Monday Oct 25 2021

Of Pakistani teachers, research fraud and HEC incompetence

Logo of the Higher Education Commission (HEC).
Logo of the Higher Education Commission (HEC).

Predatory and clone research journals online are increasingly being used by varsity teachers, but it is the Higher Education Commission (HEC) that has so far failed to curb this unethical practice.

These journals offer online publishing of substandard research papers and make it easy for some Pakistani varsity teachers to commit academic fraud after online payment of a few hundred dollars, The News reported.

Teachers get promotions and other perks on the basis of their substandard research articles published in these journals, but the HEC and other relevant educational institutions and authorities have yet to take action against such journals on the internet.

According to the publication's report, it is not very difficult to take action as the relevant authorities can use the findings of global research watchdogs that have already identified many fake, predatory and clone journals and research papers authored by Pakistani academics.

Some examples are the Beall's List, a website that maintains a list of potential predatory journals, Retraction Watch Database, another website that keeps a record of retracted research papers (which are papers removed by a journal after publication on account of the later discovery of some malpractice or other reason), and impact-finding indexing agencies like Scopus and Web of Science.

Due to the apparent apathy of the HEC and other authorities towards predatory and clone journals, many honest academics are also being deceived as they cite articles published in clone journals, which are sub-standard and using the name of reputed ones for deception, the publication reported, explaining that a significant number of faculty members at prestigious educational institutes of Pakistan have also published their papers in clone journals after being misled by their name.

Some faculty members, however, seem to have deliberately committed academic fraud in reputed journals and once their malpractice was discovered, their papers were retracted.

A classic story

Some three years ago, one such alleged fraud was investigated by Pakistan Journal of Zoology (PJZ) Editor Prof Dr Abdul Rauf Shakoori against Centre of Excellence in Marine Biology, University of Karachi (KU) faculty member Dr Ghulam Abbas, who with other faculty members and foreign researchers had authored seven papers on various topics related to zoology and marine sciences.

The co-authors were working at various educational institutes of Pakistan and abroad, including the University of Okara, University of Veterinary and Animal Science Lahore, Sindh Agriculture University, University of Genoa Italy, University of Sindh and others. Upon completion of the investigation, the PZJ withdrew Dr Abbas’s papers.

The online Retraction Watch Database states that Dr Abbas and others were involved in the fake peer review of at least seven papers.

Three years have passed, but no disciplinary action has been taken against the researchers yet.

Apart from Dr Shakoori, three other inquiry committees made later concluded that Dr Abbas created fake email IDs of renowned foreign experts of the relevant field to review his papers himself, which the PZJ editor had sent him for a blind review.

How was the fraud revealed?

The academic fraud was discovered after a research paper was submitted to the PJZ by an academic of the University of Sindh, according to the publication. Considering Dr Abbas a foreign referee due to his fake email ID, the editor sent that paper to him for a blind peer review.

Dr Abbas gave the paper to his student, Abdul Malik, for review. Malik sent it to one of his friends at the University of Sindh, not knowing that the original article was written by his friend.

The University of Sindh academic found out that somehow he had received his own paper for review. As he informed PZJ editor Dr Shakoori about it, the latter initiated an inquiry only to find out that Dr Abbas had created several fake email IDs of foreign scholars.

The PZJ editor discovered that he had sent seven papers submitted by Dr Abbas to those fake IDs for review. Upon the completion of the inquiry, the PZJ editor banned Dr Abbas for lifetime and also imposed a 10-year ban on his co-authors.

What does Dr Abbas have to say?

When The News asked Dr Abbas about the retraction of his seven papers, he said if the papers had not been properly reviewed, the editor could have reviewed them again.

“I have no regret over the retraction of these papers on the ground of fake peer review. The papers are not plagiarised but the PZJ editor withdrew my papers after an investigation into a complaint [by an] unknown [person],” he said, adding that it had been around three years since then and the matter had been sorted out. “I was not the only author but other corresponding authors also contributed to those papers,” he clarified.

More cases

More than three dozen faculty members of various public and private universities have been involved in malpractice,The News reported, citing the database of retracted papers.

The reasons for retraction include fake reviews, duplication and other malpractices. Anyone interested in finding such papers and the reasons for their retraction can access

Clone journals

The HEC claims that the development of the HEC Journal Recognition System (HJRS) has reduced the chances of publication of genuine research papers in clone journals. However, ironically, the commission has itself recognised some clone journals in the HJRS.

For example, a research journal named Multicultural Education has been recognised by the HEC and many academics have published their papers in it. However, it seems to be a clone journal as its contact number on the website is of Australia, whereas, the original journal of Multicultural Education with International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) 1068-3844 is published by the Caddo Gap Press, United States.

Another such example is of an online journal named Psychology and Education, which some two years ago was published with the title of Psychology. However, that keeps the record of over six billion internet pages reveals that the original journal of Psychology and Education is being published since 1964 only in print format.

It is apparent that Psychology adopted the name of an old and prestigious journal and its website does not mention the names of scholars in its editorial board.

The answer to the question whether the HEC is keeping a watchful eye on such clone journals seems to be in the negative. Despite repeated attempts by the publication to seek the HEC’s version on its approval of clone journals, no official of the commission responded.

An official of the HEC public relations, however, said he would reply after two weeks if he received questions about clone journals on email. The News emailed him those questions but no reply had been received when this story was filed after more than two weeks.

The HEC also recently recognised the University of Karachi’s Journal of History and Social Science in its Y category although it has been established with facts that the journal was discontinued in 2013 and then mysteriously revived in 2019 with a large number of backdated issues.

Fake journal factories

The story of fake and predatory journals in Pakistan does not end here. Beall’s List that monitors predatory journals and publishers has listed two groups of potential predatory publishers from Pakistan.

One of them is the Pakistan Science Mission (PSM) and the other is Pak Insight. Both the websites have published around 60 journals and the HJRS has not included any of these in any category of recognised journals.

However, no action has been taken against these websites which malign Pakistan’s reputation worldwide by publishing predatory journals.