Academics are cautioned to avoid predatory journals

African scholars are being cautioned against falling prey to predatory journals which lure them with simple conditions for publishing but whose primary motive is profit.

Unlike credible journals whose rigorous conditions may discourage scholars from seeking their services, commercial journals make publishing much easier and faster, but avoid processes such as peer review, a critical step that ensures that scholars publish quality work.

“They are increasingly targeting academicians and researchers in Africa with offers to publish their work within shorter periods of 90 days, which they do without any peer review,” said Jennifer Thomson, president of the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World, during a presentation at a research grants conference hosted by the World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, from 28-31 August.

While incentives like the short publishing period of 90 days, compared to up to six or more months it may take to publish in credible journals, make it tempting, no scholar should fall for such if they care about their own career growth, she said.

Growing problem

“It is a growing problem in Africa and Asia, but the truth is that when you publish in questionable journals you lose the benefits of publishing, which include editorial review which help in improving your work,” the University of Cape Town-based molecular biologist told University World News in a Skype interview.

“The publications are not worth the paper they are published on, and the publishers are in the business to exploit scholars who want to publish in a record 90 days,” she said.

One way of telling if a publisher is more commercial than academic is by looking at how aggressively they advertised themselves, Thomson said.

Others did not have specific addresses for their operations, or when they did, they were not willing to disclose them, making it hard to pin them down physically, she said.

Across Africa and internationally, the need for multidisciplinary research is growing and becoming increasingly necessary, especially where researchers are keen on producing “applied practical, outcomes” from their research work, she said.

While a bigger number of researchers is becoming increasingly interested in doing research projects with a multidisciplinary aspect, opportunities for collaborations were not so common, especially in Africa, she said.


“Researchers must at all times remember that cross-pollination is always better than inbreeding and thus strive to seek collaborations for multidisciplinary research,” she said.

According to Emmanuel Unuabonah, associate professor in the department of chemical sciences at Redeemer’s University in Ogun State, Nigeria, publishing in Africa is also facing a growing threat of plagiarism, reducing the confidence international journals have in research produced from the continent.

This vice was hindering potential for innovative research outputs from the continent, he said.

“Plagiarism has reduced confidence in our research outputs; now there is always a second thought about publications from many African scholars by our peers from outside the continent,” the lecturer told University World News.

It is also common among undergraduate students whose assignments, dissertations and reports are not meant for publication. He said the problem was a global one, occurring among researchers both in the Global North and in the Global South.

Understanding the dangers of plagiarism

“Interestingly, many researchers on this continent are not fully aware of what plagiarism is and its implications. The aim of my presentation is to highlight the dangers of plagiarism, which includes loss of career, decline in public confidence in research outputs that ultimately leads to withdrawal of public support for research, and shame,” Unuabonah said.

To curb the problem, there is a need to use the 'carrot and stick' approach to sensitise researchers and students, and help them understand the dangers associated with it, while punishing any researcher or student found plagiarising, he said.

Learning institutions should put in place rules and guidelines on plagiarism while using technology to help lecturers and mentors monitor the vice.

Computer software and other tools should additionally be made available to students to help them assess and adjust the “similarity index” of their work before submitting it, he advised.

“In addition, mentors should not be too busy to be able to check manuscripts and documents from their mentees or students for plagiarism before sending them out.”

On the other hand, leaders of higher learning institutions and governments should reduce pressure on their faculty members by providing adequate facilities and funding for research, even as they demand excellent research outputs from scholars as a condition for appraising them.

Intellectual property

Scientists from across the world need to embrace patenting of their inventions more than they are now doing, and acknowledge that intellectual property (IP) has become an integral part of academic work, according to Revel Iyer, director of the Technology Transfer Office at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in South Africa.

Giving an example of the United States, he said that the knowledge economy could only thrive if countries enacted laws guiding researchers on how to deal with IP arising from research funded by the state, adding that South Africa was one of the countries that had borrowed the US example and was implementing a similar law.

“IP is mainly considered an aspect of the commercial world and has traditionally been treated as something that cannot coexist with academic research. The success of the United States’ system has challenged this mindset,” he said.

Filing patents ought to be a strategic decision by universities, meant to protect inventions with potential for a large financial return, he said.

Universities must not, however, take advantage of the affordable cost of filing patents in Africa to file patents for the sake of it, as such action would have a negative impact on institutions, Iyer said.

Culture shift

“A wisely constructed portfolio could have long-term benefit for the institution, providing revenue that will allow the university to upgrade facilities and provide more bursaries, but more than this, bringing about this culture shift means that the research occurring in the lab is more relevant to society,” the lecturer said.

Contrary to popular perception, IP does not compete with publishing and both can co-exist, but it is always wise for scientists to file for provisional patenting before publishing, he said.

“If one publishes before filing the patent application, it destroys the possibility to patent, thus it is best to file a provisional application before publishing as this gives one 12 months more to file a full application, and as such patents and publication can co-exist,” he told the Dar es Salaam event.

According to Esther Mwaikambo, president of the Tanzania Academy of Sciences, it is important for researchers not to conduct research merely for purposes of publishing in journals; they should also be guided by the need to impact people’s lives, and help to solve daily challenges.

“Before embarking on a specific investigation, it is important to think critically to see if the investigation is likely to bring something good to people. Getting good results, publishing them and stopping there leads to nowhere,” she said.