://retractiondatabase.org) database, with papers predominantly from Asia. 18 A Retraction Watch database search on December 26, 2020 identified 36 papers from Pakistan which were retracted on account of fake peerreview. The problem of fake (or fraudulent) peer-review may arise when editors send the paper to the reviewers recommended by the authors. 19 In addition, the pressure to publish and presence of monetary incentives for publication may be likely reasons that have triggered fake peer-review scam and helped flourishing of the “academic article brokering”. 15 Furthermore, some unethical authors submitting the manuscript to a journal provide an invented e-mail address for suggesting names of the peerreviewers (fake or sometimes real), which allows them to receive the invitation to review their own manuscripts. 18 An alternative approach used by these unethical authors involves creating a peer circle to review each other’s paper (e.g., “Hey mate! Could you please review my paper and provide a positive recommendation? I will also be there to help you with peer-review in the future as you are helping me now”). or get the fake reviewers through third-party agencies. 15 The risk of the fake peer-review may be higher if the journal does not require the Open Researcher and Contributor Identifier (ORCID) or institutional email address for the reviewers. 18
1. Memon AR. ResearchGate and Impact Factor: A step further on predatory journals. J Pak Med Assoc. 2017;67:148-9.
2. Memon AR. Publish or perish: A sign of caution for authors to avoid predatory journals. J Pak Med Assoc. 2017;67:822-3.
3. Memon AR. Research publications and education in Pakistani medical universities: Avoiding predatory journals and improving the quality of research. J Pak Med Assoc. 2017;67:830-3.
4. Memon AR, Azim ME. Predatory conferences: Addressing researchers from developing countries. J Pak Med Assoc. 2018;68:1691-5.
5. Memon AR. Hijacked journals: A challenge unaddressed to the developing world. J Pak Med Assoc. 2019;69:1413-5.
6. Memon AR. Revisiting the term predatory open access publishing. J Korean Med Sci. 2019;34:e99.
7. Barroga E, Matanguihan GJ. Fundamental Shifts in Research, Ethics and Peer Review in the Era of the COVID-19 Pandemic. J Korean Med Sci. 2020;35:e395.
8. Dinis-Oliveira RJ. COVID-19 research: pandemic versus “paperdemic”, integrity, values and risks of the “speed science”. Forensic Sci Res. 2020;5:174-87.
9. Boschiero MN, Carvalho TA, Marson FAL. Retraction in the era of COVID-19 and its influence on evidence-based medicine: is science in jeopardy? Pulmonology. 2020;27:97-106.
10. Sorooshian S. Scholarly Black Market. Sci Eng Ethics. 2017;23:623–4.
11. Yahaghi H. Sorooshian S. Yahaghi J. Unethical Postgraduate Supervision. Sci Eng Ethics. 2017;23:629–30.
12. Byrne JA, Christopher J. Digital magic, or the dark arts of the 21st century-how can journals and peer reviewers detect manuscripts and publications from paper mills? FEBS Lett. 2020;594:583–9.
13. Khushik GA. I’m a professor and here’s how Pakistani public universities fabricate research degrees [Internet]. Dawn Media Group; 2017 August 24 [cited 2021 January 10]. Available from: https://www.dawn.com/news/1353593.
14. Hvistendahl M. China’s publication bazaar. Science. 2013;342:1035-9.
15. Rivera H. Fake peer review and inappropriate authorship are real evils. J Korean Med Sci. 2019;34, e6.
16. Sorooshian S. Fake graduates. Sci Eng Ethics. 2017;23:941-2.
17. Ansah RH, Aikhuele DO, Yao L. Unethical Admissions: Academic Integrity in Question. Sci Eng Ethics. 2017;23:1237-9.
18. Misra DP, Ravindran V, Agarwal V. Integrity of authorship and peer review practices: challenges and opportunities for improvement. J Korean Med Sci. 2018;33:e287.
JPMA - Journal Of Pakistan Medical Association
Aamir Raoof Memon ( Institute of Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Sciences, Peoples University of Medical & Health Sciences for Women, Nawabshah, Sindh, Pakistan. ) Farooq Azam Rathore ( Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, Bahria University Medical and Dental College, Bahria University, Karach…