Statement by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the German Rectors’ Conference, the Leibniz Association, the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, the German Academic Exchange Service, the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres and the German Council of Science and Humanities as partners in the Alliance of Science Organisations in Germany on assuring the quality of academic publications.
Much of our progress and social prosperity rests on the results of research and science as well as on the trust that society places in them. Observing the high standards of quality assurance as one element of good scientific practice is an indispensable prerequisite for maintaining this trust.
Internationally, science is founded on the highest quality standards, and this also holds true for publishing researchers’ results in prestigious journals. Painstaking peer review by acknowledged experts, in particular, ensures that the papers published meet these standards. In the scientific community, this is a globally-established, unchallenged principle.
Unfortunately, there are dubious actors in the research sector, too, who cheat and evade accepted standards in order to maximise their profit. By employing fraudulent practices, they damage society’s trust in science. An example currently being discussed is known as “predatory publishing” and involves publishing research findings without observing established quality assurance procedures. Publishers pretend to have conducted neutral reviews prior to publishing scientific articles and results when, in fact, they have published papers without submitting them to scientific scrutiny, thus saving the costs inherent in standard quality assurance measures. This way of conducting business undermines the credibility of academic publications and deceives both science and society. The nine members of the Alliance of Science Organisations robustly oppose and denounce such dishonest practices. It is crucial to ensure that researchers are aware of these dubious business models and, at the same time, to inform society about these practices.
The publication of research findings has now become a not insignificant economic factor. Just by publishing academic articles, publishers worldwide achieve an annual turnover of eight billion euros. Not all stakeholders feel bound by scientific integrity. In the case of predatory publishing (publishing by pirate publishers), quality assurance (peer review by academics etc.) and article editing are often not carried out, or not in accordance with the established standards of good scientific practice. All in all, the number of such predatory journals is increasing, but the proportion is still relatively small in comparison with the total number of academic journals. The practices common amongst such predatory publishers and comparable conference providers include:
- imitating the title and layout of prestigious journals
- applying article publication charges although practically no peer-review is conducted, quite unlike prestigious gold open access journals
- falsifying information on the members of the editorial board (fictitious participation of reputable academics)
- advertising with fake scientific indicators and statements on indexing details in reputable databases
- promoting the organiser with ostensibly prestigious conference proceedings and high footfall figures
Many of these non-academic actors, who are often driven by economic or political interests, make great efforts to adopt the external guise of science. These are commercial publication, conference, “study”, implementation, think-tank and marketing providers.
One aspect of the freedom of research is that researchers can decide for themselves how and where their results are published. In the light of phenomena like predatory publishing, the nine science organisations expect all researchers to choose where they publish their results very carefully and, in the case of unknown or new publishing organs, to check them thoroughly.
It should, however, be emphasised that the scientific quality of a paper is not determined by the journal in which it is published but can only be assessed on the level of the individual publication. An article is not automatically unscientific, fraudulent or fake science just because it has appeared in a predatory journal.
The cases currently uncovered by media research clearly demonstrate that this problem has grown in recent years. In the opinion of the nine members of the Alliance of Science Organisations, however, every case is one too many. Thankfully, this issue only affects an extremely small percentage of researchers.
In order to counter phenomena like predatory publishing, it is first of all necessary to reinforce high-quality, reputable practice and to hone the demarcation criteria for dubious practice. A science-driven method of this kind must self-clean to ensure that the academic publication system continues to meet the highest demands for content quality. In this context, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), for example, plays an important role by listing the academic journals that are quality-controlled. Furthermore, internal measures have been introduced by the individual science organisations, such as training sessions, publication support and their own ombudspeople.
Society quite rightly expects science not only to solve societal challenges but also to demonstrate a high level of integrity and honesty. Partly for this reason, the nine members of the Alliance of Science Organisations have pledged themselves to good scientific practice. The quality assurance of scientific processes is a core element of good scientific practice and one of the science organisations’ key concerns.
The Alliance of Science Organisations in Germany is a union of the leading German research organisations. It regularly issues statements on important science policy issues. The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft is a member of the Alliance and has assumed the chair for the year 2018. The other members of the Alliance are the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the German Academic Exchange Service, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), the Helmholtz Association, the German Rectors’ Conference, the Leibniz Association, the Max Planck Society, the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the German Council of Science and Humanities.
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The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
Every year, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation enables more than 2,000 researchers from all over the world to spend time researching in Germany. The Foundation maintains a network of well over 29,000 Humboldtians from all disciplines in more than 140 countries worldwide – including 55 Nobel Prize winners.