What is it? An email by a whistleblower has accused a scientist named Gunasekaran Manogaran of being an instrumental part of a research paper publication scam and tarnishing the reputation of eminent scientific publishers like Elsevier, Springer Nature, Taylor and Francis and Wiley, Undarkreported.
The writer of the email has alleged that the scam targets a specific type of publication called ‘special editions’, where a particular issue of a scientific journal focuses on a single theme or topic. These self-contained editions are not part of the journal’s regular publishing schedule. Typically, special issues have been used to target a particular topic or explore different avenues of existing research. They have also been beneficial to publishers as a source of revenue as researchers are highly charged to get their papers published in these open-access issues.
Special issues are typically managed by ‘guest editors’ who are not direct employees of the publishers. Most of the time, they are approached by the editors of the journal to curate the special editions. Researchers can also propose a topic for a special edition to the publisher.
What is the context?
- According to Undark’s report, the email alleged that the organisers of the scam used a website to take bulk orders from researchers in countries like China and Taiwan, where researchers are under pressure to publish more and more papers.
- Then, the organisers would allegedly contact hundreds of scientific journals and propose topics for special editions.
- If a journal accepted a topic, the organisers would allegedly appoint one of their own members as a guest editor.
- This way, according to the report, the organisers had the power to write and respond to peer-reviews as well as to cite their own work, without any outside scrutiny.
- This month, another investigation called into question the exceptionally high position of Saveetha Dental College, Chennai, in university rankings, and alleged that it engaged in an unethical practice called extreme self-citation to boost its citation score.
Why does it matter?
- According to Undark, there are at least 60 such problematic special issues that are still online, and which were edited or authored by researchers who were associated with this mill.
- The report also said that research published in these journals was often of low quality, with questionable data produced by researchers whose scientific credentials were in question.
- These kinds of scams erode people’s trust in science and hinder research into matters of public health such as cancer treatment, COVID-19 vaccine and drug development, independent experts quoted by Undark said.
- The presence of such low-quality papers in the science literature also lowers the latter’s quality and reliability, they added.