In 2012, a librarian from the University of Colorado presented research in a field so new he had to name it himself: predatory publishing.
Jeffrey Beall discovered thousands of online science journals that were either willing to publish fake research for cash, or just so inept that they couldn’t tell the good from the bad and published it all.
Beall, who became an assistant professor, drew up a list of the known and suspected bad apples, known simply as Beall’s List. Since 2012, this list has been world’s main source of information on journals that publish conspiracy theories and incompetent research, making them appear real.
But on Sunday, his website went blank. Only the headline, Scholarly Open Access, remains.
Beall is a regular on Twitter, but he hasn’t posted anything there in days. He isn’t answering email (including a message from the Citizen) or telling anyone what happened. Beall’s List had just been updated for 2017.
A Texas firm called Cabell’s, which also works with academic publishers, hinted that Beall was threatened somehow.
Its Twitter account said on Tuesday: “@CabellsPublish stands behind close personal friend @Jeffrey_Beall who was forced to shut down blog due to threats & politics #academicmafia.” Cabell’s hinted on Twitter that it may take over a Beall-like service in the spring, but gave no details. Calls to its office went unanswered and the voicemail was full.
Now the academic world is twittering away, realizing that the one individual everyone relied on isn’t there any more, and so far there’s no substitute.
Beall has been a polarizing figure, praised for rooting out fakes but sometimes criticized by people who felt he was too broad in his attacks on “open access” journals. These offer their contents free to readers, and instead charge researchers to publish their work. Most predators use the open access approach, but there are also top-quality open access journals.
He has also been threatened with legal action by publishers he named on his list.
It was Beall who discovered last year that two Canadian science publishers had been purchased by a large Indian company that was on his list for years. In typical fashion he plunged in:
“OMICS International is on a buying spree, snatching up journals and publishers around the world, especially in Canada,” Beall wrote. “It recently purchased Pulsus Group, a firm that publishes (or used to publish) journals for several Canadian medical societies, sending shock waves through the Canadian medical publishing community.
“OMICS International purchases and converts respected journals into rubbish journals, trading on their good reputations to profit from researchers unaware of the change in ownership,” Beall wrote.
He also discovered the phenomenon of “hijacked” journals — imitators set up with titles identical to well-known publications, created to lure the unwary.
Beall’s disappearance is shaking up experts in science publishing, since this is the way for researchers to announce new findings.
“To see Beall’s work disappear would be an absolute disaster,” wrote Roger Pierson, a medical researcher at the University of Saskatchewan and keen observer of the science publishing world.
“From an academic perspective, this represents the absence of an extremely important resource. Beall’s List is/has been so very important in helping those of us interested in communication in science and how science moves forward parse the real from the spurious. This, in a time of turbulence.
“Beall’s work is crucial to the analysis of scientific publication and the information contained within. We need to do everything that we can to ensure that the work continues.”
There are cached copies of Beall’s List for both publishers and individual journals, but these are not being updated. As well, Beall kept busy answering questions from confused researchers around the world almost daily.
In his 2017 update, Beall had identified 1,155 suspicious or fake publishers, most of them putting out dozens or even hundreds of online journals.
By Gregg Petersen, Regional Director, MEA and SAARC, Veeam Software, (MENAFN Press)
The new generation approaching Higher Education are millennials, who have grown up with technology. Meanwhile, the children entering primary and secondary schools see technology as second nature. Now, more than ever, is the optimal time for the education sector as a whole to think about the infrastructure that supports the digital learning experience. As per a report from Alpen Capital, the Middle East’s e-learning market will hit a peak value of USD 560.7 million in 2016, having grown at an average rate of 8.2 percent per year since 2014.
Research has shown that top-level classroom success grows by 36 percent when the right approach is taken to technology (according to BESA), and clearly the trend is towards a more enhanced digital learning experience.
With the rise of blended learning, universities are also under pressure to meet students’ demands and adapt to the digital age while facing higher levels of competition. Institutions are having to learn how to innovate the teaching and learning experience.
Meanwhile, technology and delivering a connected learning programme is becoming a key differentiator for universities and Higher Education institutions, particularly in light of the hike in tuition fees that have been passed on to domestic and international students in recent years. Students expect a premium service to account for raised fees.
Essential education materials such as learning resources, library files and assignment documents are digitised and stored centrally in university-owned repositories. It is no longer enough for Higher Education institutions to simply ‘have’ learning materials – however good they are – as they must be constantly available to students at anytime, anywhere. Delivering critical application and data availability to the university’s diverse user community is a basic requirement. Both students and staff are demanding a more effective IT infrastructure to meet their needs – whether that’s bringing a personal device on to campus networks or being able to retrieve materials at any given moment.
The same applies to primary and secondary schools, who must have in place a rapid and reliable mechanism for protecting and recovering student data, while providing real-time access to centralised services, including class programmes, research materials and in-class services.
According to the 2016 Veeam Availability Report of more than 1,000 IT decision-makers globally, 36 percent of respondents from the private and Higher Education sector are currently investing in private cloud (including automation, self-service and billing), while 23 percent are investing in public cloud infrastructure.
But, does that equate with the exponential data growth that is taking place from digitised education? As short-staffd IT teams work to save money and modernise their data centres by combining server virtualisation, modern storage applications and cloud-based services, they face new demands including exponential data growth, users demanding access to data 24/7, and no patience for downtime. All in all, the figure of 36 percent should be much-nearer to 100 percent if schools and universities are fully buying in to technology as an enabler of better education standards.
Veeam’s report also highlights that only 43 percent of respondents from the private and Higher Education sector are currently investing in data protection and disaster recovery. This goes a long way towards ensuring an ‘Always-On’ approach to education – that students can be reconnected to essential resources quickly in the event of downtime. Contrastingly, the majority are not in a position to guarantee an available learning experience for their students. A further 34 percent are planning to invest in data protection and disaster recovery services soon, while 11 percent are considering doing so in the next two years. This poses problems. With increased data and learning resources digitally connected, a like-for-like set of contingencies and technologies must be put in place to protect students from going without essential materials for too long. For Higher Education institutions, this is a potential financial risk, and may threaten a university’s ability to attract future talent if a reputation for low-tech is publicised.
Schools and Higher Education institutions must future-proof the large investments that are being made in technology and digital learning resources. By ensuring that they are constantly available, or easily restored, operations can continue and the learning process can be seamless.
People in the UAE read for around 51 hours a year, well above the average of 35 hours for the rest of the Arab world.
According to a survey by the Arab Reading Index, people in the emirates read 24 books a year compared with the regional average of 16.
Overall Lebanon topped the index with 59 hours of reading a year covering 29 books. The UAE came fourth. "Reading is an essential tool to build knowledge and culture within a society and this index will help us take social and economic development to the next level in the region," said Najoura Ghriss, the report’s main author and a professor at the Higher Institute of Education and Continuous Training in Tunisia.
She was speaking on the second day of the Knowledge Summit at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Dubai.
In all 148,000 people in 22 Arab countries took part in the survey.
For Jamal bin Huwaireb, managing director of Mohammed Bin Rashid Foundation, the findings have finally debunked a perception that Arabs rarely read.
"We had always heard these statistics claiming that Arabs only read six minutes on average every year and that, statistically, it takes 80 Arabs to read one book every year," he said.
"We were very sceptical and sought to determine the source of these statistics only to find that there was virtually no sound evidence to support them.
"This is why we launched the Arab Reading Index, and set out to find the accurate data ourselves – and from all Arab countries."
Respondents n the UAE said they had the easiest access to books at school or at home, at 89 and 88 per cent respectively, followed by 76 per cent in wider society.
The top five countries in terms of reading were Lebanon with a score of 90, Egypt with 89, Morocco with 87, the UAE with 82, and Jordan with 71. The rankings were based on scores given for extent of reading, access to reading material and personal attributes.
The summit was told it is essential that parents and families nurture a positive reading habit.
"Like a plant it needs to be watered and tended to and only them will it be able to flourish," said Noureddine Selmi, Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research for Tunisia.
Elias Bou Saab, Minister of Education and Higher Education in Lebanon, said he was proud that his country was ranked first in the Arab Reading list but more needed to be done to encourage the practice in the region.
"Learning itself depends on reading, whether you’re in school or university it requires reading as a first step," he said.
"And in that role the family and mother in particular can play a crucial role. If a child sees their mother reading then he or she is more likely to pick up the practice and make it a part of their own life."
The caller ID on my office telephone said the number was from Las Vegas, but when I picked up the receiver I heard what sounded like a busy overseas call center in the background. The operator, “John,” asked if I would be interested in attending the 15th World Cardiology and Angiology Conference in Philadelphia next month.
“Do I have to be a doctor?” I said, because I’m not one. I got the call because 20 minutes earlier I had entered my phone number into a website run by a Hyderabad, India, company called OMICS International.
“You can have the student rate,” the man replied. With a 20 percent discount, it would be $599. The conference was in just a few weeks, I pointed out — would that be enough time for the academic paper I would be submitting to be properly reviewed? (Again, I know nothing about cardiology.) It would be approved on an “expedited basis” within 24 hours, he replied, and he asked which credit card I would like to use.
If it seems that I was about to be taken, that’s because I was. OMICS International is a leader in the growing business of academic publication fraud. It has created scores of “journals” that mimic the look and feel of traditional scholarly publications, but without the integrity. This year the Federal Trade Commission formally charged OMICS with “deceiving academics and researchers about the nature of its publications and hiding publication fees ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars.”
OMICS is also in the less well-known business of what might be called conference fraud, which is what led to the call from John. Both schemes exploit a fundamental weakness of modern higher education: Academics need to publish in order to advance professionally, get better jobs or secure tenure. Even within the halls of respectable academia, the difference between legitimate and fake publications and conferences is far blurrier than scholars would like to admit.
OMICS is on the far end of the “definitely fake” spectrum. Real academic conferences evaluate potential participants by subjecting proposed papers and presentations to a rigorous peer-review process. Some 15,000 people attend the American Educational Research Association’s annual conference, for example, and only about a third of submitted proposals are accepted.
In October, a New Zealand college professor submitted a paper to the OMICS-sponsored “International Conference on Atomic and Nuclear Physics,” which was held last month at the Hilton Atlanta Airport. It was written using the autocomplete feature on his iPhone, which produced an abstract that begins as follows: “Atomic Physics and I shall not have the same problem with a separate section for a very long long way. Nuclear weapons will not have to come out the same day after a long time of the year he added the two sides will have the two leaders to take the same way to bring up to their long ways of the same as they will have been a good place for a good time at home the united front and she is a great place for a good time.”
The paper was accepted within three hours.
An OMICS employee who identified himself as Sam Dsouza said conference papers are reviewed by its “experts” within 24 hours of submission. He couldn’t provide a list of its reviewers or their credentials.
Having dispensed with academic standards, OMICS makes money on volume. Its conferenceseries.com website lists hundreds of so-called academic meetings, many at vacation destinations like Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla. On Dec. 1 and 2, the “2nd International Congress on Neuroimmunology and Therapeutics,” the “13th International Conference on Vaccines, Therapeutics and Travel Medicine: Influenza and Infectious Diseases,” and the “International Conference on Clinical and Medical Genetics” were all held, simultaneously, at the Hilton Atlanta Airport.
Stacking multiple fake conferences at the same hotel is a common practice, says Jeffrey Beall, a tenured University of Colorado Denver librarian. He maintains a website for identifying “predatory open access scholarly publishers” that masquerade as scholarly journals, but are actually in the business of pumping out worthless articles and exploiting scholars with hidden fees. “You just rent a hotel, make up a name and stand around while everyone is reading their papers,” Mr. Beall says. “It’s easy money.”
Mr. Beall’s list, which has grown to 923 publishers from 18 in 2011, also includes a British company called the “Infonomics Society.” Like OMICS, it publishes a raft of journals, 17 in all, with legitimately dry-sounding titles like “International Journal of Sustainable Energy Development.” Mr. Beall calls Infonomics an “impostor scholarly society” that is “designed to generate as much revenue as possible.” All 17 journals are run by a single person named Charles Shoniregun out of a modest two-story attached brick home in the outer suburbs of London.
Infonomics also sponsors a series of conferences. But when I looked into one of them, the “World Conference on Special Needs Education,” or W.C.S.N.E., the story was more complex than I expected.
Like many predatory publishers, the Infonomics website for W.C.S.N.E. has a certain word-salad, shaky-command-of-English-syntax quality familiar to anyone who reads the spam folder in their email. “The Infonomics Society has an established reputation for promoting research esteem that is valued by research community,” it says. The W.C.S.N.E. is attended by “Policy Makers and Stakeholders who care deeply about bringing creative, innovative and rigorous learning practices barriers.”
The W.C.S.N.E. paper submissions guidelines warn that all papers must be strictly limited to “a total of 4 to 6 pages.” That includes all figures, tables and references. Robert Kelchen, a professor of higher education at Seton Hall, says that this is “a red flag.” Education research papers are typically much longer, he notes — the tables and reference pages alone can run to double digits. But short papers are easier to pack into a single “journal.”
The website included a long list of “Program Committee members” with impressive academic credentials, as well as “Keynote Speakers” for the coming conference, scheduled to be held in August at Temple University, the W.C.S.N.E. host for the last three years.
But when I contacted those identified as committee members and speakers, many immediately replied that they had no idea they were on the website and had no affiliation with the W.C.S.N.E. The announced keynote speakers told me they were nothing of the kind. Within 24 hours of my inquiries, someone removed their names and biographies from the site and replaced them with a page that said “Keynote Speakers to be Announced!”
A spokesman for Temple, Hillel Hoffmann, said the university condemned “predatory open-access publishing” and said no university money had been spent on the conference. He said that special-needs learners in the community, including adult literacy students, had attended parts of the conference and had benefited from it, but that none had paid to participate. He added that the W.C.S.N.E. would no longer take place at Temple.
Richard Cooper, the director of disability services at Harcum College, a private two-year institution in Philadelphia, helped create W.C.S.N.E. along with Mr. Shoniregun. He says he has no involvement with the paper selection process or financial aspects of the conference, simply serving as an organizer, presenter and master of ceremonies. He described it as a worthwhile gathering of scholars, many of whom live in Africa and India and pay hundreds of dollars in conference fees to attend.
The papers presented at previous W.C.S.N.E. conferences don’t appear to have been composed using the autocomplete function on an iPhone. They mostly describe small qualitative studies and surveys that examine well-established ideas, break little new ground and use statistical jargon to make their findings seem more complicated than they really are. They very likely would be rejected by the American Educational Research Association. But they are also well within the bounds of what gets published in many scholarly journals that, while not prestigious, have never been called a fraud.
Barba Patton, an education professor at the University of Houston-Victoria in Victoria, Tex., defended the W.C.S.N.E. unreservedly. “I have attended ten to fifteen of the conferences in the U.S., Canada and in Europe,” she wrote via email. “I have no concerns about the website. You must remember that the conference reaches many who are using the British English rather than the American.”
Mr. Shoniregun did not respond to messages sent to his several email addresses. But he appears to have created a kind of hybrid conference that combines the shady, volume-first internet marketing practices of OMICS with the more quotidian inattention to academic rigor that characterizes much of legitimate academia.
Take the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S), by all accounts a legitimate organization. This year, Peter Dreier, chair of the Urban and Environmental Policy department at Occidental College, described how he submitted a proposal full of jargon, misquotation, non sequitur and general academic gobbledygook to an international conference sponsored by the 4S. It was accepted. “I look forward to meeting you in Tokyo,” the panel organizer wrote.
Lucy Suchman, a sociologist at Britain’s Lancaster University and the president of 4S, acknowledges that the abstract review process is “not perfect” and that she would have rejected Mr. Dreier’s submission. But, she notes, 4S reviews hundreds of submissions every year with an “assumption of good faith.” It would not have occurred to them that someone of Mr. Dreier’s standing in academia was engaged in such an “unfortunate prank,” she said, emphasizing the overall high quality of 4S presentations.
There are real, prestigious journals and conferences in higher education that enforce and defend the highest standards of scholarship. But there are also many more Ph.D.-holders than there is space in those publications, and those people are all in different ways subject to the “publish or perish” system of professional advancement. The academic journal-and-conference system is subject to no real outside oversight. Standards are whatever the scholars involved say they are.
So it’s not surprising that some academics have chosen to give one another permission to accumulate publication credits on their C.V.’s and spend some of the departmental travel budget on short holidays. Nor is it surprising that some canny operators have now realized that when standards are loose to begin with, there are healthy profits to be made in the gray areas of academe.
Why would anyone want to be a student today? As David Birch pointed out recently, the average cost of tuition and fees at private national universities has risen by 179 per cent since 1995. Last month, we saw the latest march against the current government’s education policies - a tradition that has become as much a part of student life as Rag Week - while changes to student finance in Wales will see many students losing their grants.
The answer to this question is, of course, that universities are seen as the only realistic pathway to employment for a whole range of careers. But the education la ndscape is indeed changing, and David has shown us how technology is opening up new opportunities for people to access a great education for the fraction of the cost of traditional undergraduate degrees.
Before we get carried away with the possibilities of online learning and MOOCs, however, it’s important to sound a note of caution. Technology is not a silver bullet; nor is it a guarantee of quality. In fact, the lack of regulation for online learning means that it’s easier than ever for charlatans to set up their own establishments, offering dodgy “degrees” that are barely worth the paper they’re printed on.
The government’s proposals to relax the rules governing the accreditation of new institutions was one of the central issues earning the ire of the most recent student demonstrators - and they have a right to be worried. At present, there is no overarching system of accreditation - or even best practice - for judging the merits of an online education course.
This matters. The last thing that tomorrow’s students need is an educational marketplace full of meaningless qualifications - similar, for example, to a certain US course in real estate which even its own employees described as a rip-off.
So while I share David’s excitement about the possibilities of online education, I believe that more needs to be done to ensure recognised standards that enable prospective students to choose a worthwhile course, and for employers to select the best and brightest graduates.
Any education course, whether online or offline, must demonstrate its utility, and one of the best ways of doing this is to show a direct link between learning and employment. At OpenClassrooms, for example, we work closely with businesses - including IBM and Google - to build courses and curricula which answer today’s skills shortage in the workplace. We see our mission very simply: to enable students to master the skills they need to get jobs in the digital economy, and we believe the only way to do this effectively is to involve enterprises intimately in the development of our courses and learning pathways.
The second element that needs to be addressed is the personal one. David recognises that face-to-face interactions are valuable, but argues that many students “prefer online learning”. When studying traditional university degrees, students’ tend to receive around 14 hours of teaching time (Which? and the Higher Education Policy Institute survey). I see no reason why students learning online should be deprived of the same tutorials and mentorship that are available within “physical” degree programmes. In fact, I’d argue that mentoring is central to these courses’ success, especially with highly technical subjects.
It’s very easy to become frustrated when one is having difficulties with some aspect of the course, which can lead to high dropout rates (some online courses have a woeful completion rate of around five per cent). Having a dedicated mentor and a forum where students can share ideas with, or give encouragement to their peers is, I would say, more than just desirable - it’s a necessity. Where students take a learning path with mentoring we see a completion rate of 87% showing just how powerful one-to-one mentoring is in supporting online learning.
The third aspect that must be addressed is accreditation. Deakin University’s decision to deliver six postgraduate degree MOOCs in 2017 is a watershed moment that demonstrates online courses are now seen as a realistic alternative to traditional models of education. But more than this, we are seeing employers around the world recognising in depth online learning courses like our Bachelor’s degree in web development for what they are - not a certificate for watching videos, but a demonstration of skills attainment and competence.
A checklist of best practices and accreditation for online education providers will help weed out poor course providers. But ultimately any course should be judged on its ability to secure you a job, so it is employers and recent graduates who are best placed to judge the quality of learning.
These are indeed exciting times for the world of education, and for those who are seeking new ways to equip themselves with the skills they need to succeed at life. We owe it to the students of the future - those currently at school, or stuck in jobs dreaming of a better, more fulfilling career - to give them a true choice, and the ability to access educational excellence.