The Indian Express’s (IE’s) exposé on pay-and-publish research journals shows how poorly regulated academic publishing is in India. Dubious operators, sensing opportunity in many a researcher’s desperation to show publication of her work in a legit-sounding journal, have created a predatory publishing ecosystem that features as many as 700+ journals brought out by just one publisher—Hyderabad-based Omics, which is facing legal action from the US Federal Trade Commission for fraudulent claims—that charges upto $1,800 for publishing/conference registration. The UGC recognises over 32,000 publications—given the sheer number, it isn’t difficult for a predatory publisher to hoodwink a researcher or for a researcher to seek out an easy route to publication with many legit-sounding journals in the fray.
Some of these publishers, as the IE report details, have been running from a single room while they tempt researchers with lists of illustrious names as their committed editors. It is, thus, easy to see why many big names—including the vice-chancellors of BHU, JNU, professors from the Madras and Roorkee IITs, among others—should also figure in the lists of researchers published in these dubious publications. The only jarring bit is that, even if one were to assume that all these researchers were unaware of the predatory nature of the publishers, why didn’t they do a background check of the publications? Given almost all the editors contacted by IE have said that they were either unaware that the publisher listed them as editors or had never given their consent, the game would have been up right at the start.
Getting published in a peer-reviewed journal is a metric of the quality of a researcher’s work. Thus, many universities/research organisations specify this as a condition for recruitment. However, in a poorly regulated space that is populated by so many recognised journals—for instance, in the US, which produces a larger volume of credible research compared to India, the government-run Education Information Resource Centre lists just 1,110 approved journals—this incentivises fraudsters to game the system. This is not to say that the publication requirement for hiring and promotion in academics/research be done away with. What is needed is the listing of predatory publishers without damaging the open-access (but genuinely peer-reviewed) publishing space. Else, India’s research output will never amount to much.