Scopus is the leading scholarly database of peer-reviewed literature and is used extensively in world academia. It has become so important that in some countries, the database is being considered as a parametre for judging academic credentials. For example, the University Grant Commission (UGC), the statutory organisation of Government of India that formulates regulations in order to determine teaching and research standards in the university education of the country, also uses Scopus indexed journals in its ‘approved list of journals’. Research articles published in the ‘approved list of journals’ maintained by the UGC is considered in calculating a part of the Academic Performance Indicators (API) of faculties in universities, colleges and other institutes, both in case of promotion of existing faculties and for recruiting new ones.
But, lately, the Scopus database has also come into question. The leading database includes papers from over 300 dubious journals. Named as ‘predatory journals’, these journals have questionable publishing practices. Together, these journals hosted in Scopus had more than 160,000 articles over a period of three years. This also shares 3% of the total studies that were indexed in the same time period. These findings have been revealed in a recent analysis published in the journal ‘scientometrics’.
According to an elaborate analysis done in Nature, the predatory journals are those journals that tend to publish low-quality science and also deviate from the standard editorial practices. These journals may contain false or misleading information, practice aggressive solicitations, and collect heavy fees from the authors to publish their works. In the process, these journals may overlook the standard editorial screening process. Overwhelming of such falsified research findings can impact deeply in research. Even, they can mislead the research community from what the reality should be. If these journals continue to grow along with researches published in them, it can have serious impacts on some crucial fields like biomedical research.
Earlier, there were reports of such predatory journals getting indexed in some leading database of peer-reviewed literature. For example, the site Pubmed, which is extensively relied on by bio-medical researchers, was found to contain dubious journals. However, to what extent the problem is impacting research is a hard task to be accomplished.
“There are potentially serious consequences of predatory articles being indexed in scientific databases,” Anna Severin, a sociologist who studies peer review at the University of Bern, was quoted to have said. Severin further added, “Researchers might base their further research on poor-quality or even fabricated findings and cite these in their own publications, thereby further distributing untrustworthy science.”
In the latest analysis published in Scientometrics on February 7, the authors, Vit Machacek and Martin Srholec, both economists, compared the titles of journals indexed in Scopus with a list that contains potential predatory journals. This list was maintained by Jeffrey Beall, a former librarian. According to a report published in Nature, the website that maintained the list wiped all its content for unknown reasons. The list was maintained till 2017. Vit Machacek and Martin Srholec found that there are 324 such questionable journals in the Scopus database and they published 164,000 papers between 2015 and 2017. This amounts to nearly 3% of the total numbers of papers indexed in Scopus during that period.
According to Nature, Scopus says that it stopped indexing new content for about 65% of the journals, which are marked to be re-evaluated for concerns about their practices in case of publishing or editing. This means that contents from these journals are not indexed in Scopus, however, the previous content continues to remain indexed.
The analyses on predatory journals and their inclusions in leading databases can be an eye-opener not only to those who maintain the databases but also to anyone engaged in research. The list of such journals should be carefully observed in order to avoid any misinformed research that might have appeared earlier.