Hijacked journals – scam websites that pretend to be legitimate titles – have tricked unsuspecting researchers into authoring fees for several years. Now a tool will help researchers check the validity of titles they are considering before submitting their work.
The online spreadsheet, called “Retraction Watch hijacked journal checker”, lists more than 150 journal titles and associated URLs of alleged hijacked journals. It has been compiled by Anna Abalkina, an economics researcher at the Free University of Berlin, and a blog about scientific misconduct Withdrawal clock.
The tool’s creator says it can help prevent researchers from being scammed by fake journal sites. But others say it may not be enough to just list relevant titles to address the issue, which is exacerbated by broader issues in scientific publishing.
Hijacked journals are usually in the form of “cloned” websites that are similar to the legitimate journals, but that contain subtle changes in the web domain that are not noticeable at first glance. Some of these fake journals have also hijacked International Standard Serial Numbers, or ISSNs – eight-digit codes used to identify journals – and some are indexed in common bibliometric databases such as Scopus. Although they are similar to the real magazine and charge fees from prospective authors, these publications do not provide submitted manuscripts with expert review, but only publish them occasionally.
The phenomenon is not new. Almost a decade ago, Nature reported that fraudsters had cloned the websites of two European scientific journals, trick hundreds of researchers into paying author fees. There have also been previous attempts to sell hijacked magazines. Researchers have published lists of relevant titles in peer-reviewed articles, and the now-defunct blog of University of Colorado librarian Jeffery Beall listed more than 100 alleged hijacked journals before being shut down in 2017.
The efforts of Abalkina and Retraction Watch, launched at the World Conference on Research Integrity in Cape Town, South Africa, this month, will be updated as more hijacked journals are identified.
Addressing the problem is important because research databases often import articles from Scopus, and thus may inadvertently include non-peer-reviewed articles disguised as legitimate research, says Abalkina. Last year, Retraction Watch reported that a library from the World Health Organization (WHO) on covid-19 research included more than 380 articles from hijacked journals. WHO told Retraction Watch that they are now reviewing these quotes.
Paper from hijacked magazines that are indexed in Scopus can remain even after the magazine itself has been shut down, Abalkina adds. “That means these papers can be cited.”
“The problem with hijacked journals is that manuscripts that are not properly reviewed by peer-reviewers that are available with open access on a sham website become a source of ‘insights’ for decision-makers, researchers and doctors. This can put hundreds or thousands of people at risk,” says Salim. Moussa, a market researcher at the University of Gafsa in Tunisia, adds that previous attempts to flag fake journals have failed to stop the scams, and some writers are happy to submit their papers to them. “Hijacked journals are a manifestation of a much deeper problem. in scientific research and publishing. “
Junior researchers can turn to hijacked journals if they are under pressure to have an article published in titles that are indexed in citation databases such as Scopus and Web of Science, says Moussa. “Carapace journals will continue to exist as long as there are researchers who are desperate enough to pay article processing fees to publish their manuscripts in them.”
The hijacked journal check will prevent some researchers from falling victim to cybercrime, says Mehdi Dadkhah, an information technology researcher who has just completed a scholarship at Ferdowsi University of Mashhad in Iran. But he warns that many researchers will not be aware of the tool or even know what hijacked journals are.
However, Mohammad Khosravi, a computer scientist at the University of the Persian Gulf in Iran, says he believes that hijacked journals are becoming less dangerous for scientific communication because researchers are increasingly preferring journals from large publishers that are technically “very difficult” to hijack.
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