WHO Covid database contains many ‘questionable journals’, 70 articles are written by Indians

The headquarters of the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland | Photo: Pierre Virot | www.who.int

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New Delhi: Hundreds of research articles, including at least 70 from India, that have been published in predatory or questionable journals have found their way into the World Health Organization’s global repository of scientific publications on Covid. WHO is currently investigating these documents.

The agency maintains a list of “global coronavirus disease literature,” which includes more than three million articles from around the world.

Earlier this month, an independent researcher spotted dozens of research articles in this list were published in three “hijacked newspapers” or publications which appear to “impersonate” a legitimate newspaper.

According to Anna Abalkina, a researcher at Freie Universität Berlin, up to 383 articles from three hijacked journals were included in the database.

“Ten appeared in the hijacked version of Linguistics Antverpiensia, 169 in the fraudulent edition of Turkish Journal of Computer Science and Mathematics Education (TURCOMAT), and 204 were published in the compromised version of the Annals of the Romanian Society of Cell BiologyAbalkina wrote in the Retraction Watch article.

Retraction Watch is a blog that tracks news from scientific journals, focusing on retractions, research misconduct, and other academia-related news that may affect the integrity of scientific research.

Pirated journals can impersonate publications by taking over the domain name of a journal that has been discontinued or by creating a similar-looking domain name.

In some cases, like TURCOMAT, the original journal is only available in hard copy. The hijacked version, however, publishes articles online for a fee.

Usually these articles are published without peer review or editing.


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India documents

ThePrint searched the repository and found at least 70 articles from India.

Many of the articles do not contain the contact details of the authors, while others do not have the name of the university. It is possible that several of the researchers were duped into having their articles published in predatory journals.

Among the articles featured in the “hijacked journals” was one by Dr J. Yogapriya, Dean of Research and Development at Kongunadu College of Engineering and Technology in Tamil Nadu.

When ThePrint contacted her, she was unaware that she had published her article in a hijacked newspaper. “It was a simple article that I wrote, and my friend rushed to help me publish it. The university obliges us to publish in journals indexed on Scopus, and TURCOMAT was one of those journals, ”she said.

The Scopus Index is one of the world’s best databases for peer-reviewed and legitimate journals.

“It is used as a quality marker by academia. This means that the minimum criteria of the review are met, but it is not a guarantee of the quality of the review, ”said Soumyadeep Bhaumik, co-head of the meta-research and evidence synthesis unit at George Institute for Global Health in New Delhi, which sits on the editorial boards of several global health journals.

The UGC-CARE list – a list of journals approved by the University Grants Commission in India – mentions journals indexed by Scopus.


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How “hijacked newspapers” work

The hijacked journals are those that seek to appropriate the legitimacy of the original publications.

Take TURCOMAT for example. Journal indexed on Scopus until at least 2020, it is published by the Technical University of Karadeniz, under the direction of the editor, Dr Adnan Baki. The URL of the original website that hosted the journal was http://www.dergipark.ulakbim.gov.tr/turkbilmat but the site is no longer active.

The hijacked version of the journal is an online publication hosted on the site www.turcomat.org. The editor mentioned for this publication is one Dr Mohit, who is described as an assistant professor in a computer science department in the Punjab. There is no mention of his university affiliation.

ThePrint contacted two speakers with similar designations.

When ThePrint contacted Dr Mohit Kumar, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) at Hamirpur National Institute of Technology, he said he had received several emails from researchers around the world, asking why their research had not been published despite having paid the fees.

Kumar, however, is not the editor and knows his name, along with incomplete credentials, is being used without his permission.

ThePrint also checked with another Mohit Kumar, an assistant professor in the Information Technology Department of the Jalandhar National Institute of Technology. He too has denied being the editor of this newspaper.

Not the only case

An independent researcher who declined to be named told ThePrint on website of Annals of the Romanian Society of Cell Biology had several deviations.

“The website lists three different ISSNs (a unique identifying serial number for a journal). One of these codes belongs to a Romanian language newspaper, ”he said. “Also, the publisher’s name on the hijacked version of the journal is different from what was indexed by Scopus.”

He also said he discovered that several of the documents contained plagiarized text.

For example, an article titled “COVID-19 Future Forecasting using Supervised Machine Learning Models”, written by people affiliated with the KPR Institute of Engineering and Technology in Tamil Nadu and published in April, showed that 85% of them were from ‘other sources.

Up to 66% of the text was taken from another document titled “Administered Machine Learning Models for Future Covid-19 Predictions”, which was presented a month earlier at a conference in Coimbatore.

Upon closer examination, ThePrint discovered that most of the articles in these “backdoor journals” contained grammatical errors and typos that indicate they did not undergo the necessary editing processes.

Authors from SRM Institute of Science and Technology, Amity University (Noida), Andhra University, Chandigarh University are among those who have published articles in these journals.

WHO librarian Tomas Allen told ThePrint he was aware of the possible inclusion of hijacked journal studies on the Covid list.

Allen said the WHO’s Covid-19 research database is curated from known reliable resources. “We are currently investigating with other librarians on these ‘hijacked reviews’ and will respond shortly with our assessment,” Allen said. “We are about to compile the information. In addition, we will communicate our findings to the resource that is the potential source of these citations. ”

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)


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