|Year : 2019 | Volume
| Issue : 1 | Page : 1-3
Publications pressures, difficulty of being good, and the Sunday gentleman
Department of Community Medicine, Dr. D. Y. Patil Medical College Hospital and Research Centre, Dr. D. Y. Patil Vidyapeeth, Pune, Maharashtra, India
|Date of Web Publication||18-Jan-2019|
Department of Community Medicine, Dr. D. Y. Patil Medical College Hospital and Research Centre, Dr. D. Y. Patil Vidyapeeth, Pune, Maharashtra
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
|How to cite this article:|
Banerjee A. Publications pressures, difficulty of being good, and the Sunday gentleman. Med J DY Patil Vidyapeeth 2019;12:1-3
“Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions,” stated Eliot. A case in point is the pressure on academics to publish or perish. This situation has come about as a consequence of well-meaning but ill-conceived regulations by academic bodies insisting on publication counts for tenure and promotion.
The stringent publication policies of the erstwhile Medical Council of India (MCI), such as giving credit to only original articles, granting academic merit to only two authors in a paper, putting embargo on e-journals, recognizing only handful of arbitrary indexing agencies, have to be appraised in proper context.
The medical teacher has a full plate: teaching commitments, outpatient care, ward work, surgery with its preoperative and postoperative care, attending to emergencies, with little time and energy for serious research. Not been trained as a researcher does not make things easier.
With pragmatic regulations, a busy clinician could have effortlessly contributed to the medical literature in the course of routine work in an ethical manner. A clinician often encounters cases with take-home messages. However, an amendment made by MCI in 2015 ruled that case report would not count as publication. The bar was raised one notch. Another stipulation was that only 1st and 2nd author would get credit for a paper. Another raised notch. In a subsequent amendment, the credit was given only to the first and the corresponding authors. Where is the method in this madness.
At the global level, all authors of a paper get equal credit. While calculating the H and i10 indices the sequence of authorship is not given any importance. All authors get equal points. To enable medical faculty to publish in an ethical way, we should not impose such stringent rules for authorship where only two authors get academic merit depriving credit to other researchers of the team.
Such short-sighted policies have the potential to vitiate the academic climate due to ill feeling and unhealthy competition. Cutting-edge research involves the pooling of expertise of different disciplines. A team is required to tackle complex medical problems. This cannot be limited to one or two authors of a paper. All authors from different disciplines irrespective of the number of authors of a research paper should get equal credit.
Equal credit will also encourage novice researchers to be co-authors with more experienced authors. This is a more realistic and honest way to start a research career. The present system promotes a number of unethical practices such as gift authorship, plagiarism, and publishing in fake journals.
The future, already encroaching on the present, is digital mode. So restricting publications to print journals is not a progressive step. Many reputed journals such as PloS Medicine and F1000, are e-journals without a print version.
Another contentious issue is the choice of indexing agencies. Only a handful of indexing and abstracting agencies are recognized for publication credits. This is like prescribing brand names of drugs instead of generic names. Who decides which indexing agency should be recognized? There are more than two dozen indexing and abstracting agencies. So publishing in a journal with proper peer review in place and indexed with any of the indexing and abstracting bodies should suffice.
Overnight we cannot exceed global standards just by tweaking the regulations to make it stringent. Such unrealistic rules and regulations lead to “Difficulty of being Good” to borrow the title of a bestseller by writer-philosopher Das. The medical teacher is tempted to resort to questionable practices to meet the unrealistic publication requirements. At stake is career and promotion.
In this context, the law of demand and supply operates. The overnight push to publish precipitated the demand for journals which would publish any article, no questions asked, in real time for a payment.
The field was set for “Predatory Journals” a term coined by Beall, to pollute the academic environment. Beall's list of predatory journals attracted immense popularity and controversies. After waking up the academic community from its slumber the controversial Beall's list vanished into the blue.
Beall had done his job. Any scholar today can easily identify such journals and publishers. The easiest way to identify a predatory journal is to submit a paper of poor quality. If the paper is accepted within 2 weeks, the journal is likely to be predatory. For those interested a list similar to Beall's, the Dolos list can be referred for identifying predatory, parasitic, and pseudoscientific publishers and journals.
After going through the list one may identify many journals where one may have inadvertently or advertently (for tenure and promotion) published. Interestingly, one may find many in the list conforming to the MCI requirements for indexing. Makes it so easy to have a clear conscience with the MCI's blessings!
The quality of paper is more important than the quality of the journal. Lists of predatory journals will always generate controversy. Ethics is subtle. Deviation from it may not always be easy to establish by regulations or law.
Integrity reflects a person's value system. Sometimes, one has to fake it to make it. The dilemma for a young faculty is in meeting the unrealistic publication requirements for an academic career without sacrificing one's integrity? How can one do this balancing act?
A cue is offered from the life and times of late bestselling author Wallace. For 20 years, he struggled as a freelance writer for various magazines. During this period, he had to compromise his writings to suit the target audience and editors. This was a compulsion to enable him to earn a livelihood. He toiled 6 days a week to avoid bankruptcy. However, to preserve his creativity and sanity he kept Sundays to himself. To write as he pleased, as a free man, for his own pleasure and satisfaction.
His genuine writings on these Sundays over a period of 20 years were compiled by him as a collection of essays with the title, “The Sunday Gentleman.” In the first chapter of this book, he narrates why he chose this title.
England in the 17th century was a tough on debtors. If caught by the creditors they were sent to debtor's prison. However, these defaulters enjoyed immunity on Sundays when no arrest could be made, the Sabbath being the Lord's Day. Hence, people in debt or facing bankruptcy would go into hiding 6 days of the week,– but on Sundays, they would appear in public as a free gentleman. On Sundays, they were free to socialize, have a drink with their friends as equals with no threat of criminal action.
One such Sunday Gentleman was Daniel Defoe, author of the classic Robinson Crusoe. In 1692, facing bankruptcy he hid from the law 6 days in a week, emerging only on Sundays to be again his own man and walk with dignity. This persona of one-seventh gentleman was preserved until he earned enough to pay his creditors.
Wallace draws parallel to his predicament for 20 years as a freelance writer with Sunday Gentlemen of 17th century England. During this period, he wrote 6 days a week to avoid going bankrupt. On the seventh day, he was the Sunday Gentleman, to do as he pleased as a free man.
Over the years, however, Sundays were not enough for Wallace as being a gentleman only once a week pricked his conscience. When he could afford, Wallace gave up his job as a freelancer and started writing books and enjoyed free life as a gentleman all 7 days a week.
I suppose by now the readers, in case they had the patience to reach this far, have understood how to cope with the pressure of publication. Six days a week they may write papers to retain their jobs for “MCI approved” journals. Sundays can be kept for genuine papers on subjects of their interest such as case reports, review articles, letters to the editor, editorials (this one was written on a Sunday), and so on. And, of course, they can abstain from submitting papers to predatory journals on Sundays and be the perfect “Sunday Gentleman.”
For those who want to walk this path, one small step at a time, a study in this issue by Mondal et al. describe how authors were asked to see their mailbox for unsolicited invitations from predatory journals on Sundays. The paper describes the efficacy of putting screen for such invitations from predatory journals with the help of “key words” identified as the trademark of such journals.
In matters of ethics or Dharma, it is personal values that lead to right action. No amount of teachings or workshops on bioethics or rules and regulations can curb the academic chaos let loose by predatory journals. Action rather than words speaks on ethical issues. To quote Taleb, “whenever I hear the phrase, “I am ethical,” I get tense. When I hear about classes in ethics, I get even tenser.” He contends that it is not institutions that have a sense of honor but individuals who do. With few exceptions, one may add.
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