Special software shows who publishes in predatory journals

Czech scientists from the CERGE-EI Institute have created a special web application. The system shows us within seconds where predatory and local-focus journals are used the most. It helps users find out if a particular faculty, department or author writes for predatory journals. The free application has been designed for research managers, scientists and students.

Articles written just for research points that create money, indexed in journals with a bad reputation and hardly any scientific impact. In recent years, publishing in predatory journals has become a phenomenon, and so-called predators are active on Czech hunting grounds, too. Czech scientists from the CERGE-EI Institute decided to address this situation by creating a special web application, which shows anyone who is interested which departments publish in predatory journals and where predatory publishing is used less. The interactive application, which reveals dark sides of Czech academic research, was launched in June and is accessible for free.

“We decided to use a non-traditional, modern format based on an interactive web study. We designed it and brought it to life,” says one of the authors, Martin Srholec. The team of experts analysed articles published between 2011 and 2015 indexed in the international citation database Scopus and consequently in the Czech national information system for scientific outcomes (RIV). The main goal was to extract useful information from the mass of confusing data in RIV and present them in an interesting way. Users of the application can make their own comparisons and find out how much a particular university, the Czech Academy of Sciences and any other department publish in predatory journals. It also shows fields of study with a relatively high representation in predatory journals.

According to the authors, the application is user-friendly. You get basic information in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee. “We hope that this format is more interesting than a PDF study, for instance,” says Vít Macháček, one of the team of authors. The format of the web application, where a reader can click on a particular item and field, is inspired by the system used for Czech election results, and thus should be familiar to users.

Who is the worst? Universities and humanities

The CERGE-EI Analysis shows that predatory and local-focus journals contain more articles from the humanities than from any other field. “It is not unusual for there to be more than 60 or 80 percent of all published articles in these two categories,” says a presentation.

According to the study, researchers from the Czech Academy of Sciences publish in predatory journals only occasionally. At universities the situation is different. At faculties and university departments, scientists publish not only in predatory journals but also in journals whose international impact is minimal. “Apart from the humanities, we see most deviation from faculties specializing in economics, finance, business and management, public administration, informatics, education and health studies,” explains the study.
If a prospective student is concerned that a faculty might be a ‘supporter’ of predatory journals, he or she can click on the coloured spots to find out. To get an idea of who publishes in predatory journals, it is also possible to download a list of articles published in them.

Unique in the Czech Republic, this free application has also been designed with research managers, scientists, students and alumni in mind. “Policymakers and government offices should be interested, too,” says Macháček. “It is the government that finances these departments for the most part. It is possible to adjust the comparison according to specific needs and level of detail.”

By providing clarity in the whole matter of publishing in disreputable journals, the application aims to show where the biggest problems with predatory publishing lie. “Until now, nobody has shown the whole problem,” says Srholec. “Moreover, it is about journals with minimal international impact, not just predatory journals. The power of comparison of these two elements could be big.” If any department is represented there significantly, especially in relation to the same field of study, it is necessary to find out more, he says. “We can see full details. We can download lists of articles. A vice-dean of faculty responsible for research, for instance, can easily find out which way the wind is blowing.”

Publishing in predatory journals is a topic for the Czech Academy of Sciences, too. President of the Academy Eva Zažímalová says that it is necessary to cultivate a Czech research-publishing environment. That’s why she welcomes the new application. “Publishing in so-called predatory journals damages research in every country. Therefore, I think it’s good that we have such a study and that it’s available online and for free,” says Zažímalová. “But it’s necessary to know that it has its limits, because the level and the borders of so-called predatory behaviour in some predatory journals is not always clear.”