When peer-review culture is weak and publish-or-perish culture is strong, authors quite logically seek the fastest path to publication. In many cases, that route proves to be a toll road.
A recent survey of authors in Russia, where peer-review culture is weak, shows that professional expediency is a major driver of publications of all types, with rapid adoption of the paid route because it’s even more expedient.
The survey, conducted in November 2011, showed that 40% of Russian academics paid between US$30 and US$800 for publication services, with 1/3 paying more than US$150. While these fees may not seem high to Western audiences, they are proportionately large given the meager salaries of Russian academics.
Russia’s relatively weak peer-review culture is faulted for this race to expediency. The report — which comes from the Center for International Higher Eduction — is not written in perfect English, which sometimes provides clearer insights than the polished writing you’d get from a good American or British writer. For instance, the following sentences say a great deal about the peer-review culture in Russia:
There is a stereotype (that many teachers from regional universities share) that the best nation-wide journals will not publish them, no matter how good their article might have been. For many people this is confirmed by the negative experience of getting one or two rejections. These rejections are likely caused by the low quality of the submitted papers. However, university teachers, used to local university practices where peer review and peer discussion of research results are not common, normally don’t trust the process.
The Ministry of Education and Science in Russia monitors research output and rewards productivity with salary increases, contract extensions, or promotion. The resultant pressures have created a publications service industry increasingly focused on getting academics to the desired outcome in as brief a process as possible:
. . . an important feature of the publication process — peer review and selection for publication on the basis of their quality — is not necessarily followed. Many journals do not check the research quality but rather publish all material presented in proper formatting and paid for. As journal editors put it, “We have a fair policy — if we take your money, your paper will be published.”
One of the most significant shifts in scholarly publishing over the past few years has been the rise of the author-pays open access mega-journals, which operate on the premise that all methodologically sound papers should be published and freely available. Has this improved scholarship and research reporting? Time will tell, but it’s no secret that I’m skeptical. The conclusion of this report from Russia echoes some of the outcomes academics should consider when publication becomes a service easily secured and an h-index is something readily manipulated:
. . . publications will remain just a means for reporting, rather than the mechanism of research communication, promotion of new ideas and a true measure of academic performance.