Predation of Research in India
The aim of any research activity is largely to create new knowledge or expand on existing knowledge. Both of which do not carry any meaning unless it is shared with peers or finally the public at large. But it is a very careful process with high stakes attached. The new knowledge cannot just enter the literature without being vetted, because misinformation, falsity, erroneous data does more damage. Indian scientific research is sadly embroiled in the latter. There is a dual onslaught of dubious research and the existence of enough avenues to get it published. This can be prevented at two levels. One is to seriously rethink the terms and conditions attached with research and second is to have better regulation.
In a study published in December 2016 by G S Seethapathy of University of Oslo, it has been shown that a whopping 51% of papers published by what is technically called as predatory journals, journals that will publish anything bypassing standard procedures of review by often charging publishing fees, are from private and government colleges in India. This figure was for all the papers published in a 5 month period.
Journals and existed since the 17th century and today there are more than 30,000 journals. All journals have the responsibility of reviewing (mostly by peer-review among other means) the articles that are submitted to them before publishing them. Journals may be published by non-profit bodies or profit making publishers who get funds from either the author or the reader. With advent of Open Access, where the author pays the processing fees, where the entire process of submission to publishing takes shorter time, the concept of predatory journals have arisen.
These journals send e-mails to prospective researchers, have misleading names, do not go through proper peer-reviewing and charge author processing fees to get research published. India is a major contributor to these journals. However, a strange dichotomy exists here. One hand where India does produce some quality research (Nature group has placed India 13th in quality of research), it indulges in bogus research.
For the sake of it
Any activity done just for the sake of it is bound to produce sub standard results. Similar is the story with research. Research, the authors of the paper mentioned above have defined as “a self-motivated creative work undertaken by researchers on a systematic basis in order to seek answers to questions that arise in their mind”. I would divide research activity, particularly scientific research which makes the bulk of total research that is going on, in three categories.
The first is the top category where high quality research work gets done. It happens in central funded laboratories like CCMB, Hyderabad or institutions like the Indian Institute of Science to cite couple of examples. The next category is moderate quality research that happens in many reputed government and private universities. The third category is of poor and bogus research that happens in many state and private universities.
Interest vs Resources
The definition of research stated above is a good starting point to understand the problems of research in India. Let us dissect it. ‘Self-motivation’ is barely the case because publishing has been linked with promotions, tenure, incentives, etc in academic or research institutions. While these very reasons could motivate a lot of individuals it could also make the rest feel dreary about it. This one-size-fits-all approach does not help. ‘Creative work’ undertaking requires resources, most of the times plenty of it, which is in short supply in India. Just ask any average researcher from an average university, they will tell you. The ‘seeking answers to question that arise in the mind’ is another serious issue, for higher education (primary and secondary too) does not foster that critical thinking which results in asking of those questions.
Symptoms & Disease
While publishing in predatory journals can be addressed reorienting our thoughts on role and importance of research. Strongly linked with rating, it has become the mainstay. While there is nothing wrong with it, there are a multitude of factors that needs addressing, which forms the ground work for research ecosystem to flourish. We lack such an ecosystem in India. Publishing in predatory journals can also be checked by having a regulator which cancels ISSN numbers of these journals, creates awareness among researchers about them, and penalizes those who run these money making businesses.
A lot has changed in the research and publishing scenario in India over the years. A lot of constructive efforts have been made by regulators to enhance quality research, to be more inclusive, to provide newer avenues. But the persistent poor quality (India ranks 10th in output of scientific papers yet 166th in average citations) underscores larger issues of funding, over-centralization, lack of autonomy, misplaced objectives, narrow and outdated policies, still exist which needs overhaul. Predation then is only a response to a deeper malaise in India’s research ecosystem.