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Sunday December 05, 2021

Fraudulent research thriving in Pakistan due to HEC’s apathy

October 25, 2021
Fraudulent research thriving in Pakistan due to HEC’s apathy

Predatory and clone research journals that offer online publishing of substandard research papers have made it very easy for some Pakistani varsity teachers to commit academic fraud after online payment of a few hundred dollars.

Despite teachers getting promotions and other perks on the basis of their substandard research articles published in predatory and clone journals, the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC), and relevant educational institutions and authorities seem to have failed to take any action against such journals on the internet, fraudulent research practices and so-called academics involved in damaging Pakistan’s scientific reputation for the sake of acquiring higher positions through malpractices.

It is also not very difficult for the relevant authorities to take action in this regard as global research watchdogs, including Beall's List — a website that maintains a list of potential predatory journals, Retraction Watch Database — another website that keeps record of retracted research papers, which are papers removed by a journal after publication on account of later discovery of some malpractice or other reason, and impact-finding indexing agencies like Scopus and Web of Science have already identified many such fake, predatory and clone journals and fraudulent research papers authored by Pakistani academics.

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 journals using the name of reputed journals for deception. 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, which could be found on the online Retraction Watch Database.

A classic story

Some three years ago, one such alleged fraud was investigated by Prof Dr Abdul Rauf Shakoori, editor of the Pakistan Journal of Zoology (PJZ) published by the University of Punjab, against Dr Ghulam Abbas, a faculty member of the Centre of Excellence in Marine Biology, University of Karachi (KU), 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 employed at various educational institutes of the country 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 the completion of 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 but even after the passage of three years, no disciplinary action has been taken against the researchers.

Not only Dr Shakoori but also three other inquiry committees that were constituted later maintained in their reports 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 the story surfaced

The academic fraud emerged when a research paper was submitted to the PJZ by an academic of the University of Sindh. 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 that paper to his student Abdul Malik for review. However, Abdul Malik, in his turn, forwarded the article to one of his friends at the University of Sindh, not knowing that the original article was written by the latter.

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.

Dr Abbas’ version

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.

Other cases

This, however, has not been the only case of retraction of research papers authored by Pakistani academics. The database reveals that more than three dozen faculty members of various public and private universities have been involved in malpractices, resulting in the retraction of their papers by reputed research journals.

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

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, archives.org 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 the 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 News 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.