Scopus, you’re unravelling

August 19, 2013

The first part of this posting originally appeared on Library Out Loud on Tuesday 13 August. The posting was substantially updated this morning but was then taken off the site – fortunately we are now able to reinstate it. Some minor changes have been made to the penultimate paragraph. If you tweeted it or linked to it last week please do so again as the story has progressed in a rather alarming direction. The address of the posting has changed so links to the earlier version will no longer work.

Tuesday 13 August

Keen readers of LOL and upholders of scholarly good practice may recall that I took the Scopus database to task earlier this year for indexing the egregious Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Science. You can read that posting here. Well after quite an amount of twitter action Scopus fessed up that this was a mistake and duly ceased their coverage of this piece of nonsense, although 3,807 records from AJBAS continue to dilute their database and cast doubt on their bibliometric credibility. I followed this up with another posting pointing out that Scopus was still indexing 11 titles from Jeffrey Beall’s Predatory Publishers List, but at least there was some indication from Scopus that they wanted to get their act together.

Well, not so much. This morning I came across the worst one yet and I have to ask whether Scopus has any vetting procedures at all for the “journals” it chooses to cover. Here we have it in all its naïve glory the AMERICAN ACADEMIC AND SCHOLARLY RESEARCH JOURNAL. (Tada!) I don’t even know where to start with this one, but if you’re reading this at Scopus here are some basic facts about scholarly publishing, not so much Scholarly Publishing 101 as Scholarly Publishing for Dummies. Read this carefully because it’s important.

Let’s start with the title. Any given journal must have a target audience and generally speaking this audience will be defined by the journal’s title – Social Science and Medicine, New Zealand Veterinary Journal, Journal of Otolaryngology, Journal of Happiness Studies and so on. A very small number of journals get away with being more generic and these are well-known titles – Science, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and one or two others. They get away with this lack of specialisation by publishing only work of the highest quality and of wide significance, and it’s worth noting that these are all old and very well-established titles – the only newcomer to this company is Public Library of Science which also insists on high quality but has a lesser threshold for significance. There is simply no demand from readers for another journal with no specific subject focus and the only reason for the existence of the American Academic and Scholarly Research Journal is to attract authors rather than to be of any value to readers – the implicit message of the title is that they will publish more or less anything.

Staying with the title, this journal describes itself as the American Academic and Scholarly Research Journal but of the 65 articles in Scopus not a single one has an author based anywhere in either North or South America. Once again, as with the Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Science, there is simply no reason for this journal to describe itself as American other than for the purpose of misleading. The evidence for this is clearly present in Scopus and a simple algorithm would probably flush out titles like this. I only had to look at it to know it was a dud.

Indexing by Scopus of AASRJ began this year with volume 5, issue 1. That sounds as if this was a moderately well-established title by the time Scopus began indexing it but this turns out not to be the case. If you go and take a look (did Scopus do this?) you will see that Volume 1 (2009) is made up of a single issue consisting of seven brief abstracts from the “Proceeding of the Business & Society Conference, 19 July 2007, Bangladish” while Volume 2 (2010) consists of five abstracts from the same conference (i.e. 2007). Volume 3 Number 1 is dated November 2011 and is the first to contain actual articles – five of them. So the first three “volumes” account for a total of 12 meeting abstracts and 5 articles and the journal itself does not really get underway until 2012. I will leave it to readers to decide whether this journal actually existed in 2009 or whether it was cobbled together at a later date, but in any case somehow Scopus had decided by the end of 2012 that it was worth indexing.

I’m not going to comment on the value of the articles themselves, but a look at the references confirms that no real peer-reviewing or editing has taken place. In one article the references are arranged alphabetically by the first author’s initial, another has used a numbered style in the text but has neglected to number the references at the end which follow no consistent format, while in a third article the list of references bears almost no relationship to what is in the text – there are 15 items in the list of references (which stops mysteriously at the letter P) but only 3 in-text citations, two of which do not appear in the list of references. This last example may seem merely a little silly until one reflects on the fact that this article serves to increment the citation count of each of those 15 items by one – I checked and it does. Now, as a librarian involved in bibliometrics I spend a certain amount of time cautioning eager researchers against the inflated citation counts in Google Scholar and directing them gently back towards more reliable sources like … Scopus. I take a very dim view of the carelessness that has allowed this sort of junk to contaminate the everyday tools we rely on and as a community of scholars and librarians we deserve a very great deal more. We deserve what we pay for, in fact, which is a very great deal.

One wonders then if there is some other reason to include this title in a database supplied by a reputable publisher (Elsevier) known for the strength of their claims to academic rigour. Perhaps, against the odds, AASRJ has been publishing important work. Scopus didn’t have far to go to check on this, but apparently neglected to, as had they done so they would have discovered that only one article from this journal has so far been cited in their database. This citation is in the International Journal of Engineering and Technology, another fairly generic but slightly more honest title and a journal that is undergoing a remarkable publishing boom, going from 60 articles in Scopus last year to an impressive (or alarming) 455 so far this year.

Scopus, you’re unravelling. The urge to be inclusive may be partly well-intentioned but when you move into uncharted territory you need to be more than normally vigilant. Instead you’ve tucked your shirt into your underpants and are grinning fixedly and hoping no one has noticed. We’ve noticed. It’s just embarrassing.

So, for the rest of us, what can we do? For myself, I’m sick of pointing this stuff out and I’m also not that keen on annoying the publishers of questionable journals, so this will be my last “open letter to Scopus”. For the rest of you, if you have any influence over the purchase of Scopus or its related products then ask to see their quality control plan and what they intend to do to stop this sort of thing. If you don’t have that sort of influence then draw this to the attention of those who do, as well as linking to this posting and retweeting like mad with the hashtag #scopus. Thanks.

Bruce White
eResearch Librarian
eResearch on Library Out Loud

Update Friday 16 August 2013 3.24 pm NZ Time
Unfortunately AASRJ has not been available over the Internet today and instead has been displaying the message “Our Journal Management System is under maintenance please come back later.” Consequently the links above are not currently operating. For several hours they were displaying a message referring to this posting but now instead the links have been directed back to blogs.massey.ac.nz. I will leave them in place in the hope that the articles they link to become available again shortly.

Update Monday 19 August 7.40 am NZ Time

It’s been a funny old weekend for the American Academic and Scholarly Research Journal, and it looks as if we’re now into a game of Find the Missing Links. As I reported above, on Friday morning the journal disappeared from the website of the American Academic and Scholarly Research Center to be replaced with the message that their system was under maintenance and that we should come back later. There’s nothing particularly odd about that but when you clicked on the links I had placed in this posting (see above) to illustrate points I was making about deficiencies in the referencing of some of the articles in the journal, you saw instead a threat of legal action against myself and my employers for damaging the business of the American Academic and Scholarly Research Center. I can only assume that this extraordinary claim related to this blog posting as before Tuesday of last week I was entirely innocent of their existence. Anyway, by mid Friday afternoon the links were instead pointing to blogs.massey.ac.nz, which seemed an odd thing to do when the website of a journal unrelated to Massey University is undergoing maintenance, but innocuous enough under the circumstances. Things took a more sinister turn on Saturday evening, however, when the links were instead directed to a badly written and offensive blog posting. By Sunday morning, to my relief, this behaviour had ceased and the American Academic and Scholarly Research Journal had returned; or at least its website and tables of contents had, because any attempt to access the articles, including through the links above, was met by a login request and the advice that a subscription is required to access them. This remains the case on Monday morning. AASRJ, it appears, is no longer an Open Access title, although I am unable at this time to verify subscription details. Also appearing on the website is what appears to be an image of the print issue for November 2011 – except that it is shown as Volume 1, Number 1. That’s exactly what I suggested it should be, which is slightly gratifying, but it can’t be both Volume 1 Number 1 and Volume 3 Number 1. Or if it is, we can’t now be up to Volume 5. That’s just odd.

So, it might be time for some more home truths about academic and scholarly research and publishing. Once again, I ask our servants at Scopus to read this carefully as well as my new-found colleagues at the AASRJ and the AASRC. Here we go. When you undertake to publish an academic and scholarly journal you take on responsibilities to a number of stakeholders – to your readers, to your authors, to other scholars and the academic research community in general, and also to any indexing services that include your content within their databases and assist you in promulgating the work of your authors and, thereby, creating value for your business. The responsibilities you take on are serious and onerous, and it is entirely fitting that this should be so. Our global community relies on the research carried out by our scholars, and anything that might tend to undermine the quality of this research, including anything that might tend to waste the time of scholars or students (and their support staff) or divert precious research funds into unproductive activities, is to be deplored. So let’s take a look at these stakeholder groups one at a time.

The readers first. Anyone who writes and publishes has a primary responsibility to the readers of their work to provide them with a product that is fit for purpose. What this means in our context is that when work is described as being academic and scholarly then it needs to conform to very high standards of accuracy and thought so that other scholars, as well as practitioners and the public at large, are able to trust that the knowledge provided is as good as it can possibly be. This is a difficult thing to achieve, but one important way in which it is done is by making sure that the work has been checked and verified by a number of expert eyes before it is published. This is why peer-review is important and this is why we look to our academic journals to provide us with knowledge we can trust. The point I was making about sloppy referencing in AASRJ wasn’t just a librarian being obsessive about referencing (personally I hate referencing with a passion) but that it showed that the articles hadn’t even passed the first and simplest test of being carefully and expertly reviewed, and that readers were being delivered a potentially unreliable product. The other responsibility you have to your readers is to provide them with a product of consistent technical quality and reliability, and a journal that replaces its articles with legal threats, meaningless redirections, offensive blog postings and then a paywall falls well short of that mark.

Now for the authors. A journal article can take several months to write and most authors will be able to produce only a few each year at most. They will choose to publish in a journal that is going to treat their work with respect and present it in the best possible light, as well as communicating it to the widest possible audience. I commend AASRJ for having managed to get its authors into the Scopus database, questionable as I find this on the part of Scopus. That is only the start of the matter however. If a journal accepts work with insufficient care, and then fails to provide adequate support by way of peer review, it potentially exposes the deficiencies in that work, and those of its authors, to a very wide and critical audience. The academic world can be a tough place and part of the duty of journal editors is to mentor inexperienced scholars and protect them from premature exposure of their work to tough scrutiny and uncompromising criticism. The other responsibility that a journal takes on is to provide high quality and ongoing access to the articles their authors have entrusted to them – this is particularly the case for electronic-only journals such as AASRJ. Speaking for myself I would be completely horrified if I discovered that the links to one of my articles had been replaced by a legal threat to a third party, or an offensive blog posting, or that the Open Access journal in which I had published had retired behind a paywall. I would imagine that those authors who had paid article publishing charges on the understanding that AASRJ was an Open Access title might have a few strong questions unless their articles – and all articles in the journal – are restored to public access as soon as possible.

Now to the academic and scholarly community – does a journal have a responsibility there? Well, yes, and if it uses the words academic and scholarly in its title yes, yes, yes and yes again. First and foremost it needs to promote the highest standards of scholarship through its peer review and production standards, through ensuring that its title accurately describes its true nature and that it adheres to standard academic publishing conventions as far as possible. It also needs to ensure that its articles can be permanently linked to by scholars wishing to make reference to them for any purpose and that they are permanently and securely archived – they are public documents and form part of the scholarly record, particularly if they have been included in a database. But most importantly, it needs to understand that the world of scholarship and research is all about debate and criticism and is a place where threats of legal action are simply unconscionable. No doubt the editors and publishers of AASRJ have found this posting unpleasant reading, but it was really only making three simple and readily verifiable points – that describing their journal as American had no intellectual validity, that their volume numbering system was so unusual as to create suspicion about the editors’ understanding of publishing norms and may also have confused staff at the Scopus database, and that the poor quality of the referencing in the three articles referred to was evidence of an exceptionally low standard of peer review. It is acknowledged that the opinions were expressed in a lively manner, as is normal in blogging, but in each case reference was made to ascertainable facts and the posting fell within well-established scholarly norms of robust criticism based on clear evidence. To threaten legal action on the basis of this criticism, while at the same removing from the view of readers the evidence on which it was based, serves to undermine this entire scholarly tradition and it is unclear how scholarship could even continue to operate in such an environment. There is no doubt that this was just a shot across the bows in the hope that this posting would be quietly deleted, but to do so would have created an unfortunate precedent. This is a serious matter and, although it was initially tempting to laugh it off, the email that was received on Friday morning, and the subsequent repetition of the threat on the AASRC website, were profoundly unnerving and it has taken some time to formulate a response. I most certainly do not expect to be threatened in this manner again and I would suggest that any academic publisher considering using casual legal threats against scholars engaged in scholarly debate in any forum whatsoever should think long and hard before doing so.

I was going to deal with the responsibilities of scholarly publishers to the indexing services that promote their work but this posting has probably gone on for long enough and that is not really my problem. Sort it out among yourselves, but please sort it out soon. If you are reading this at Scopus or Elsevier, just remember that you are known by the company you keep. You have a proud tradition, many would say too proud, but this sort of thing has had little or no place in it. Until now. Hold your head in your hands and cringe. Or weep. For shame.

9 responses to “Scopus, you’re unravelling”

  1. Wim Meester says:

    Hi Bruce,

    I’ve read your post with great interest and am happy to respond on behalf of Scopus.

    I very much want for you and other Scopus customers to know that we do have a transparent content selection process with clear selection criteria in place for journals that are considered for Scopus coverage [http://www.info.sciverse.com/scopus/scopus-in-detail/content-selection]. The actual review is done by the external and independent Content Selection & Advisory Board (CSAB) that comprises subject experts covering all scientific disciplines. The (scientific) quality of a journal is an important aspect of the review process. However, as explained by the board in the Advice to Secure Accession for a Journal to Scopus document: “Quality can often be easier to recognize than to define, and there is inevitably a subjective element to the assessment.” [http://files.sciverse.com/documents/pdf/Advice_to_journal_editors_and_publishers_v2.pdf] Scopus strives to be open for quality research from all global areas, including research from developing parts of the world. However, the threshold of what is considered quality may be different from person to person. The CSAB tries to set the quality standard for Scopus with the general needs of our users in mind.

    Scopus receives more than 3,000 title suggestions per year and of the more than 1,000 journals that are eligible for review more than half is rejected by the board. It is unfortunate that you disagree with our decision to cover this particular journal in Scopus, but we have the selection criteria and a content selection board in place exactly for this reason.

    We realize that the performance of journals after they are selected for Scopus is not always as anticipated. Some journals – for whatever reason – may go down in quality or other journals may just not develop in the way the board expected to do. At present we do not have an active policy to remove or discontinue titles covered in the database. However, together with our board we are working on metrics and a mechanism to re-evaluate titles covered in Scopus with the possible result to stop covering poor performing titles in Scopus. Until then we are reluctant to take out journals unless it is for publication ethics or publication malpractice reasons.

    We take your feedback concerning good scholarly publication practice at heart. We will investigate publication malpractices when they occur and – if needed – take necessary action to make sure that the publication standards are met. You noted a recent case where we acted and discontinued the coverage of a journal in Scopus. Based on the current facts we hope that such a severe penalty is not needed in this case and instead we may be able to make sure that the journal standard is raised by different means.

    Thank you — Wim

  2. brucewhite says:

    Hi Wim

    Thanks very much for responding, it is very much appreciated. I recognise that Scopus do have a reputation for taking good scholarship seriously and that there are real challenges in maintaining these ideals in a rapidly-changing environment where demands for inclusiveness are rightly being placed alongside concerns for quality. You are to be applauded for trying to keep up with change and it is absolutely recognised that this is a difficult task and the members of your Content Selection & Advisory Board are not to be envied. However, and perhaps inevitably, we still have a few points of difference.

    It is good to know that “the (scientific) quality of a journal is an important aspect of the review process,” but many users of Scopus might have expected a rather stronger statement than this. Is it not, rather, a primary consideration? I agree that there is inevitably a subjective element to assessments of quality, but one of the aspects of scholarship that distinguishes it from other forms of activity is that the subjective element is minimised to the greatest extent possible and replaced instead with observation and reason. I apologise to the editors of AASRJ for yet again drawing attention to their deficiencies, but I really don’t want to upset anyone else and I think their title clearly illustrates the gap between good intentions and actual performance in your vetting process.

    Based on an examination of its first three volumes, it’s a real struggle to see how this journal could either have gone down in quality or failed to develop as anticipated. Unfortunately the actual content of the articles has not been available since Thursday last week so we are unable to have a proper look at Volume 4, but there is no evidence of either quality or promise in Volumes 1 to 3 which instead stretch the normal understanding of what is meant by a journal “volume” beyond breaking point. At the very least, none of the articles from Volume 4 have been cited in either Scopus or Google Scholar so there is no evidence that they made any impression on the research community at all. If there was an expectation that the quality of this journal would improve it is difficult to see what this might have been based on.

    It’s great that Scopus is open to quality research from developing countries, but how the practice of representing work from these countries as American (or British or Australian) will enhance their reputation for quality is difficult to see. Perception is important and prejudice undoubtedly exists, but advancing the cause of high quality research internationally will not be done through changing our definition of what that might mean. Changing perceptions will be a slow process and will not be helped by quick fixes such as indexing AASRJ and its like in databases with previously-strong quality criteria.

    Obviously inclusion in Scopus is a major prize for struggling Open Access journals and they proudly advertise it as a means of attracting authors, at least some of whom will pay to have their work included. There is nothing inherently wrong with this model – journals need to cover their costs and will also wish to make a modest profit – but unless the prize is only given after the evidence of performance is clearly present then there is no incentive to perform. The message that goes out to editors of small journals is doubly unfortunate – if they insist on proper peer review (which, as we have often been reminded, is expensive and time-consuming) then they will simply discourage authors and increase their costs for no apparent benefit. However, the suggestion that you make of monitoring titles like this and assisting them to improve their performance is a great one, and a programme by Elsevier of mentoring new and emerging journal editors would be a real contribution to the cause of scholarship in developing countries.

    You will be aware that there is a darker side to all of this. I don’t wish to go into this, but I had a brush with it on Friday, and more particularly on Saturday night, and it was not pleasant. This may have made the last paragraph of my Monday update unnecessarily direct. While I now regret this I think it is now important that this posting maintains its integrity so I will leave it unchanged. Thank you for your understanding.

    Wim, once again I really appreciate your reply. One of the reasons I feel strongly about this issue is that I think Scopus is a fantastic database both in terms of functionality and coverage. Over the past year or two, though, there has been growing cause to cringe when we see what we are recommending to our students and are using ourselves as a major source of bibliometrics. Please keep up the good work and we look forward to seeing some of these problems worked through.

    Bruce

  3. Dima says:

    Hi Bruce,

    Thank you very much for the interesting post. It transparently sheds light on important issues. I agree with most of your arguments. However, it made me think about two sources of bias known to influence results from systematic reviews and meta-analyses that might be of relevance here. These are publication bias and selection bias. As no one database or search engine will provide all relevant studies, when synthesising the evidence, researchers rely on using various sources and databases. The sole reliance on databases that are selective of the journals they index is not recommended when conducting a meta-analysis, and most meta-analyses nowadays have to use tests for publication and selection bias to examine the sensitivity of results to the presence of these biases. Yet when a bibliographic database selects journals that are of questionable quality, it is criticized. I personally agree with Wim, that there is a degree of subjectivity in quality assessment. To obtain comprehensive evidence in any research area, I believe there is nothing wrong with indexing as many journals as possible except when there is violation of publication ethics. Then the decision is left to the reader or researcher or evidence synthesizer to critique the study and assess its quality.

    Thank you again for your thoughtful post.

    Dima

  4. brucewhite says:

    There have been a couple of interesting developments overnight. Firstly, Scopus have tweeted us to say that “the blog has sparked some important internal discussions.” This is really encouraging and we look forward to hearing more.

    The other development is really interesting because it casts light on how the actions of journal editors can negatively impact the authors they are supposed to serve. If you look on Google Scholar for the American Academic and Scholarly Research Journal you will find only one reference to them, in an article in the Malaya Journal of Matematik by A.M.A. El-Sayed and S.M. Salman which you can see here – http://malayajournal.org/papers/MJM033.pdf This article cites the following paper, also by El-Sayed –

    A. M. A. El-Sayed and M. E. Nasr, On some dynamical properties of discontinuous dynamical systems. American Academic and Scholarly Research Journal, 2(1)(2012), 28-32.

    I was puzzled when I saw this because on the AASRJ website Volume 2 Number 1 is dated 2010 and consists only of five conference abstracts – http://aasrc.org/aasrj/index.php/aasrj/issue/view/53 Instead we find El-Sayed and Nasr’s paper in the list of contents of Volume 4 Number 1 – http://aasrc.org/aasrj/index.php/aasrj/issue/view/17 Now, it is highly unlikely that El-Sayed has mis-cited his own paper, so I’m afraid that this is the smoking gun. As already surmised, two additional volumes were clumsily tacked onto the beginning of the sequence and everything else was renumbered to create the impression that the AASRJ was into its fifth volume and had begun publishing in 2009. That this would then create problems for authors whose work had already been cited does not seem to have occurred to the perpetrator of this deed, or did not concern them.

    Ahmed El-Sayed is a Professor of Mathematics at Alexandria University in Egypt. Here he is in Scopus – http://www.scopus.com/authid/detail.url?authorId=8502353000 and on Google Scholar – http://scholar.google.co.nz/citations?user=QZ7lPnsAAAAJ&hl=en He is a well-published and respected scholar who had no need to publish in a journal like AASRJ and it is possible he did so as a gesture of support. If so, he has been poorly treated because now his article has entered into a strange bibliographic nowhere-land. It is possible that the presence of scholars like Professor El-Sayed may have influenced the Scopus Content Selection & Advisory Board to accept AASRJ into their stable, but quality in a journal cannot be measured in this way and both he and Scopus have been let down.

    In fact all AASRJ authors are being poorly served by the journal to which they entrusted their work. Since last Friday PDFs from their archive – http://aasrc.org/aasrj/index.php/aasrj/issue/archive – have been unavailable. For a time we were being asked for a login, but now the links simply don’t work and AASRJ has become the Marie Celeste of academic and scholarly journal publishing, empty and silent. I wonder if something can be done for the authors, perhaps by declaring this title a nullity and allowing them to submit the articles elsewhere if they wish to. Just a thought.

    Dima, thank you for your comment. I’m not really able to comment on the intentions of Scopus regarding its use for meta-analysis.

    Bruce

  5. Wim Meester says:

    Hi Bruce,

    As promised in my previous post and based on the issues mentioned in your comments, we have done some additional investigation on the American Academic and Scholarly Research Journal and have decided to stop covering this journal in Scopus.

    The main reason is that there are too many doubts about the quality of publication practice and the title appears not to be ready for Scopus yet. Following your comments about an article likely to be transferred from one journal issue to another, we found another example of the same problem. “The Impact of Information Technology and Social Networks in changing Political and Social Reality of the Arab Countries” by K. Yaghi was published (and received one self-citation as such) in the American Academic & Scholarly Research Journal Volume 4, issue 5. However, the article now appears in Volume 4, issue 6 on the journal home page: http://aasrc.org/aasrj/index.php/aasrj/issue/view/72 Interestingly enough, the same article can still be found as being part of Volume 4, issue 5 on the journal platform of Natural Sciences Publishing Corporation: http://naturalspublishing.com/ContIss.asp?IssID=74

    We have contacted the publisher of the American Academic & Scholarly Research Journal, but based on their response we have no confidence that the journal will be able to improve its publication practice anytime soon.

    Bruce, I have to thank you for bringing up this issue and for the effort and time you have put in this to show the reality about this title. I have to apologize to you and all our other Scopus customers for the incorrect decision that we have made. I guess the Scopus reviewers were distracted by the good intentions of the journal and must have missed the indications of poor publication practice. As mentioned before, Scopus review is a manual process and with more than 1,000 reviews per year it is possible that some facts are missed and errors are made. The members of our board are human after all.

    — Wim

  6. brucewhite says:

    Thanks Wim

    I think that is a sensible decision and it’s great that you have been willing to engage. As you say, people make mistakes and it is important that we are able to acknowledge them and move on. These are difficult and exciting times and everyone in the scholarly information business is struggling to adapt. I know that your parent company Elsevier takes both scholarship and business seriously so it is perhaps not surprising that the challenges you face are even more complex than ours. So well done on this.

    And now for the lecture. Wim, I haven’t devoted a lot of time and effort to this, although it has taken a certain amount of resolve and a willingness to ignore wise counsel. Here’s what happened as I see it. As you know, I’ve been concerned about the presence of subprime journals on Scopus for some time, and on 11 February I drew your attention to the presence in Scopus of 11 titles that feature in Jeffrey Beall’s Predatory Publishers List – http://masseyblogs.ac.nz/library/2013/02/11/are-our-databases-letting-us-down-some-reflections/
    On Tuesday I was looking at one of these titles in Scopus to use in a presentation when I noticed that it had been cited in AASRJ, which stuck me from its title as representing a new low. It took me about five minutes to confirm that, apart from being ludicrously generic, the journal title had made a geographic claim to which it was not entitled, and that its volume and date numbering lacked credibility. I looked at the reference lists of three articles and they were all poor, while one was manifestly nonsensical. All up this took about ten minutes. Now, you might ask, how can you come to such a strongly negative conclusion about a journal in ten minutes? It’s easy, it’s the rat droppings test. Once the health inspector finds rat droppings on the food preparation surfaces he or she closes the kitchen. You don’t need to taste the food, you already know it is going to be tainted. The title was misleading, the volume numbering lacked credibility and the referencing was clear evidence of lack of peer review, what else do you need to know?

    So at that point I had a brainfit and wrote a final blog posting expressing my exasperation, with absolutely no expectation that it would do anything other than amuse some of my colleagues, irritate others, and just possibly cause a little eye-rolling in New York and Amsterdam. This took maybe an hour and a half, with interruptions, and there the matter rested. Predictably, nothing happened until on Friday someone at AASRJ had the seriously bad idea of trying to intimidate us into taking the posting down. As reported above they then played silly games over the weekend, but what was not expected was that I would come roaring out of my corner on Monday morning yelling my head off and throwing roundhouse punches. Everyone loves a good fight and at that point the whole business took on a geek-attacks-dumb-playground-bully-youtube-clip aspect and went mildly viral on Twitter. The posting had been around for a week before you good folk at Scopus engaged and there can be little doubt that this was mainly in response to the amount of Twitter activity that was happening, so thanks to everyone who helped out there.

    So where to from here? I don’t think anyone believes for a minute that AASRJ is the only really dodgy title currently indexed by Scopus – that was already established in February. I certainly have no wish to turn Library Out Loud into Scopus Watch (and I don’t think my employers would want this either), and I don’t want to become Jeffrey Beall 2. He does a fine job but to be frank it carries a heavy reputational risk and it’s just not my thing. And nor should it be. Every time I hear the price we are paying for Scopus it’s holy%^&#ing@!*^howmuch???? dollars + a percentage annual increase and we’re only one little university in the middle of nowhere. I fully understand that the members of your Content Selection Board are only human, but I I’m gasping slightly at the notion that they could have been, as you say, distracted by the journal’s good intentions. Everybody has good intentions, and even (especially?) people who don’t have good intentions will claim to have them. There’s a crisis of confidence beginning to develop in the whole area of research and scholarly publishing, academic fraud appears to be on the increase, junk publishing is everywhere and we simply can’t afford this sort of woolly thinking. At the very least members of the board need to be provided with real information about the journals they are looking at and, as I have demonstrated, it would take only a few minutes for your professional staff to run the rat droppings test and provide them with a report on the titles that fail – at the most basic ethical level, where bad behaviour exists then we can discount good intentions. Is anyone at Scopus putting their hands up to buy a used car from the American Academic and Scholarly Research Center? No, I thought not. So, by my calculations to run the ten minute test on 1,000 titles would take 166.667 hours per year. That’s about five weeks. You can do it and it’s what we pay you for. The alternative is having the job done by bloggers and tweeters and nobody wants that from a company they are paying money to.

    Unsurprisingly, I have plenty more to say on this subject, but I have probably tried everyone’s patience quite enough and I have a job to do. Possibly the next step is to put my serious hat on and publish some of this stuff somewhere. Thanks for reading and you can come out of the corner now. End of lecture.

    Bruce

  7. Amitav Banerjee says:

    Please find the latest link to Research Journal of Pharmaceutical, Biological and Chemical Studies. It carries a record 199 papers in one issue and is indexed with SCOPUS!! Authors publishing in this journal are being shown up in SCOPUS search, so one presumes the indexing by SCOPUS is genuine.

    http://www.rjpbcs.com/2013_4.2.html

    Have expressed my concerns to Elsevier,

    Most academic bodies are adopting SCOPUS for ascertaining academic excellence and if such journals creep into SCOPUS, genuine researchers stand no chance.

  8. brucewhite says:

    Hi Amitav

    Thanks for your comment. I think the title is Research Journal of Pharmaceutical Biological and Chemical Sciences and you’ll be pleased to know that it passed the ten minute test. The title does accurately reflect the nature of the journal, and it does seem to have a referencing style which its authors follow. As you point out it is publishing rather a lot at present and one wonders about the practical difficulties of arranging peer review for so many articles.

    I was interested to see that it had received quite a number of citations so I did a References search on its title in Scopus to see where the citations were coming from. Here are the top ten citing journals for Research Journal of Pharmaceutical Biological and Chemical Sciences. I have noted the number of citations and the date and volume at which Scopus coverage of each title begins –

    International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences* (50) (2009, v1)
    Research Journal of Pharmaceutical Biological and Chemical Sciences (41) (2010, v1)
    International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences Review and Research* (26) (2010, v1 n1, now up to v21)
    Research Journal of Pharmacy and Technology* (25) (2011, v4, n2)
    International Journal of Pharma and Bio Sciences* (19) (2010, v1)
    Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical and Clinical Research* (16) (2009, v2)
    International Journal of Drug Development and Research* (14) (2010, v2)
    Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine* (14) (2011, v1)
    Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research (13) (2011, v3, n2)
    Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Science* (2011, v1)

    No great surprises there, although it does seem pretty heavy on broad-ranging pharmaceutical titles of relatively recent origin. Anyway, I then looked at International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences to see which titles had cited it. Here are the top ten –

    International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences* (1,252)
    International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences Review and Research* (83)
    Research Journal of Pharmacy and Technology* (82)
    Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical and Clinical Research* (71)
    Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine* (65)
    International Journal of Pharmtech Research (51) (2009, v1)
    International Journal of Pharma and Bio Sciences* (48)
    Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Science* (38)
    International Journal of Drug Development and Research* (34)
    Der Pharmacia Lettre (32) (2011, v3)

    I have asterisked the eight titles that are common to both lists of ten titles.

  9. John says:

    Good post! For your information, I notice that many researchers published in questionable journals which claimed ISI indexed. For example, (1) Research Journal of Applied Science, Engineering and Technology, (2) Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Science, (3) Journal of Basic and Applied Scientific Research, (4) Research Journal of Recent Sciences and (5) World Applied Science Journal.
    These four journals are shown to be indexed as “Zoological Record” in ISI master list. These publishers are from Pakistan, India…. But researchers from social sciences publish in these journals and claim to be ISI indexed. I was wondering you can analyse on this issue.

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