The dark side of academic research

A new study found several senior academic surgeons had published papers in what used to be termed “predatory journals.” The newer, gentler term is “solicited publishing,” but it defines the same pay-to-play, low quality publications.

Surgeons from the University of California, San Diego examined 110 emails sent to the senior author from 29 publishers during a six-week period and early 2017. Nearly all were requesting manuscript submissions. The 29 publishers represented 113 different surgery journals most of which had existed for two years or less. Only 12 were indexed in PubMed, and of the 9 that mentioned a self-reported impact factor, the median was 0.24 which means they had less than one citation per article in the last two years. The median publication fee for the 88 journals posting the information was $755.

Emails from the publishers contained a mean of 9.6 grammatical errors, possibly because more than half had addresses in foreign countries, and of those with US addresses, 30% were residential.

Of emails received, 81% proposed topics unrelated to the recipients’ practice or field of interest.

The UCSD investigators attempted to contact the senior authors of the 117 papers from academic institutions and not surprisingly received just 14 responses. Eight of these senior authors claimed they had not published in a journal that solicited publications (either they were untruthful or perhaps worse, had no idea that the journal was one that solicited manuscripts) and six admitted they knew they had published in a fringe journal. Two papers involved work that was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

In their discussion, the authors wondered why academic surgeons would publish in journals with low or no impact factors or not indexed in PubMed and pointed out the studies might never be cited. I can answer that. The goal is to publish somewhere—anywhere—not necessarily to achieve high numbers of citations.

That 117 papers from US academic centers were published in bogus journals is embarrassing.

We are in the midst of a lingering Twitter debate about my last post calling for the abolishment of mandatory research involvement as part of the training of all residents. Some academics didn’t get it. I didn’t say everyone should stop doing research. What I said was it shouldn’t be required of every resident.

Academic programs can still involve their residents in research, but let’s hope the research is worthy of publication in legitimate journals.

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