More training needed to combat predatory publishing
This is according to a study, ‘Distance education as a tool to improve researchers’ knowledge on predatory journals in countries with limited resources: The Moroccan experience’, published on 23 January in the International Journal for Educational Integrity.
The study was authored by Khalid El Bairi at Mohammed I University, Maryam Fourtassi at Abdelmalek Essaadi University, Rachid El Fatimy at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, and Nadia El Kadmiri at Ibn Zohr University in Morocco.
“Trainers and research institutions in low- and middle-income countries should benefit from the advent of distance education using webinar platforms to increase awareness on the issue of predatory publishing in their settings,” the study pointed out.
The authors noted that hardly any tutoring sessions using distance education to increase awareness on predatory publishing were available for citation.
What they could find was a webinar that was developed for Canadian health professionals to improve their knowledge on predatory journals and how to critically review the medical literature, the study pointed out.
Predatory journals are a global threat to scientific integrity, particularly in under-resourced settings, because students and early-career researchers have limited exposure to training on research integrity. This makes them easy targets for these publishers.
Thus, two free webinars, one in English and one in French, were developed for Moroccan researchers to increase their awareness of predatory journals and improve their knowledge of how to evaluate critically the quality of academic publishing.
The French webinar was titled Les journaux prédateurs: Savoir vérifier pour ne pas être une proie facile! (translated in English as ‘Predatory publications: Knowing how to check so as not to be an easy prey’) and the English webinar Catching the Predators: The rise of fake academic journals.
Nearly 500 students and researchers, representing all 12 public universities in Morocco, and two people from Tunisia were invited to join the training. Of them, 270 participated in the educational sessions and 221 responded to the subsequent survey questionnaire – a response rate of 81.86%.
The participants included PhD holders, PhD students, at 68.8% the biggest group, masters students and masters graduates.
The study found that half of the respondents did not have information about predatory publishing before the training.
In addition, it found that, of the 40% of participants who have received mail solicitations from predatory journals, 9% did not know if they were predatory.
Furthermore, 40% of participants indicated that they do not verify journal quality before submitting their manuscripts and most of them consider Scopus indexing, and the impact factor, as the best criteria for journal publication.
However, the study pointed out that Scopus contains non peer-reviewed literature from predatory journals and, therefore, “should not be used as a unique standard when recommending good practices for publishing in academia”.
Only 30.8% of the surveyed participants considered peer review as important for journal publishing.
A total of 43.4% of participants highlighted the fact that they were pressurised to publish by supervisors, institutions of affiliation, or funding agencies [which made them more susceptible to predatory publishers’ offers].
But, based on the survey, stated the study, researchers “were able, through distance education, to significantly improve the knowledge of young researchers in Morocco on predatory publishing practices”.
Importantly, 73.8% of the participants reported that they realised that publishing their research in predatory journals could damage their career and professional future.
Overall, the study indicated that the impact of webinars on the learning process of young researchers was encouraging and several recommendations were put forward to combat predatory publishing.
It suggested designing courses on research ethics, best publication practices, and research methodology, which are inexpensive to implement in low-resourced countries.
Also, training on predatory publishing, research integrity and how to critically appraise academic literature had to be institutionalised. It also made the point that open science through open access requires institutional funding.
The study pointed out that low- and medium-income countries cannot produce practice-changing findings with the use of current open-access journals that, in most cases, are predatory and, in other cases, create barriers to authors from these resource-poor settings.
Strengthening associations and organisations, such as the Moroccan Association for Research and Ethics, that organised one of these courses, could support young scientists through training.
According to the researchers, there should be research integrity committees to survey researchers’ practices in low- and medium-income countries, and centres of journalology to deliver recommendations on where local science should be published are awaited.
The study suggested that the Canadian Center of Journalology of The Ottawa Hospital is a good example of these initiatives and frameworks that should also be implemented in under-resourced countries as they require “well-trained teams only”.