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Historically disadvantaged universities fall prey to predatory journals

Predatory journals are on the rise in South Africa, a study suggests, and the country’s poorer universities are their preferred prey.

The study found that Mangosuthu University of Technology and the universities of Walter Sisulu and Fort Hare had the highest numbers of articles published in predatory journals—close to a quarter of their total papers between 2005-2014.

By contrast, the universities of Cape Town and the Witwatersrand, the country’s premier research universities, saw less than 1 per cent of their papers published in predatory journals.

Johann Mouton and Astrid Valentine from Stellenbosch University analysed South African publication patterns in what they identified as predatory journals. Their results appear in the latest edition of the South African Journal of Science.

They defined predatory journals according to characteristics such as profit motivation, “extremely rapid and unrealistic” publication times, dodgy impact factors and fake editorial boards. Journals were subdivided into those with strong predatory characteristics and those with weaker predatory characteristics.

The University of Venda and the country’s former universities of technology also had high numbers of their articles published in predatory journals.

The authors argue that the subsidies paid by the Department of Higher Education and Training is a major incentive for publishing in predatory journals. They estimate that up to R300 million (US$22.7m) may have been forked out by the DHET for papers published in these journals.

The rate at which South Africans approach predatory journals has also shown a sharp increase since 2010, they write. In 2010 a total of 154 appeared in predatory journals, which shot up to nearly 900 in 2014.

The trend may well “affect the very fabric of the science system”, Mouton and Valentine argue: “If it continues to increase at the rate of growth seen in the past five years, predatory publishing may well become accepted practice in some disciplines and at some universities.”

The paper wants universities and the DHET to enforce stricter standards. The authors also want senior researchers and librarians to school their juniors on the pitfalls of publishing in predatory journals.