Serbian journal lands in hot water after challenge on 24 hour peer review that cost 1785 euros

This story began as a report of a one-off case of potential predatory practice last month, and has escalated to an official call to disband an entire international editorial board, and an accusation against the editor of mass-scale nepotism and other publishing misconduct, reports Retraction Watch blog.

The journal, Archives of Biological Sciences (ABS) is the official publication of the Serbian Biological Society, co-published by ten organisations in Serbia and Bosnia. It was accused (on June 12) on the Scholarly Open Access blog of accepting a paper in 24 hours with no peer review, and demanding 1785 euros for publishing it.

After receiving a quick acceptance letter for his plant sciences paper, Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva, an outspoken critic of what he considers corruption in scientific publishing, said he was “extremely concerned” and demanded “a full explanation of the predatory publication charges” in an e-mail to the editor.

The apparent lack of peer review and request for a publishing fee when “when DOAJ indicates that there are no publishing costs” lead him to request explanation before revealing “this serious academic fraud.”

A week later – after the case was aired on Scholarly Open Access blog – he sent another e-mail asking for the paper to be withdrawn:

I am very disappointed that one week after my complaint that you have not had the courage, or the decency, of responding, or even providing an apology. This simply fortifies a dishonest attitude and position. I have thus decided to expose this case publically because it endangers the integrity of science and science publishing.”

The journal’s editor, Božidar Ćurčić from University of Belgrade’s Faculty of Biology, initially defended their procedures in an e-mail to me, as I reported on Balkan Science Beat blog, claiming the peer review had been done by two anonymous reviewers plus the editor, that it took 36 hours rather than 24 hours, and that the money was for ‘support’, not publishing costs. He also claimed that allegations in the blog about as an extremely high level of self-citation do not stand: “the self-citation is within the limit of normal procedure.”

But the Centre for Evaluation in Education and Science (CEON/CEES), which runs the Serbian national citation index in cooperation with the National Library of Serbia, started its own investigation.

Now, they have issued preliminary findings, calling for the entire editorial board and the editor to go, and for the Serbian Ministry of Science to suspend the journal and deny it funding for at least two years. According to Serbian media, the editor has now resigned, as did the management board of the Serbian Biological Society.

CEON/CEES notice says the editor did not reply to their questions, but they also examined the ethical publishing practices of ABS and their preliminary results are pretty shocking:

“The editor has systematically published in ABS an unacceptably large number of articles of his own and articles of the two members of his immediate family, a son and a daughter. Only in 2013 and in 2014 they jointly or in collaboration with other authors published in ABS between 3 and 5 papers per issue.

In ABS, we found numerous evidences of manipulative citation behaviour, aimed at boosting the impact artificially. Even a quarter of citations that ABS obtained in WoS in 2013 stems from the papers of the Editor and his family, which contributed to the ABS Impact Factor almost as much as all other Serbian authors together.

In ten of his WoS articles the Editor cited his journal more than 10 times per paper. ABS self-citation rate in WoS at the author level is far greater than of any other Serbian WoS journal. The accumulation of ‘fresh’ citations, ie. those aged up to two years (the only ones to be taken into account when calculating Impact Factor) is highly atypical compared to other journals in Biology, the group it belongs to. In only four years Impact Factor of ABS increased from 0.238 to 0.791, although the number of papers in roughly the same period almost doubled.

ABS does not implement preventive measures against plagiarism, although there is a strong need for that. In our 2010 study, dedicated only to this problem, we detected in ABS 4 plagiarized and 12 self-plagiarized articles, of which at least two were of grave scale. This was more than in any other journal under study.

For this we provided the Editorial Board of ABS (as well as the Ministry) conclusive evidence, but the Board ignored our invitation to take appropriate action and kept the practice of tolerance for plagiarism. Now, by means of the appropriate software (iThenticate) we have registered only in the ABS 2013 volume as much as 21 papers that in a valid procedure must be declared plagiarised, as well as 10 papers that would have to be qualified as self-plagiarized.

ABS resorts to subtle forms of marketing that are typical of the so-called predatory behaviour. Among others, with reference to payment of fees (donations, sic) authors are informed that their papers will be published in Online First regime, although such option is not supported.

Based on these and other findings, we estimated that violation of international publishing standards in the ABS assumed such proportions that the continuation of its indexing compromises the legitimacy of the use of SCIndeks for evaluation purposes.

Along with the notice about the decision, we called for the Ministry as regulatory and at the same time financing institution to: temporarily withhold ABS the status of a scientific journal, i.e. to suppress it from the list of categorized journals until correction of all deficiencies, but not for the shorter period than two years; deny ABS funding for at least one year; and call for the ABS publishers to urgently dismiss the Editorial Board and the Editor-In-Chief, and to promptly inform the Thomson Reuters, the publisher of WoS/JCR, about the reasons for the dismissal in order to prevent sanctions against ABS.

In parallel, we submitted the request about dismissal (3) directly to all ten co-publishers of ABS. “

We’ve contacted the journal editor, and will update this post if we hear back.

This blog post originally appeared on Retraction Watch blog

Mićo Tatalović

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