Proposals for the handling of articles for journals that engage in objectionable practices – MTA’s recommendations on new types of publication misconduct

Alongside the positive consequences of the rise of open access, a number of new forms of unethical behaviour have also emerged. Therefore, in the spring of 2023, the Presidium of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences decided to set up a committee whose main task was to develop an action plan for science practicioners against questionable publication practices. The committee analysed the causes of the abuses and the steps that the research community and organisations responsible for science policy should take to preserve the credibility of science and strengthen trust in the field. As a result of the committee’s work, a report entitled Proposals for the Handling of Articles for Journals that Engage in Objectionable Practices has been produced and is now published on the MTA website, has been sent to university rectors, heads of doctoral schools and policy makers, and has been distributed digitally to the 18,000 members of MTA’s public body.

2023. november 8.

Digitisation, online publishing, rapid communication and open access models have revolutionised the way scientific results are presented in many ways and have also had an impact on the criteria system for the acceptance of publications. The positive consequences of the new publishing methods include, for example, greater visibility and easier access to scientific results, faster peer review and publication, and the involvement of a wider peer reviewer circle. However, the downside of these changes is that a number of new unethical behaviours has also emerged, which can significantly distort a healthy research environment, that is, a science which is predominantly based on peer review. One of these new distortions is the emergence and proliferation of “predatory” (or “parasitic”) journals. In December 2022, the President of the Doctoral Council (DT) of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences sent a letter to the scientific departments of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) suggesting that the departments review the practices of publishers and journals in their fields and share their views on their experiences with the “predator” problem and the steps they consider necessary. The DT Chair also asked the departments to draw the attention of potential PhD candidates to the need to avoid journals and publishers that are suspected of being “predators” as well as to the fact that systematic publication in such journals is not compatible with the character of a Doctor of MTA. The President of the Doctoral Council reported on the results of the survey at the meeting of the Bureau on 18 April 2023.

The InterAcademy Partnership aimed to identify such unethical practices by conducting an international survey in 2020, the results of which were published in 2022 (Combatting Predatory Academic Journals and Conferences).

In their report, they formulated recommendations on possible actions to be taken against predatory journals and conferences for the research community, universities, academies, research funders, publishers, libraries and conference organisers.

Taking into consideration the report of the President of the Doctoral Council and the recommendations of the IAP study, the Presidium decided at its meeting of 18 April 2023 on the initiative of the President of the Scientific Council (TT) of the Hungarian Scientific Bibliography (MTMT) to set up a committee whose main task is to develop an action plan against predatory publishing practices for the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and science practitioners. The committee was composed of members of the MTMT Coordination Board (KT), a representative from the Doctoral Council of MTA, delegates of the Hungarian Young Academy and other invited experts, and was chaired by the Secretary General of MTA, who is also the President of TT.

As the Committee performed its detailed analytical work, it became clear to them that there are systemic causes behind the predator phenomenon at an international level and that this predator phenomenon is only one of the many consequences of these causes.

As a result of the Committee’s work, a report entitled Proposals for the Handling of Articles for Journals that Engage in Objectionable Practices has been produced and is now published on the MTA website, has been sent to university rectors, heads of doctoral schools and policy makers, and has been distributed digitally to the 18,000 members of MTA’s public body.

In its report, the Committee has made recommendations aimed at curbing the predator phenomenon. There are basically three equally important ways to tackle this phenomenon:

- monitoring, controlling and sanctioning;

- reviewing and refining our scientometric measurements;

- eliminating the systemic causes.

Related proposals from the Committee:

Proposal 1: In the training of researchers (primarily but not exclusively in graduate schools), different publication practices and publishing customs should be explained, and the practice of publishing in journals with questionable publication practices should be clearly condemned.

Proposal 2: Attention should be drawn to the problems related to “predator” journals and changes in domestic publishing practices; IAP publications should be popularised and its most important findings should be presented.

Proposal 3: The Hungarian Young Academy, with the cooperation and support of MTA, will compile online training material on good publishing practices and ethical issues in scientific research, taking into account the characteristics of the discipline. On request, but at least once every six months, consultation opportunities regarding the material will be possible via webinar.

Proposal 4: We consider the renewal of the Code of Ethics of the Academy of Sciences as soon as possible as essential; otherwise, we recommend the adoption of the ALLEA Code of Ethics. We consider it important that the new ALLEA Code of Ethics be widely publicised.

Proposal 5: The Committee’s proposals should be published both on the MTA website and in an autumn or winter issue of Magyar Tudomány (Hungarian Science). We suggest that Magyar Tudomány also provide space for a description of the new ethical violations that are spreading and the new ethical principles formulated by ALLEA, as well as the responses to them. The Committee’s recommendations should be circulated to all higher education and research institutions, funders of science and science policy decision-makers.

Proposal 6: Promote the application of the principles of DORA and the Leiden Manifesto; communicate the importance of qualitative studies and the risks of quantitative, scientometric studies in the evaluation of researchers and research; participate in CoARA initiatives.

Proposal 7: Examine how MTA calls for applications are evaluated according to the principles of DORA and the Leiden Manifesto and, if necessary, make changes to the calls for tender and decision-making processes.

Proposal 8: The attention of departments, committees of excellence and the DT should be drawn to the application of the above principles when awarding prizes, titles, proposals, et cetera.

Proposal 9: Publications that have been published in journals with objectionable practices should be flagged in the MTMT after they have been listed.

Proposal 10: It is recommended that articles published in journals flagged for questionable publication practices after flagging not be given a “scientific” classification; they would thus appear in the MTMT summary table and not be considered for the title of Doctor of Science, in the selection of academicians, for applications to MTA, or for prize nominations. We recommend that institutions involved in domestic scientific research and funding do likewise.

The Committee unanimously supported the use of the journal classification of the Norwegian Register for the future identification of articles published in journals with dubious practices in non-Hungarian journals. Specifically, it is proposed that articles published in journals classified as “0” in the list should be ignored in the various classifications. The committee recommended that researchers should always be informed in advance about which journals will be marked in the MTMT based on the Norwegian list, and that this marking should be made with a delay of two months at the earliest. In other words, journals will be marked at intervals which may vary. In this way, these designations are not intended to sanction, but to inform and improve practices researchers should refrain from future publication in the designated journals.

For publications and journals published in Hungarian and in Hungarian journals, the Committee did not support the use of the Norwegian list; here they encourage the use of the classification currently available in the MTMT, which is based on the recommendations of the scientific departments of MTA.


Recommended websites:

IAP report;
Leiden Manifesto;