Robarts (Photo)

Western's Robarts Research Institute, March 8, 2019.

Most students are probably familiar with Fyre Festival.

One of the ways the event was publicized was to pay influencers to advertise on various social media platforms. In essence, a transaction was made to buy the trust between influencers and their followers.

Similarly to social media marketing, the trust of the public can be purchased by academics. The authors argue in this piece that purchasing this trust comes at the expense of the author’s credibility and the consumers of the research.

As researchers, we are tasked with being advocates of truth, a task that has become more challenging in the past few decades with the increase of subpar, dishonest research. One choice that researchers and aspiring academics must make is to either earn trust by working through the challenges that come with publishing in quality peer-reviewed journals or purchase trust by paying to publish in predatory journals. These journals are most often characterized by directly soliciting researchers for submissions, charging for publishing and, most importantly, inadequate editorial and peer review processes.

For many, the choice is an easy one. Most aspiring researchers have goals to produce exceptional work and publish in high-quality journals. Nevertheless, the allure of predatory journals, with their lack of peer-review and quick turnaround on publishing submitted work, can be particularly appealing to researchers who are looking to pad their CVs prior to important applications. This mentality is misguided, as publishing in these journals may result in red flags rather than academic praise. Similar red flags can be drawn from academic nepotism, receiving unwarranted academic credit from close personal connections.

A large assumption made by researchers who decide to publish in predatory journals is that a greater number of published articles is assumed to strengthen one’s credibility as a researcher. While the number of publications is one component used to evaluate the work of a researcher, two other key components are quality and contribution. First authorship in high-impact journals is the hallmark of academic achievement. One publication in a high-impact journal can outweigh a dozen publications in low-impact journals, or 100 publications in predatory journals.

Understand that research is slow by design. Research has real world implications, and the peer-review process is designed to ensure thorough evaluation of the work prior to its release. The importance of peer-review cannot be overstated. Know that the research community is passionate and transgressions will not go unnoticed.

We encourage students to be critical of the journals they are applying to. Is there information on how the journal performs peer-review? Does the journal have an impact factor? Who is citing articles in this journal?

Who are the researchers publishing in these journals? We strongly encourage readers to be critical of those purporting to be productive researchers while publishing in predatory journals. Ask yourself: Does this person seem to publish more articles than is reasonable in a given amount of time? Are the works they publish of scientific value? Are those works properly designed and analyzed? If the person collaborates with other authors, who are those co-authors, and what relationship do they have to the main author? And finally, does this person have anything to gain by appearing to be a researcher?

The organizers of Fyre Festival abused the trust they purchased. The result was irreparable damage to their reputations and financial harm to those whom were deceived. Research is not a music festival; it is an institution in which people trust that those involved will act with integrity and transparency. Purchasing and abusing that trust is antithetical to being an advocate of truth. 

— Jordan Edwards, third-year Ph.D candidate in epidemiology and biostatistics & Demetri Pananos, second-year Ph.D candidate in epidemiology and biostatistics

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