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WHO Covid database has many ‘dodgy journals’, 70 papers are by Indians

The 70 Indian research papers on Covid are among dozens from across the globe that were published in predatory or dodgy journals and are now being investigated by WHO. 

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New Delhi: Hundreds of research papers, including at least 70 from India, which have been published in predatory or dodgy journals have ended up in the World Health Organization’s global repository of Covid science publications. The WHO is now investigating these papers. 

The agency maintains a list of ‘Global literature on coronavirus disease’, which features over three million papers from across the world. 

In the beginning of this month, an independent researcher spotted that dozens of research papers in this list were published in three ‘hijacked journals’ or publications that appear to ‘impersonate’ a legitimate journal.  

According to Anna Abalkina, a research fellow at Freie Universität Berlin, as many as 383 papers from three hijacked journals were included in the database. 

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

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

Hijacked journals may 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, such as TURCOMAT, the original journal is only available in the print version. The hijacked version, however, publishes papers online for a fee. 

Usually, such papers are published without a peer review or editing. 

Also read: India likely made up more than a third of global infant deaths in Covid slowdown

Papers from India

ThePrint looked through the repository and found at least 70 papers that originated from India. 

Several of the papers 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 getting their papers published in the predatory journals. 

Among the papers featured in the ‘hijacked journals’ was one by Dr J. Yogapriya, Dean of Research and Development at the 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 journal. “It was a simple paper that I wrote, and my friend helped me publish in a rush. The university requires us to publish in Scopus-indexed journals, and the TURCOMAT was one such journal,” she said.

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

“It is used as a marker of quality by academia. It means that the minimum criteria of the journal is met, but it is not a guarantee of the quality of the journal,” said Soumyadeep Bhaumik, co-Head of the Meta-research and Evidence Synthesis Unit at George Institute for Global Health in New Delhi, who serves on the editorial board of multiple global health journals.

The UGC-CARE List — a list of journals approved by the University Grants Commission in India — does mention journals indexed by Scopus. 

Also read: How Covid pandemic robbed football teams of their home ground advantage

How ‘hijacked journals’ work

Hijacked journals are those that look to appropriate the legitimacy of original publications. 

Take TURCOMAT for instance. A Scopus-indexed journal at least until 2020, it is published by the Karadeniz Technical University, under editor-in-chief Dr Adnan Baki. The original website URL that hosted the journal was but the website is no longer active. 

The hijacked version of the journal is an online publication hosted on the website The editor-in-chief mentioned for this publication is a certain Dr Mohit, who is described as an assistant professor at a department of computer science in Punjab. There is no mention of his university affiliation. 

ThePrint contacted two lecturers with similar designations.

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

Kumar, however, is not the editor-in-chief and is aware that his name, along with incomplete credentials, is being used without his permission. 

ThePrint also checked with another Mohit Kumar, an Assistant Professor at Department of Information Technology of National Institute of Technology, Jalandhar. He, too, denied being the editor-in-chief of this journal. 

Not the only instance

An independent researcher who did not wish to be named told ThePrint the website of Annals of the Romanian Society for Cell Biology had several discrepancies. 

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

He also said he found several of the papers contained plagiarised text. 

For example, a paper titled “COVID-19 Future Forecasting using Supervised Machine Learning Models”, authored by individuals affiliated with the KPR Institute of Engineering and Technology in Tamil Nadu and published in April, showed that 85 per cent was lifted from other sources. 

As much as 66 per cent of the text was lifted from another paper titled “Administered Machine Learning Models for Covid-19 Future Forecasting”, which was presented a month earlier at a conference in Coimbatore.   

On further scrutiny, ThePrint found that most of the papers in these ‘hijacked journals’ have grammatical errors and typos that indicate they have not undergone due editing processes. 

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

WHO librarian Tomas Allen told ThePrint they are aware of the possible inclusion of studies from hijacked journals in the Covid list. 

Allen said the WHO Covid-19 Research database is curated from known reliable resources. “We are currently investigating with other librarians regarding these ‘hijacked journals’ and will be responding shortly with our assessment,” Allen said. “We are close to compiling the information. As well, we will be communicating our findings to the resource that is the potential source of these citations.” 

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)

Also read: Study indicates Alpha variant could be causing higher breakthrough infections than expected


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