There’s more activity on the predatory journal front. A large investigation reported recently that the number of papers put out by the five largest publishers in this category has tripled since 2015, so there’s clearly an expanding market for such “services”. Among the elite (by which I mean the top layer of this pond scum) are the Omics group and WASET, both of whose activities I have covered in past blogs here. Those links will give you a good idea of their operations: they’re scams. No one should give them money, which is the same thing as saying that no one should be publishing with them, because they sure won’t publish a word until your funds deposit. As usual, the problem is that there are indeed legitimate (and more than merely legitimate) open-access publishers that will charge you to publish your paper, too. The difference is that the legitimate ones actually do review and editorial work, funded by those charges, as opposed to the predatory outfits. Their model is publishing every single piece of crap that comes in accompanied by hard currency, and spending not one penny on quality control of any sort, because why would you?
Now the government of India has announced that it’s cracking down on such publications in that country, news that comes not long after word of far-reaching science oversight in China. Universities are to remove the predatory publishers from their approved lists, so that papers with them don’t count for promotion, etc. Of course, one reason we got to this point was that India’s system (the “Academic Performance Indicator”) is basically set up to weigh scientific publications by the kilo (a problem China has had, too). You’d hope that this would start to improve things, but I wonder. One possibility is that the publishers themselves will change names/letterheads/putative locations just enough to stay ahead of the Indian bureaucracy, and from what I’ve heard from my Indian colleagues over the years, staying ahead of the Indian bureaucracy is generally not something that will cause you to break into much of a sweat.
This outcome seems likely to me based on what’s happened already: the country’s University Grants Commission already put out a “white list” of approved journals in 2017, but it had many predatory outfits on it. Their excuse has been that these were recommended by several universities, and that they only realized later that they were problematic, removing thousands of titles a few months ago. That’s not much of an excuse, honestly – how can you be in charge of putting together such a list and not notice this sort of thing? There also seem to be few consequences for publishing in these venues, so it look like (1) the incentives to crank out such papers will still exist, since they’re still evaluating based on number of publications, (2) the disincentives will be minimal, since you’re not punished in any way for this behavior other than your “papers” not counting if you send them to a title that’s on the current list, and (3) the predatory publishers themselves have every reason to get around this for their own purposes. After all, this is a large customer base and they’re not going to say goodbye to them without a fight.
So I applaud the Indian authorities for realizing that there’s a problem and at least attempting to do something about it. But they shouldn’t expect too much applause until they demonstrate that what they’re doing has some effect. It shouldn’t be too long before we know.