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Cutting evil in the bud – Jornal da USB

Cutting evil in the bud – Jornal da USB

Hey The academic world is witnessing an unprecedented revolution. Gone are the days when researchers would submit a scientific article to a scientific journal for free, and journal editors would carefully select only material they believed to be of high quality for publication, with the journal bearing the production and printing costs. In this old model, the quality of published material and the “tradition” of the journal were necessary for publishers to be able to sell subscriptions and recoup their investment in producing published material. A negative side effect of this system is that it limits access to scholarly articles (and thus knowledge) to those who pay subscriptions, whether researchers themselves or university libraries. In Brazil, Capes pays major scientific publishers annually so that the country's academic institutions can access scientific publications through the portal Leagues heads.

Today, with the commendable progress of the model Open access (Open Access), the need for a subscription has been removed and an increasing number of scientific articles are freely available online for anyone to read. However, journals still incur costs of producing and publishing scientific articles, and this cost has now passed from the reader to the author of the article. Scientists around the world pay astronomical sums that may reach 10,000 US dollars for every article they publish, in what is called Material processing fees (Armored personnel carriers). However, paying to publish articles has harmful side effects, which were completely underestimated in the design of this new system. One such effect is that every article rejected by a journal represents a lost opportunity to collect APC from authors and every accepted article is a profit for the publisher, no matter how many people are subsequently interested in reading that material. Therefore, scientific journals began to bear less responsibility regarding the quality of the materials they published, which led to a strengthening of the market for scientific publications worldwide.

Some less scrupulous publishers were quick to identify the economic potential of this change and boosted the production of new scholarly journals, with clear commercial interests. Digital infrastructures have been created to facilitate and accelerate the procedures for submission, review and acceptance of articles, partially or completely ignoring the crucial peer review stage. For example, some scientific journals (even in traditional publishing houses) have created the capacity to publish more than 10,000 open access scientific articles annually, generating impressive profits for publishers. Through unethical editorial practices aimed at making a profit by mass publishing scientific articles, these publishers and journals, known by the term “predatory,” are undermining the entire scientific publishing system. It is worth noting that this profit is made at the expense of editors and reviewers who are generally unpaid, and that researchers are often used to recruit new articles for journals in the form of guest editors for special issues on a particular topic. Although legitimate private issues have important academic value, their recent high volume demonstrates the commercial success of this strategy.

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But why then are scientists forced to pay increasingly exorbitant costs to APCs, generating astronomical profits for publishers and polluting the scientific literature with lower-quality articles? And here we finally get to the crux of the problem: because they need it. The publisher is not the only one who “profits” from publishing another article, but the scientist who wrote the article (and pays the APC) needs publications for his or her professional advancement. Each published article helps scientists advance their careers, reach a new level of prestige, or secure funding for a new project. A large number of published articles are also of interest to research institutions that consider themselves prestigious.

Unfortunately, that's because this is the metric that scientists themselves use to compare productivity between researchers and institutions, and decide who deserves a promotion or more funding for their research. As a result, some authors are not only concerned about where they publish their work, but also behave in a way that results in the publication of repetitive work, limited in its originality, where it is more important to be the author or co-author of a large number of scientific articles, even if it is to be shared in Actually very few. In other words, this mutual interest in publishing articles in exchange for paying APCs, especially in an arbitrary “publish/pay” system, can pose a serious ethical problem, which has spread around the world.

An increasingly prevalent symptom of this uncontrolled pressure on publications is the presence of publications in some countries Paper mills (or “article mills”) are companies hired by scientists explicitly to falsify scientific articles, using completely fabricated data, and publish these false articles in scientific journals in the contractor’s name. One of the main incentives for this type of behavior is the policy adopted by the Chinese healthcare system, in which the career advancement of doctors is directly linked to the publication of scientific articles.

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After this diagnosis of the situation, what can we do to change this scenario, especially here in Brazil? There is no easy solution. In our opinion, initiatives to identify and remove from the scientific literature those articles with little or no scientific contribution, or to identify predatory journals and discourage scientists from submitting articles to these journals, are necessary interventions, but they only combat symptoms, not symptoms. The root cause of the problem. As long as there is an incentive for scientists to publish increasing numbers of articles, there will be people and services that find ways to “satisfy” this desire.

Therefore, we understand that the focus should be on changes in the evaluation processes of individual projects (comparison researchers) or institutions (such as universities or graduate programmes), so that publishing low-quality articles in journals with questionable editorial practices is no longer questionable. feature. Changes in this sense are already underway, with several scientific funding agencies (including Fapesp, Capes, and CNPq) improving their evaluation procedures to promote some sort of significance to a selection of the best work produced by that scientist (or institution), in At the expense of quantitative measures that only take into account the total number of articles published. But in practice, rigorous assessment of the quality of these “highlights” can be a subjective process and is difficult to implement on a large scale, and has not yet brought about a significant change in the culture of the scientific community, which continues to value approaches with a more massive output in evaluations. .

Our proposal is that evaluations of funding agencies (including CNPq, CAPS, and FAPs) should remove or significantly reduce metrics that drive the number of publications. This applies to grant and scholarship evaluations, including CNPq production grants, and foundations, such as the quadrennial evaluations of graduate programs at the Cape. Since we recognize that scientific production is the basis of knowledge dissemination, the idea is to consider only the maximum number of publications per year for each researcher evaluated, completely ignoring any excess production. For example, for the award of CNPq Research Productivity Grants, the evaluation will be conducted taking into account no more than three to a maximum of five articles per year in the past ten years (for accredited researchers) or one to three best works per year in the past five years ( For young researchers). Likewise, in the quadrennial evaluation of graduate programs by CAPS, only a maximum of three to five essays per professor may be considered per year. Naturally, each evaluation committee can determine the annual publication threshold that is most appropriate for the practice of its field of knowledge and even choose the parameter that will be used to determine the quality of the article, such as the total number of citations to which the article received, the impact factor or the quality of the journal in which it was published. However, the evaluation will always be carried out taking into account only a pre-determined (and limited) number of posts per supporter.

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We hope that as a result of this change in the way researchers are evaluated, they will be discouraged from producing too many articles (some even publish an average of more than one article per week!) and return to delving deeper into their research projects in search of better quality for their publications. As a result, one of the biggest incentives to produce low-quality articles, published indiscriminately in predatory journals, will cease to exist.

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(Opinions expressed in articles published in usb newspaper They are the sole responsibility of their authors and do not reflect the opinions of the publication or the institutional positions of the University of São Paulo. Access our editorial standards for opinion pieces here.)