New causes to be on the alert for misrepresentation in academic research?

Gayle C Avery (Macquarie University)

Strategy & Leadership

ISSN: 1087-8572

Article publication date: 16 March 2015

Citation

Avery, G.C. (2015), "New causes to be on the alert for misrepresentation in academic research?", Strategy & Leadership, Vol. 43 No. 2. https://doi.org/10.1108/SL-01-2015-0009

Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited


New causes to be on the alert for misrepresentation in academic research?

Article Type: CEO advisory From: Strategy & Leadership, Volume 43, Issue 2

Gayle C. Avery

Gayle C. Avery, Professor of Management at Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Sydney (gayle.avery@mgsm.edu.au) and Director of the Institute for Sustainable Leadership, is the author of Understanding Leadership: Paradigms and Cases (2004), Leadership for Sustainable Futures: Achieving Success in a Competitive World (2005) and co-author, with Harald Bergsteiner, of Sustainable Leadership: Honeybee and Locust Approaches (2010) and Diagnosing Leadership (2011). She is currently co-authoring a book showcasing sustainable practices throughout Thailand.

Are refereed business journals at growing risk of manipulation by governments with hidden agendas or of misrepresentation by individuals who have exaggerated or counterfeited their credentials? There are hints that serious threats exist, and if they do they would be of concern to the Strategy & Leadership community because:

  • As readers you want confidence that articles have been written by reputable practitioners and academics with actual experience, and not by a commercial writing service.

  • As reviewers you need to be confident that research has been conducted with integrity, otherwise analysis of its relevance is meaningless.

  • As bona fide researchers, you want fakes weeded out.

  • As employers you want to know that articles cited on employee resumes are genuine.

The broad issue of corruption in higher education has been reported on by Transparency International.[1] Its 2013 report on fraudulent practices in schools and universities world-wide makes disturbing reading: cronyism in teaching appointments, false qualifications from non-existent schools, corruption in international teaching and short-cutting degrees are among the transgressions cited in the report.[2] In the course of my reading and my contacts with editors of various business journals and other researchers I have come across a number of other practices that are also cause for concern.

For example, a colleague forwarded a recent email from a two-year old journal published in Iran with an impressive “International” title.[3] Its bold marketing copy made it stand out from dozens of emails about new journals that reach my inbox, many with titles confusingly similar to those of top-tier journals. In its marketing pitch, the new international journal made eye-brow-raising claims for the many services that index or reference it and for its impact factor. If true, such achievements would be remarkable for a journal that published its first issue in 2012. For example, the email claimed:

Your research paper is abstracted and indexed in more than 20 databases in particular in EBSCO, ProQuest, Index Copernicus, DOAJ,

Index Copernicus (ICV 2013 = 5.68)

Universal Impact Factor (Impact Factor for year 2013 = 0.875),

MIAR (Information Matrix for the Analysis of Journals): (ICDS = 3.301)

Email received Monday, January 5, 2015 7:19 am

One of the organizations that calculated the international journal’s impact factor for 2013 is somewhat mysterious. Its website, http://www.uifactor.org/EvaluationPolicy.aspx, does not provide staff names, a masthead listing directors or corporate officers or the country it’s located in.[4]

An easy experiment

As a researcher, I could quickly use my university library search system to test whether the journal was as widely abstracted and as influential as the impact score provided by the web-based Universal Impact Factor indicated. First, I found no reference to it in either EBSCOhost or Proquest. A search by author, title and the journal name itself produced no results. Using widely-accepted indexing services such as that of ThomsonReuter, I searched Google Scholar citations on the assumption that a journal would need to show many citations in this system to create such a high impact factor. To do this I entered the article of one of the contributors to the journal listed in the table of contents for the 2013(2) issue, but it was not found by Google Scholar, thus casting more doubt on the journal’s claims of being widely indexed and on the significance of the impact statistics cited.

That the claims of one obscure journal cannot be substantiated by a quick search is not enough evidence to reach a final conclusion about its credentials. Perhaps the case of this one international journal’s seemingly excessive claims are merely evidence of an awkward attempt by academics in Iran to reach out to the rest of the world by making attention-getting statements based upon an obscure impact rating system.

From this perspective, it is noteworthy that S&L has recently received a number of articles from Iran, an unexpected but welcome development. Opening a dialog with scholars in this country is certainly desirable. However, cautions have been issued about accepting articles from Iran by sources familiar with its academic practices.[5] For example, a report at: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/02/iran-universities-inferior-doctoral-degrees-shoddy-research.html urges vigilance when reviewing Iranian authors’ work because academic pressure means that: “[…] a large number of dissertations and research articles are not written by students and professors in the university but are instead produced by a trading firm.” Allegations have been made that, under the previous government, Iranian professors were appointed based on their Islamic religious beliefs, not on academic merit. According to some sources this is now being reversed and less of the academic research submitted to Western journals is of questionable origin. Nonetheless, reviewers must evaluate whether the research and conclusions in the articles are unbiased or are intended to support a state purpose. Some sources warn that the effects of the religion-based policy will be difficult to overturn because of difficulties in removing faculty appointed by the previous regime.[6]

Money and credentials in China

Let me emphasize that Iran should not be singled out as the only country with worrisome academic practices. I’m currently doing research from Hong Kong, and the local papers report that the current mainland Chinese government has initiated highly publicized anti-corruption activities. Scandal has reached the prestigious Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering, according to the lead editorial in China Daily of 8 January 2015. The title “academician” carries huge prestige in China and is associated with high earnings from the speaker circuit. Reports on anti-corruption cases have asserted that some university administrators and other government officials have sought to buy their way into the academy. According to recent news reports, a named official allegedly paid an astounding $3.75 million in bribes for his two bids to become an academician. The current revelations have resulted in calls to return to appointing academicians on academic merit and the academies recently voted to place some restrictions on who may nominate and who may be elected.

Clearly editors, reviewers and researchers must now be on guard. The source of an article, however, should not prejudice them against it. As they study each submission objectively, they owe the readers due diligence to carefully assess research, to consider potential state influence, to guard against dogma, to check credentials and evidence and to verify its authenticity. Given the many warning signs, a good motto for all editorial interactions might be, “Know the source.”

Notes

1. NGO with a vision of a world where corruption has no place to hide. See: http://www.transparency.org/

2. Transparency International: Global Corruption Report: Education. 1 October, 2013. Accessed January 13, 2015 at: http://www.transparency.org/whatwedo/publication/global_corruption_report_education

3. Email dated January 5, 2015 from aimipublishing <mailto:aimipublishing@aimijournal.com>.

4. Accessed January 19, 2015.

5. http://iraniansforum.com/lobby/index.php/other-orgs/104-al-monitor-a-pro-tehran-website-in-washington

6. http://www.merip.org/mero/mero022014