Category Archives: Publishing

Why you should care about the rise of fake journals and the bad science they publish

Graham Kendall, University of Nottingham

There are more academic publishers out there than ever before. In 2014 there was an estimated 28,100 active scientific journals, but while the large majority of these journals are highly respected, there has also been a sharp rise in the number of predatory journals.

These are journals without a readership, that cannot really be thought of as being part of the scientific archive as they have done away with the “peer review” process. This is a process where scientists evaluate the quality of other scientists’ work. By doing this, they aim to ensure the work is rigorous, coherent, uses past research and adds to what we already know.

Predatory journals often don’t even bother to read the submitted paper, but just accept it. It might be an extreme example but one paper was accepted that repeated the phrase “Get me off your f**king mailing list” 863 times.

Fake journals make their money by charging a publication fee to the authors – anything from £100 to £1,000 a paper. They separate researchers from their money with little, or nothing, in return. And exist to make a profit without having any commitment to the scientific process – even plagiarising papers that have already been published.

Publishing in these journals, can not only have a negative effect on an academic’s career, but it can also mean that the academic community, as well as the general public, could be duped – with any old results being printed. And if this work is then cited elsewhere, then the non-reviewed research could propagate even further, and might be accepted as fact.

Seemingly legitimate

As somebody experienced in scientific publishing – with over 200 published peer reviewed articles, as well as being an editor-in-chief of one journal and an associate editor of nine others, I have seen first hand many of the techniques predatory journals use to make themselves look credible. This includes using logos that are similar to more established journals, using recognised academics on the advisory or editorial board (often without their knowledge) and claiming high impact factors.

They also tend to actively promote themselves through email campaigns, have nonexistent peer review which speeds up time to publication and also have affordable publication fees when compared to legitimate open access journals.

Roger Byard from the University of Adelaide in Australia has investigated the subject and found that:

There were 18 [predatory journals] in 2011, 477 at the end of 2014, and 923 in 2016 with the majority of those charging article publishing charges. The journals were found to be located in India, along with Nigeria, Iran, Turkey, Malaysia, and Pakistan.

In fact, it has been suggested that there are more “British Journal of …” based in Pakistan than there are in the United Kingdom.

And things could be about to get even worse because up until recently, the scientific community used to have a gatekeeper that maintained a list of predatory journals – but it has now disappeared.

The blacklist

Academic Jeffrey Beall ran a website, which was a “critical analysis of scholarly open-access publishing”. But if you go to this site now, you will see that it is empty. He also stopped tweeting earlier this year. As yet, he has not said why he stopped.

Jeffrey Beall in conversation about predatory journals.

The website that was maintained by Beall listed more than 900 predatory journals. And while an archive of Beall’s website is available, it will no longer be updated.

There are many people in the scientific community that will mourn the passing of this resource and many would argue that there is a need for a service such as this in order to to monitor scientific integrity.

Until then, the scientific community needs to be vigilant against predatory journals. They add no value to the scientific record, and do not add anything to the CV of a scientist – it may even harm it. They are also taking money which could be used for more productive research.

Scientists should be encouraged to check before submitting to a journal that it is legitimate, and if a paper gets accepted very quickly and the journal asks for money the alarm bells should start ringing.

Graham Kendall, Professor of Computer Science and Provost/CEO/PVC, University of Nottingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The future of scientific publishing: let’s make sure it’s fair as well as transparent

Graham Kendall, University of Nottingham

Scientific publishing has undergone a revolution in recent years – largely due to the internet. And it shows no sign of letting up as a growing number of countries attempt to ensure that research papers are made freely available. Publishers are struggling to adapt their business models to the new challenges. But it is not just the publishers who struggle.

Peer-reviewed publications are extremely important for academics, who use them to communicate their latest research findings.
When it comes to making decisions about hiring and promotion, universities often use an academic’s publication record. However, the use of publication consultants and increasingly long lists of authors in certain disciplines are changing the game.

So where will it all end?

Publication consultants

When a scientific paper is published, the authors have an obligation to report who has contributed. This recognition can take the form of authorship, acknowledgements or by citing the work of others. Most publishers will provide details about how to recognise various types of contribution. For example, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (see page 14, section 6) says that a statistician helping with analysis, a graphic artist creating images or a colleague reviewing an article before submission should all be recognised in the acknowledgements section of an article.

The academic publishing system.
Wikimedia Commons

However, recent years have seen a growing industry where publication consultants offer to help authors, or even institutions, to get their work published. The consultants charge a fee for this service. The type of help that is available ranges from proof reading, data collection, statistical analysis, helping with the literature review and identifying suitable journals to approach for publication.

We should ask why academics need these kind of services. Surely, institutions already provide this type of support to its less experienced researchers – and more experienced researchers, especially those with a PhD, should be qualified to carry out these activities themselves. After all, carrying out research and writing scientific papers is an essential part of PhD training.

If researchers do feel the need to use the services of a consultant, it should be made transparent either including the consultant as an author on the paper, or at least acknowledging their services – otherwise a prospective employer, a promotion panel or future collaborators can never be sure if there was somebody else helping with the paper. It might also be appropriate for publication consultants to provide an annual return detailing the papers on which they have consulted.

Growing author lists

To increase the transparency of academic publishing it may therefore seem that adding more people on a paper is the way forward. But there’s also another way of looking at it. Earlier this year, Physical Review Letters set a record when it published a paper with 5,154 authors. Such huge author lists are becoming increasingly common. In most disciplines this would seem excessive and we might ask whether all these authors did contribute to the paper?

Some have argued that this development is threatening the entire system in which academic work is rewarded. So what should we do about it? A radical suggestion could be to remove authors on papers completely and replace them with project names. Another suggestion, already practised by journals such as Plos One, is to list the contribution of each author. Whatever your view, there can be little doubt that some disciplines use different metrics to measure contribution.

Open Access

The traditional way to publish a scientific article is to submit it to a journal and, if accepted, you sign over the copyright to the publisher. Your article is then sold via institutional subscriptions or individual payment when it is downloaded.

There are problems with this model: a common objection is that the people who do all the work – the authors and reviewers – get no payment and yet the copyright is assigned to a publisher. Worse, the authors, reviewers and taxpayer (who funded the research to start with) then have to pay to read the article. Of course, the publishers do have costs, such as staff, printing, web site maintenance, registering DOI’s etc –and they are typically companies that need to make a profit.

Open Access publishing is a different model, where the copyright remains with authors, who pay the journal to publish their articles which are then freely available. Launching this model in the UK, former science minister David Willetts argued it would boost the transparency of research institutions. Giving individuals, as well as industry, the “right-to-roam” academic journals would help people make better-informed choices (for example about their education) and could unleash the UK’s entrepreneurial spirit, he argued.

When open access was first introduced it initially had a reputation for vanity publishing – but as funding councils have embraced the idea it is becoming more mainstream. The UK funding agencies (Research Councils UK) have a policy that states that any outputs from research that it funds should be available via open access. Many other countries now also follow this model.

So, all the problems are resolved right? Well, no: There are concerns that institutions are still paying subscriptions and also are having to pay open-access charges.

Open access has a few variants. Gold open access is the model described above, where the paper is freely available on the journal’s website. There is also a Green option where you do not pay for open access but you are allowed to archive a version of your paper – typically the last version you submit before it is typeset – on your web site, or in an institutional repository, usually after some time. Institutions have to decide whether to adopt a Gold or a Green open access policy. The Romeo Sherpa is a very useful, enabling you to find out a journal’s position on open access.

Open access still struggles with its reputation. Only recently there was a report in the journal Science that: “Predatory publishers earned $75 million last year”.

The future

The internet and open access, combined with the publish-or-perish culture is changing the industry, arguably, faster than at any other time in history. What will it look like in ten years time?

I suspect that open access will be the norm, forcing universities to think about how to manage this and how they divert library funds from journal subscriptions to researchers to enable them to pay the open access charges. There is also the challenge of what to fund; all journals, only journals with an impact factor, or consider each discipline individually?

The contribution of the authors may also need to become more transparent, not only in reporting the use of publication consultants but also noting how each author has contributed. Perhaps it is a radical idea but the percentage contribution of each author could be given, which would also remove the problem of the order the authors.

The underpinning idea behind scientific publishing is peer review, in which research is forensically scrutinised by experts in the field before it’s published. But the process should also be transparent and fair. At the moment, there could be room for improvement.

Graham Kendall, Professor of Operations Research and Vice-Provost, University of Nottingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Forget plagiarism: there’s a new and bigger threat to academic integrity

Adele Thomas, University of Johannesburg

Academic plagiarism is no longer just sloppy “cut and paste” jobs or students cribbing large chunks of an assignment from a friend’s earlier essay on the same topic. These days, students can simply visit any of a number of paper or essay mills that litter the internet and buy a completed assignment to present as their own. The Conversation

These shadowy businesses are not going away anytime soon. Paper mills can’t be easily policed or shut down by legislation. And there’s a trickier issue at play here: they provide a service which an alarming number of students will happily use.

Managing this newest form of academic deceit will require hard work from established academia and a renewed commitment to integrity from university communities.

Unmasking the “shadow scholar”

In November 2010, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article that rocked the academic world. Its anonymous author confessed to having written more than 5000 pages of scholarly work per year on behalf of university students. Ethics was among the many issues this author had tackled for clients.

The practice continues five years on. At a conference about plagiarism held in the Czech Republic in June 2015, one speaker revealed that up to 22% of students in some Australian undergraduate programmes had admitted to buying or intending to buy assignments on the Internet.

It also emerged that the paper mill business was booming. One site claims to receive two million hits each month for its 5000 free downloadable papers. Another allows cheats to electronically interview the people who will write their papers. Some even claim to employ university professors to guarantee the quality of work.

An example of one of the many paper mills that a simple Google search brings up.

Policing and legislation becomes difficult because the company selling assignments may be domiciled in the US while its “suppliers”, the ghostwriters, are based elsewhere in the world. The client, a university student, could be anywhere in the world – New York City, Lagos, London, Nairobi or Johannesburg.

No quick fixes

If the companies and writers are all shadows, how can paper mills be stopped? The answers most likely lie with university students – and with the academics who teach them.

The anonymous writer whose paper mill tales shocked academia explained in the piece which kinds of students were using these services and just how much they were willing to pay. At the time of writing, he was making about US$66,000 annually. His three main client groups were students for whom English is a second language; students who are struggling academically and those who are lazy and rich.

His criticism is stinging:

I live well on the desperation, misery, and incompetence that your educational system has created.

Ideally, lecturers in the system of which he’s so dismissive should know their students and therefore be able to detect abnormal patterns of work. But with large undergraduate classes of 500 students or more, this level of engagement is impossible. The opportunity for greater direct engagement with students rises at postgraduate levels as class sizes drop.

Academics should also carefully design their methods of assessment because these could serve to deter students from buying assignments and dissertations. Again, this option is more feasible with smaller numbers of postgraduate students and live dissertation defences.

This isn’t foolproof. Students may still take the time to familiarise themselves with the contents of the documents they’ve bought so they can answer questions without exposing their dishonesty.

At the conference, some academics suggested that students should write assignments on templates supplied by their university which will track when work is undertaken and when it’s incorporated into the document. However, this sort of remedy is still being developed.

There is another problem with calling on academics alone to tackle plagiarism. Research suggests that many may themselves be guilty of the same offence or may ignore their students’ dishonesty because they feel investigating plagiarism takes too much time.

It has also been proved that cheating behaviour thrives in environments where there are few or no consequences. But perhaps herein lies a solution that could help in addressing the problem of plagiarism and paper mills.

The role of universities

Universities exist to advance thought leadership and moral development in society.

As such, their academics must be role models and must promote ethical behaviour within the academy. There should be a zero tolerance policy for academics who cheat. Extensive instruction should be provided to students about the pitfalls of cheating and they must be taught techniques to improve their academic writing skills.

Universities must develop a culture of integrity and maintain this through ongoing dialogue about the values on which academia is based. They also need to develop institutional moral responsibility by really examining how student cheating is dealt with, confronting academics’ resistance to reporting and dealing with such cheating, and taking a tough stand on student teaching.

If this is done well then institutional values will become internalised and practised as the norm. Developing such cultures requires determined leadership at senior university levels.

Adele Thomas, Professor of Management, University of Johannesburg

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cheating with essay mills: an extension of students asking each other for help?

Charles Crook, University of Nottingham

Given the sophisticated detection tools to stop cheating, it’s unsurprising that the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary turned its attention to the migration from copy-and-paste internet plagiarism to cash-for-drafts “essay mills”. Universities seem relatively blind to this “contract cheating” in which students pay somebody else to do their assignment, but the scale of the business is sobering. The Conversation

Having felt that I have been the occasional victim of professionally-authored student assignments, I recently explored the market as a mystery shopper. Others have documented a range of available services, but just an hour of searching found me 25 websites that were suitable suppliers for a postgraduate essay I had just set. There is even a phone app for the mobile plagiarist.

Sceptics have suggested that these sites are volatile, fraudulent, or different faces of the same organisation, but that was not my impression. Their online chat and telephone advice was distinctive, articulate and patient. Their follow-up contact was vigorous. Moreover, their service is engaging: front pages feature fresh (usually female) students clutching books or folders (never computers) and often dressed for graduation.

Slick approach

The business processes are impressive. Typically you specify your needs, the package is listed internally and contract writers bid for it (regular customers can request favoured authors). For a 4,000-word, merit level, education masters essay in 48 hours, a typical offer was £440. I could commission a 12,000-word masters dissertation (including fieldwork) in 30 days for £860. Authors are carefully recruited, perhaps postgraduates or unemployed faculty. Sometimes they justify their work by referencing disillusionment with a broken and unsupportive education system.

But is their work any good? Evidence is largely circumstantial. Glimpses of job tickets suggest customers return, and sample texts are of respectable quality. The qualifications regulator Ofqual did fund research consultants to solicit A Level English and history essays, which were then marked by experienced assessors who concluded that some fell significantly short of the grade As requested. However, the assessors were told that these were contract-commissioned essays and it is hard to believe that this knowledge did not influence their grading. Such findings are therefore less reassuring than the education community believes.

Students who have used these services are, understandably, reluctant to share their motives. Staff and student experiences around more conventional plagiarism have pointed to a number of important themes driving this. However, innocently misunderstanding the nature of authorship or the conventions of citation can hardly apply to the extreme case of submitting someone else’s writing for your own assessment.

What goes through a student’s mind

Although there must be awareness of personal misdemeanour in these cases, that should not imply that the student is not thinking things through. Consider the following diagram.

Framing cheating in the culture of educational practice.
Author provided

The starting point is a student’s engagement with study – the vertical axis on the diagram above. This will vary across different continua. For example, from more to less understanding of the studied material. At the same time, lifestyle choices may place a student anywhere on this axis between freewheeling with lots of time for study, to a lifestyle full of commitments that constrain study time.

The essay-writing websites present this pressure against study as blameless inevitability, casting assignments as irritating demands that compete with learning purposes, rather than actually being part of those purposes themselves. “Today academic writing takes a serious toll on students. There are so many assignments to cope with and so many tasks,” said one website.

The horizontal axis represents the theory that cognition (remembering, reasoning, learning) is “distributed” – not just trapped between our ears, but embedded into all our interactions with those around us – and so student learning becomes thinking that is coupled into the social environment around them. But this social integration is a continuum: one that runs from peer support to personal tuition, contract tuition, proof reading, copy editing and onwards to contract writing. Students, but also staff, may struggle with where on this continuum activity starts to violate the expectations of assessment.

In the diagram, the diagonal “axis of rationality” maps how the student weighs up this encouragement to collaborate with the challenges of how they manage their understanding of the subject and their time. The more you don’t understand or the more life events impede you, the more you turn to others for help. But as the shading in the diagram is meant to imply, there may be genuine uncertainty about when dishonesty starts and when cheating becomes a real option.

Yet there must come a point when a student may overcome his or her doubts enough to go through with cheating and money changes hands. But any degree of unease at this point may be reduced by an academic climate in which learning is celebrated for being grounded in social interaction, whereby students learn through their relationships with those around them. Students may also be influenced by encouragement to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset. Perhaps, finally, universities are increasingly being drawn towards presenting education as a commodity. Thereby, we may all be playing our small parts in this corrosive growth of intellectual dishonesty.

Charles Crook, Professor of Education, University of Nottingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Digital Object Identifier – What is that?

This forum is part of the MISTA conference series web site.

There are a few principles that underpin the scientific literature. One is the fact that publications have undergone some sort of peer review. That is, experts in the area have reviewed the paper and have agreed that it advances knowledge, makes a contribution, the results are reproducible and that what is being reported in the paper is correct. Of course, mistakes happen but it is the system that has operated for hundreds of years.

Another important aspect is that anybody should be able to access a given publication. Whether it is the seminal Vehicle Routing paper from 1959 (Dantzig, G.B; Ramser, J.H. (1959). The Truck Dispatching Problem. Management Science 6 (1): 80–91), or a paper from the latest issue of the the Journal of Scheduling (at the time of writing this was Volume 15, Issue 5, 2012).

A further principle is that when you read a paper you have to be certain that you are reading the same paper that was originally penned by the author, and not a version that has been amended in any way. This means that there should really just be a single repository, rather than allowing people to hold their own copies, which cannot be verified as being the same as the original. This is almost impossible to do these days.

Before the days of the internet, it may not have been that easy to get access to a specific publication, but if you really wanted a paper you could go to a library and access the relevant journal. So, although it may not have been that easy to physically access the material, it was still in the scientific literature if you needed it, and available from somewhere. As journals (and conference proceedings; but let’s focus on journals) were all printed as hard-copy it was easy to verify that you were looking at the original by making sure you had access to the original publication.

The internet has changed all this. Publications can now be stored in multiple places which can make it difficult to verify that you are reading the same version of the paper that another author has cited.

Enter DOIs (Digital Object Identifier), which are managed by Crossref. To quote from their web site:

CrossRef is an independent membership association, founded and directed by publishers. CrossRef’s mandate is to connect users to primary research content, by enabling publishers to work collectively. CrossRef is also the official DOI® link registration agency for scholarly and professional publications. Our citation-linking network today covers tens of millions of articles and other content items from thousands of scholarly and professional publishers.

Crossref enables publishers to register, and then any paper they publish is given a unique identifier (i.e. a DOI). By using the DOI anybody is able to access the primary source of the paper.  If the publisher moves the location of the paper they only need to access their Crossref membership pages and change the URL. This means that anybody using the DOI will automatically be referred to the new (correct) place.

If you know the DOI of a paper, you can access it by using “” and then adding the DOI. For example, trying looking at This will take you to one of the papers from the latest issue of the Journal of Scheduling.

DOIs have become very common in recent years. Most (if not all) of the major publishers now use DOIs to identify their articles.

The MISTA conference series is currently looking considering registering with Crossref. Now that we have published over 500 papers, and we have a new, stable, web site, with all papers being freely accessible, it seems like a good time to enter the 21st century! We’ll let you know if/when we have registered.

Finally, if you are interested in accessing the original Vehicle Routing paper, its do is 10.1287/mnsc.6.1.80, which means that you can directly access the paper via the link



Can industrialists publish scientific papers?

This forum is part of the MISTA conference series web site.

If you look at the scientific literature you might think that most of the work that is reported is theoretical in nature. It depends, of course, how you define theoretical but you would probably be right. And the scientific community makes no apologies for this as, by its nature, it is what they do.

However, there is a need for practitioners to report their results and experiences in the scientific literature so that the community is aware of real world applications and what is happening outside of the theoretical world that many academics occupy.

Indeed, some scientific journals welcome articles that essentially describe case studies so that we can all learn from these experiences. Some of the journals that spring to mind are the Journal of the Operational Research Society, Interfaces and the Journal of Scheduling (if you know of others, please feel free to post them as a reply to this post)

The benefits of publishing in the scientific literature include the following:

  1. It gets your message out there, so that others might benefit from it.
  2. It places a marker in the sand, that indicates that you reported this work before anybody else (in a scientific sense).
  3. You might be able to use the scientific paper in your marketing material to show that the approaches you are using have been validated by the scientific community.
  4. It might enable engagement with the scientific community which might improve your systems even more.
  5. It might prompt interest from the media who regularly look at what is being published in the hope of getting a story.

The barriers to industrialists publishing in the scientific literature include:

  1. You may not know what the scientific literature is, let alone how to access it.
  2. You simply don’t have enough time, or maybe even the motivation, to write a scientific paper.
  3. Even if you are able to read at a scientific paper, it might not be obvious how to go about writing one.
  4. If you have an idea for a paper, how do you go about getting it published, after you have written it?
  5. Of the thousands of journals out there, how do you choose which one to target?
  6. If you submit a paper to a journal what do you do if you get critical reviewer comments or, even worse, the paper is rejected?

So, how can the industrial community write scientific papers, and be better represented in the scientific literature?

Here are just a few ways that might work for you:

  1. Respond to this post if you are interested in accessing the scientific literature. There might be people reading this forum who would be willing to work with you to help get your work published.
  2. Google (other search engines are available) your idea and see if anything comes up which is associated with a university. Then try contacting the academic who seems to be involved in that project.
  3. Take a look at Google Scholar (as opposed to just Google). This just searches scientific papers and you might find an academic who has expertise in your area of interest.
  4. Most universities have a Business Engagement department. Try contacting them.
  5. The MISTA conference series is interested in seeing more papers and presentations that describe real world problems, and solutions to those problems. If you are interested in discussing such a paper, please feel free to contact one to the conference chairs. The worst they can say is that the suggestion is not suitable for MISTA.

Writing a scientific paper for the first time can be daunting (in fact it is!) but it could be just what your company needs to promote itself to a wider community that you probably don’t have access to otherwise. And, if you need help and advice, then there are plenty of people around who would be more than happy to assist.

Respond to this forum post and see if it leads to anything.