Junk publishers threaten what we know

Most of what we know is not from our day-to-day experience. If I were to trust my intuition, I would believe that the Earth is flat. I depend on others who have studied our planet to inform me.

imge: University of Phoenix Research Hub

The only way we can separate fake news from genuine knowledge is through the meticulous investigations of others. Regrettably, junk publishers give me reason to doubt the reliability of what should be indisputable.

Driven by the dictum of “publish or perish,” otherwise honest scholars cut corners and submit to junk publishing.

“If a critical mass of scientists become untrustworthy,” say engineers Marc Edwards and Siddhartha Roy who researched the problem, “a tipping point is possible in which the scientific enterprise itself becomes inherently corrupt and public trust is lost, risking a new dark age with devastating consequences to humanity (Walrus, June, 2019).”

The problem is so bad that that for the first time in history more fraudulent and flawed studies are published than legitimate research.

Professors who expose the extent of the problem are sometimes celebrated. One those is Eduardo Franco, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University. In 2017 he sent an email to his colleagues warning them of a global “epidemic” of scams by academic journals that was corrupting research and endangering the public.

The dean of medicine at McGill praised Franco as “the champion in our faculty in dealing with this problem.”

Derek Pyne, economics professor at Thompson Rivers University was less celebrated.  In 2017, Pyne published a study that found that 38 of his colleagues wrote for junk journals.  He wrote that “the school has adopted a research metric that counts predatory publications equally with real publications.”

Pyne found that predatory publications advanced careers. He determined that there was a direct connection between padded CVs and higher salaries and promotions at TRU.

TRU administration had no accolades for Professor Pyne. He was banished from the campus in May 2018, suspended in July, and allowed back on campus in December. He says he was threatened with medical leave if he didn’t agree to a “psychological evaluation.”

One doesn’t expect such Kafkaesque treatment of academics who blow the whistle. Professor Pyne is credited for being one of the top three prominent academics in Canada for tackling the problem of corruption in academic publishing.

Professor Pyne says his suspension is tied to his findings of predatory publications but TRU administration disagrees. Christine Bovis-Cnossen, university’s interim president said:

“Much of the media attention has incorrectly stated that faculty member Dr. Derek Pyne was disciplined for his research. This is not the case. The discipline imposed is related to matters which I am unable to comment on due to both employment and privacy law (Kamloops This Week, November 16, 2018).”

I asked Professor Pyne if it was still TRU’s position that his suspension had nothing to do with his exposure of junk publications. He replied by email:

“That is a good question. Back in the fall, they were openly saying that to the media. In February, their submission to the LRB made the same claim.   However, since then, I have been told by a couple of media outlets that they are not commenting on my case.”

 

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