Legacy academic, medical, and scientific publications operate by a set of established and near universally accepted guidelines that ensure the long-term integrity of their publications. Procedures are in place and rigorously enforced to avoid conflicts of interest, misinformation, unsubstantiated facts, suppression of data, and wrongful conclusions from being published.
The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) was established to promote “integrity in research publication.” It is a forum of editors and publishers of peer-reviewed journals addressing all aspects of publishing ethics and methods for handling misconduct by authors and publishers. COPE maintains a published code of conduct, guidelines, sample submittals, flowcharts, and e-learning resources. Its searchable database includes all cases discussed since 1997 and includes the advice given to publishers and authors who made mistakes about the research and conclusions they published.
Threats to the Integrity of Academic Publishing
Lately, there have been threats to integrity in academic publishing. One example is the required apology in 2010 by the editors of Lancet. The premier UK medical journal published a paper in which the authors linked the MMR vaccine and autism. Ten of the thirteen authors later repudiated the suggestion of a link. Lancet’s editor apologized and retracted the paper after an investigation, citing “fatal conflicts of interest” on behalf of the lead author and unethical research conduct. Meanwhile, proponents of the notion that autism is linked to vaccines continue to cite the paper as proof to justify the anti-vaccine movement.
A second example threatening the integrity of publishing in journals is what Jeffrey Beall, a university librarian with a scholarly interest in open-access publishing, labels “the burgeoning industry of predatory publishing.” Predatory publishing is a threat to the transfer of legitimate and tested information through scholarly communication. There were an estimated 53,000 predatory journals in 2010 and more than 400,000 by 2015. Most publish ten to ninety-nine journals from one source. Most of their authors originate from Africa and Asia with unclear ties to established research programs. Authors can pay nearly $200 for each article published.
Warning Signs of Predatory Publishers
Beall developed a warning signal system for predatory publishers. These publishers typically:
* Violate accepted standards of peer review
* Do not maintain a “Chinese Wall” between research authors and management
* Charge fees to authors to have their articles appear in the publications
* Employ the same members of the editorial board on more than one journal from the same publisher regardless of members’ qualifications in the specific field
* Produce publications not transparent about ownership, business management, and ethics including sometimes the place of publication of their journals
* Own a “fleet” of publications or “stand-alones” with no particular ties to respected organizations and institutions of higher education and research, and more too numerous to list here
The problem predatory journals and misleading non-peer reviewed articles create is that the unsuspecting public latches on to conclusions hyped by the Internet and mass media that transform early findings and non-peer reviewed conclusions into facts.
Beall urges scholars to research the publication before submitting because some predatory publishers will submit an invoice to the author following publication of an article without previously informing the author. Beall’s List of Predatory Publishers 2016 can be found on the Internet.