Published in: Šipka, P. (2012). Legitimacy of citations in predatory publishing: The case of proliferation of papers by Serbian authors in two Bosnian WoS‐indexed journals. CEES Occasional Paper Series, No. 2012‐12‐2. ISBN 978‐86‐89475‐00‐5

Legitimacy of citations in predatory publishing: The case of proliferation of papers by Serbian authors in two Bosnian WoS-indexed journals

Pero Šipka

Centre for Evaluation in Education and Science (CEON/CEES), Belgrade

Summary: This paper contains the results of an ad hoc action research undertaken within a CEON/CEES broader project on publishing misconduct in journals from Southeast Europe. Its purpose is to urgently communicate the alarming degree of misconduct practiced by two Bosnian WoS/JCR journals, with substantial involvement of a large group of authors from Serbia who publish extensively and increasingly in the two journals. After comparing them with the other two journals from the same country, also indexed in WoS/JCR, it was found that:

  • The two journals, HealthMed and TTEM, are published by an organization (DRUNPP) of unclear identity, low transparency and questionable management.
  • The general profile of these journals shows a typical "predatory" pattern characterized by the discrepancy between author publishing charges and investment in journal quality.
  • The two journals are bibliometrically isolated, i.e. not being cited by other quality journals including two controls, and even by small non-WoS Bosnian journals of similar background.
  • Relatively high Impact Factor of the two journals comes entirely from self-citations, their mutual citations exchange, and citations delivered by Serbian authors.
  • A large amount of those citations is illegitimate, i.e. either unjustifiable, or fabricated.
  • The proofs exist of direct engagement of both journals’ editorial staff in misconduct. Some of these malpractices, e.g. appending article reference lists with items citing their own or the other DRUNPP journal without informing authors about the change, are to our best knowledge unprecedented in international academic publishing.
  • Clear indications exist of willing involvement of authors from several Serbian institutions, which makes them members of a "citation cartel".
  • Considering the benefits Serbian researchers have from publishing in WoS journals, these authors, along with editors of DRUNPP journals themselves, have to be tagged as "members of a joint unethical enterprise".
  • The cross-border spillover of fabricating citations is already taking place in Serbia, where two authors, one of which is a prominent member of the DRUNPP group, established journals of the very same profile and started the very same malpractice.

The results call for urgent international action of all stakeholders involved. Relevant institutions and individuals involved are in the position to take their fair share:

  1. The Serbian Ministry responsible for science, as both funding and regulatory institution, as well as the National Council for Science and Technological Development, should take best care that the two DRUNPP journals are removed from the list of international publications, that papers published in the two journals at any time in the past are not recognized as such, and that authors heavily involved in misconduct bear ethical consequences.
  2. Publisher of WoS/JCR should consider withdrawing DRUNPP journals from its lists, based on the conclusions of this study, as well as on raw materials used to arrive at these conclusions, which form an integral part of the study.
  3. The authors who published valid papers and have not been indulged in unethical activities should withdraw their papers.
  4. Affiliated institutions of DRUNPP journals editors-in-chiefs should consider appropriate measures against their staff. They are obviously most responsible for both masterminding technologies of manipulation and engineering sociocognitive framework for the project realization.
  5. The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) as an international organization protecting public interest in this field should examine the case and make appropriate recommendations.

In order to assist actions suggested above, CEON/CEES has prepared a database and web application containing critical data gathered within this study, including proofs for all citations suspected of illegitimacy and all papers suspected of plagiarism. The application is available at Relevant institutions are provided with login credentials to access the application and check integrity of the data, as well as the validity of analytical assessments made, in order to make sure that the conclusions of this study are warranted. It was assumed that this was a necessary and sufficient condition for their final decisions about possible interventions.

This study was not supported by any organization and has no clashes of interest.

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