More than 5,000 German scientists have published their work in at least one predatory journal, internet platform, or conference, according to a joint report released today (July 19) by NDR and several other German news organizations. Predatory publishers exert limited, if any, editorial oversight of the content they produce, the report finds, and may charge authors—many of whom are supported by public funding—exorbitant prices for the opportunity.
The rise of predatory journals is a “disaster for science,” psychologist and University of Heidelberg ombudsman Joachim Funke tells NDR. “It allows unchecked claims to be promulgated and made to look like science.”
During the 9-month investigation, a consortium of reporters from multiple organizations scanned 175,000 scientific articles published on five of the most prominent predatory platforms. The journalists found that in many cases, scientists appeared to have been tricked into using the systems, paying high fees in return for publication of their work on internet-based journals, most of which were run by companies based in South Asia, the Gulf region, Turkey, or Africa.
The issue of predatory publishing extends far beyond Germany; according to the report, the problem may affect as many as 400,000 scientists worldwide.
The reporters identified several high-profile researchers in Germany, including University of Bremen President Bernd Scholz-Reiter and University of Hannover mechanical engineer Peter Nyhuis, who had coauthored multiple papers in these journals. Nyhuis, who is also a member of the German Council of Science and Humanities, tells NDR that he had “been unknowingly victimized by a system,” and says that he cut off all ties with the publishers after learning about their practices.
However, in some cases, scientists appear to have taken advantage of the lack of editorial oversight—most predatory publishers omit peer review altogether—to report their results quickly and without the risk of rejection. Gerd Antes, director of the medical nonprofit Cochrane Germany, tells NDR that he finds it “extremely irresponsible for reputable scientists to publish papers in outlets where disreputable authors are discernibly and intentionally given a platform, thereby enhancing their status.”
After the findings came to light, Anja Karliczek, Germany’s Federal Minister of Education and Research, called for an investigation into scientific publishing practices, Der Spiegel reports. Such an investigation is “in the interest of science itself,” she says (translated from German by deepl.com). She adds that everything must be done to ensure that “the credibility and the great trust in science do not suffer.”