CEON/CEES Research Crumbs, 01/17,  29 December 2017 DOI: http://doi.org/10.5937/cees-2017-03-1

Published: 20 December 2017

Revised and republished: 20 October 2020

Serbian WoS-indexed journals: What’s their use for the local scholarly community?

Pero Šipka

Centre for Evaluation in Education and Science, Belgrade

Abstract: It is in the national interest of small countries such as Serbia to have as many journals in WoS as possible. WoS indexing boosts visibility and internationality and rises journals impact and quality. However, once they reach WoS and stabilize their position, some local journals turn to profit-making strategies, introducing or significantly increasing authors' fees (APCs), which usually results in a larger influx of foreign authors who can afford to pay such fees. Consequently, domestic authors practically lose the space to publish in their traditional platforms. Here, we discuss the question if such journals should continue to enjoy the support from the national public R&D budget entitled to supporting local science.

In the online era, national and foreign journals became almost equally accessible. At the same time, more and more local professionals and researchers became regular readers of international journals, as a rule written in English. This reopens traditional question of do small countries like Serbia need local journals at all. As to such journals that manage to enter Web of Science (WoS), their usefulness can hardly be questioned. What is questionable here is whether they should be financed from the national science budget or not. The answer to this dilemma based on a responsible research policy of any small country could only be that it depends on the extent to which such journals contribute to the national research output. To assess this contribution in a doctrinaire, scientometric way we must look at the extent to which local WoS journals publish articles by local authors and cite other local journals. By publishing in such journals, authors and publishers contribute to the performance of their country because WoS is used as a standard information basis for evaluating research productivity of both scientists and countries.

In a recent study it has been found that Serbian journals’ contribution to the national science is lower than that of their counterparts in the countries of the wider region (Šipka, 2016). In this respect, the situation has not changed over the past decade, although the percentage share of local authors’ articles in the local WoS journals of all observed countries, including Serbia, has shown a noteworthy increase (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. The percentage of local authors’ articles published in Serbian journals and the corresponding values for the countries of the wider region
 

EU-Southeast= Greece, Cyprus, Slovenia and Hungary; EU-Balkans = Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia; Balkans = Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Moldova

Relying on this as well as on some earlier findings (Moed, 2002; Waltman i Van Eck, 2013), the contribution achieved in local WoS-indexed journals was excluded from the comparative analysis of the countries' performance in above study. CEON/CEES will abide by this principle it the future cross-national research. However, it must be emphasised that this type of data correction is not widely accepted. Therefore, the issue of the national WoS-indexed journals contribution to the national science remains topical and unresolved. The issue is important enough to deserve a brief comment.

The CEON/CEES Journal Bibliometric Report reveals that some Serbian journals practically do not publish articles by local authors or do it only exceptionally. As a rule, these are journals of high status, i.e. indexed in WoS, which charge authors inexcusably high publishing charges (APC). Some, e.g. The International Journal of Electrochemical Science has an evidently predatory character, while others escape the attention of evaluators, still enjoying the government financial support. An illustrative example of latter kind is the WoS journal Thermal Science (TS) which published 11% articles by domestic authors in 2019 and only 2,4% so far in 2020. In 2019, TS collected only for APC approx. 84,000 EUR, an amount about equal to e.g. the budget of SCIndeks Assistant, the CEON/CEES’s online journal management system. The Assistant provides serious value-adds to all articles published in about hundred journals and does it through numerous operations and expensive external services. In contrast, TS keeps its production costs at the very minimum, thanks among else to the article template that is mandatory for all authors. Maybe TS is not a predatory journal but is certainly an easy money enterprise. Nevertheless, the Ministry generously grants TS regularly the highest allowed year subsidy amount. This example show that a responsible journal evaluation system – whether it is used for journal classification or for their financial support – should not take the fact that a journal is indexed in WoS as sufficient reason for classifying it into a top-tier category. Responsible evaluators do not make simple, administrative, and automated decisions, but spent some effort for additional monitoring and applying ethically relevant indicators. The case of TS is just another piece of evidence in a row that the official evaluation of journals by the Ministry’s agent, although extremely expensive, cannot be regarded professional.

The share of domestic authors in TS used to be much higher (e.g. 34% in 2010) but was expectedly reduced in 2013, after the journal started charging authors for publishing (APC). Now, the most of authors come from far eastern countries, known for their regulation exerting pressure on researchers to publish in WoS journals. The number of articles published in TS a year exploded from 129 in 2010, to 630 in 2019, which cast a shadow on the quality of reviewing process. Its impact was doubled in the same period (from IF=0,706 to IF=1,574), which also raises a red flag about citation manipulation. It is indicative that the journal does not use any online management system. Warned by CEON/CEES about documented plagiarism the editor vehemently denied any misconduct.

Responsible evaluators would not honour journals such as TS the top tier category before it demonstrates transparent and ethical reviewing. Responsible management of the research budget would not subsidy TS before making sure that it promotes local researchers and journals. However, the same coin has another side. In science and, accordingly, in scholarly publishing, there is no place for ‘scientific nationalism’. The openness to all authors, regardless of their origin, is one of the criteria that journals must meet to be accepted for indexing in WoS. The share of international articles is one of the indicators of journals’ ‘internationalization’ used by CEON/CEES in its JBR though this measure is not intended for the Serbian WoS- but rather for non-WoS local journals. The intention here is to encourage secluded and insufficiently established local journals to improve their quality by attracting renowned international authors. The internationalization is not understood as giving priority to just any foreign authors, but rather to those who have a high international reputation and citation performance. The efforts in this direction made on the part of editorial boards should depend on whether their journals are still in the phase of striving for international prestige, or they have already established themselves and have fairly firmly entrenched their position in WoS.

In Serbia, there is no rulebook defining government support for journals. The decisions about the subsidy allocations are made on the annual basis and are applied arbitrarily. Payment delays sometimes reach a whole year, while at the same time the Ministry insists on regular publishing as an eligibility requirement not only for subsidies but also for journals ranking and “categorization”. The criteria that need to be met to qualify for the support are outdated, laying stress on the printed version, rather than encouraging investment in modernization, quality, and international compatibility. The total amount of allocated funds is inexcusably small, although Serbian journals have proven that they deserve better support because they excel their counterparts in the region, which by no means stands for other research-related entities (researchers, projects, etc., Šipka, 2013).

In developing countries, keeping a balance between these complex and mutually opposing demands should be part of a highly elaborate national publishing policy approved by the supreme research and development authority. In Serbia, this is the ministry responsible for science. Unfortunately, the ministry has failed to define such a policy, even in a rudimentary form. Although information source of the kind does exist, the indicators of journals’ bibliometric quality, including the respect for international standards, are not used when making decisions which journals and to what extent to subsidize. Apart from journal size (voluminosity, publishing frequency, etc.), all that is formally taken into account is journals’ ‘category’ based solely on citation rate in WoS. In reality, some hidden variables also play a highly influential role. Not surprisingly, the Ministry does not disclose publicly the amounts allocated to individual journals. This information is treated as a sort of state secret and remains unavailable even to the institutions collaborating with the Ministry in the process of journal evaluation.

References:

  1. Moed, H.F. (2002). Measuring China’s research performance using the Science Citation Index. Scientometrics, 53(3), 281-296. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1014812810602
  2. Šipka, P. (2013). Bibliometric quality of Serbian journals 2002-2011: More than just a dress for success, In: P. Šipka (Ed.), Journal Publishing in Developing, Transition and Emerging Countries: Proceedings of the 5th Belgrade International Open Access Conference 2012, Belgrade, Serbia, May 18-19, 2012, pp. 161-166
  3. Šipka, P. (2016). Deset godina naglog rasta srpske naučne produkcije: ali šta je sa njenim kvalitetom? U: Kostic A. (Ur.) Nauka: stanje, strategija, perspektive, Beograd: Srpska akademija nauka i umetnosti, pp.33-62
  4. Waltman, L., & Van Eck, N. J. (2013). Source normalized indicators of citation impact: An overview of different approaches and an empirical comparison. Scientometrics, 96(3), 699-716. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-012-0913-4

How to cite this article: Šipka, P., (2020). Serbian WoS-indexed journals: What’s their use for the local scholarly community?, CEON/CEES Research Crumbs, No. 2017-03-1


CEON/CEES Research Crumbs is a series of brief research reports presenting findings from CEON/CEES’s area of expertise. Reports may be prepared by the team members of CEON/CEES or other researchers. Reports contain high-quality, straightforward, and concise data, preferably presented visually and dynamically. If the presented data are not original, they must be analysed in an alternative context and interpreted in a new light.

Reports published in the CEON/CEES Research Crumbs series are subject to internal peer review, but they do not necessarily reflect the positions of CEON/CEES as an institution. They are published in Serbian or English, or in both languages parallelly and are available through the website of CEON/CEES.

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