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Of fake degrees and journals – The inconvenient conversation African universities must have

GraduatesThe ongoing discourse on the credibility of some doctoral degrees and the credibility of the institutions that confer them has exposed the vulnerability of our institutions—especially our educational institutions and their administrators to substandard academic practices, manipulation of academic processes, and the outright use of subterfuge by some individuals to buy space in our academic environments.

Furthermore, it has also exposed a deepening crisis of dilution of what actually constitutes credible knowledge produced by academicians. It is not an overstatement to say that the institutional capacities of many of our universities in Ghana and elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa to differentiate between credible knowledge forms, based on time-tested institutionally accepted processes and norms, have been seriously compromised in a lot of places, placing the future of knowledge production and use in Ghana in particular and in Sub-Saharan Africa generally in jeopardy.

In this essay, we address the challenges and the opportunities for redeeming knowledge production in Ghanaian universities and elsewhere on the African continent. We believe that the continuous unregulated process of what is accepted as knowledge in our academic institutions has profound implications for the current and future development of Ghana and other Sub-Saharan African countries.

If we were asked what it means to produce credible knowledge in the academy, we would start by addressing the exigency of the research endeavor itself, a need which leads to the enactment of the scientific method, the latter meaning, stating the problem of research in specific ways, adhering to analytic models within specific orientations, and following specific criteria for evaluation in the chosen model. However, since scientific models themselves, in the postmodern framework, are open to all forms of permutations and integrations, leaving them at the dictate or the ingenuity of the researcher, who can integrate or amalgamate them, or let them stand alone, the most prudent thing is to head straight to the knowledge validation process, which is the culmination of all research endeavors. For any work to qualify in academic settings as adding to knowledge, it must pass the litmus test of going under the lens of peers within the community of scholars in one’s chosen field. This process known as the peer-review process is supposed to be stringent in its anonymity, creating a double-blind between the author/researcher and the reviewer, so they cannot identify each other. The idea is to ensure that every one gets a similar unbiased review which could lead to a rejection, acceptance, or the demand for revision and resubmission. Most academics who are familiar with this process can attest to the rigor of the process for top tier journals. Thus, when the green light is finally given for a paper to be published, it becomes a reliable source of information for policy formulation, foundation for further research, and a source of knowledge for addressing some societal challenges.

As inferable from the foregoing, when the peer-reviewed process is compromised, the outcome has implications, particularly, for future research and policy. This does not, however, mean that organizations, agencies, and individuals cannot institute their own research, which may not go through the stringent peer-review process. In certain instances, intellectuals can write papers intended to engage a wide section of the public, thus stepping into the public space and walking the delicate line of addressing both the academy and the general reader. The question is: can this paper serve as a basis for promotion and tenure? The answer is, they can augment the peer-review publications, but cannot stand alone as items for promotion and tenure. The problem in the academy in most developing countries today is not the problem of non- peer-reviewed papers being passed as such for the purposes of promotion and tenure. Rather, the problem is that purported peer-reviewed papers, whose peer-review processes have been compromised or do not have such processes at all, are being passed as such for tenure and promotion. With the advent of the Internet, most journals have migrated online, some with open access publications. Migrating online with open access publications does not, however, relegate the peer-review process to oblivion. Journals still maintain stringent processes to ensure that the anonymity and the quality of papers they publish are held to high academic standards. But the unlimited possibilities of the Internet have also made it possible for crooks to employ the medium to subterfuge gullible academics into believing that they are publishing with outstanding journals with stringent peer-review processes. Many academics have fallen for this scam.

Modus Operandi of Predatory Publishers

In what has become known as Beall’s List of predatory publishers, Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado Aurora Library, meticulously conducted background checks on academic journals and publishers and compiled a list of journals with questionable backgrounds that academics must avoid at all cost. Beall identified three (3) categories of these journals—predatory publishers, predatory standalone journals, and hijacked journals—and their misleading metric companies. For predatory journals, Beall identified the “single title” journals and the “fleet journals” and provided the criteria for the determination of these journals (Please follow the link to these publishers: https://scholarlyoa.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/criteria-2015.pdf). By way of example, the International Institute of Science, Technology and Research (IISTE) is an example of a fleet publisher, with multi-title journal names. International Center for Business Research fits the criteria for a “single title” journal. The criteria for determining predatory standalone journals are also derived from the criteria for the predatory publishers. For the hijacked journals, just as the name implies, the crooks will create a counterfeit of a legitimate scholarly journal and then go on to solicit for manuscripts. In tandem with this development, misleading metrics companies have also emerged, purporting to provide valid scholarly metrics to measure the impact of these journals and articles (Please follow the link to these companies here https://scholarlyoa.com/other-pages/misleading-metrics/).

Scholars are, then, lured by these journals and publishers to submit articles for fees ranging from $150 or more to an upper bracket of $4000 or more. No field of human endeavor is exempt from the practice. From Archeology to Zoology, including Medicine, these journals have infiltrated the academy. The result of this development is the bastardization of the time-tested peer review process that has spread across many developing countries like a wildfire, leaving in its trail poor quality of research outcomes. If we agree that the quality of the review process has implications for research results, and subsequent policy formulation and further research, then we are already unsuspectingly reaping the results of these poor educational outcomes in many of our universities.

We are aware that it is not a pleasant situation for an academic to spend long years, resources, and energy to produce work, based on which he/she is promoted for academic laurels, only to be told years later the work has failed the litmus test of the time-tested academic procedures. One advantage of studying in the West is that, you get to understand these issues quite early in your academic career and can steer clear from these pitfalls, which could undo your whole academic life and experience.

Personal Experience

In 2010, after completing and publishing his master’s thesis, Dr. Prosper Yao Tsikata was contacted by Lambert Academic Publishing with a publishing contract. He was so excited his work would go beyond staying on the shelves at Ohio University’s Alden Library, and that a wider public was going to read his work. He quickly signed the contract and ceded copyrights to this publishing house. Soon after that, this manuscript made it into a book. Dr. Tsikata boldly added this publication to his CV as a mark of academic attainment. Even though a chapter he culled from this work was reviewed by the Computer-Mediated Communication Journal with feedback for revision, the publication of this book before he could complete the revision invariably rendered the possibility of publishing the article with the CMC impracticable. Nevertheless, Dr. Tsikata was still buoyant that his thesis has made it into print. It was in the first year of his PhD that he discovered that, just as there are diploma mills, there are also wayward publishers with all kinds of derogatory names: vanity press, predatory press, and publishing mills, among other derogatory names. Thanks to Ohio University’s professional seminars for PhDs! (Please follow the links to popular views on this publisher and Tsikata’s publication:

  1. https://www.amazon.com/Cyber-Dimension-Citizen-Participation-Ghanaweb/dp/3844392963
  2. https://scholarlyoa.com/2012/11/05/lambert-academic-publishing-a-must-to-avoid/
  3. http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2014/03/lap_lambert_academic_publishing_my_trip_to_a_print_content_farm.html).

Quietly, Dr. Tsikata dropped that book from the list of publications on his CV, after finding out all the negative online reviews about this publisher and consulting a senior faculty. He was, therefore, rightly shocked when a colleague of his in a Ghanaian institution presented the same material for tenure and promotion in his institution and it was accepted and validated. This event made Tsikata to start looking seriously into the issue of predatory publications generally and started sending emails to some of our local universities to inquire about these issues. The responses from our universities generally painted a profound lack of understanding regarding these issues. So, for those who might think Tsikata and Dotse are out to witch-hunt particular individuals, the issue is about individual and institutional honesty and integrity, which leads to high academic quality and standards.

On another score, we have paid publication fees for a friend who was caught up in the fraudulent publication web. While we duly warned him about the consequences of this fraud, he seemed to have been operating from a point of ignorance. Although he did not initially know about the existence of these predatory publishing sources as a form of fraud, when he came to understand it later, his response was yet indifference. He retorted that all his colleagues were doing it, so what was wrong if he did it too? The lessons from this personal narrative is that while some scholars are aware of this scam, others are likely completely oblivious to these gigantic traps in the academy. The temptation is that as the fraudulent practices go unchecked, they become widely entrenched as normal modus operadum in the academy.

Ideological Dimensions of Argument

To give the devil his due, a devil’s advocate may ask by whose authority Jeffrey Beall declares a journal and its publishers predatory. Clearly, even though the devil is in the details, Beall is cautionary with his classifications. Beall’s operational catchphrase: “potential, possible, or probable predatory journal,” provides an ambiguous stretch for some academics to argue that the fact that a journal has been declared “potential, possible, or probable predatory” does not necessarily make it predatory. Others may even go on to argue that, since the so-called highly rated journals are mostly Western-centric, their editors hardly understand issues from other socio-cultural, economic, and political perspectives or contexts. This situation makes rejection of papers from other socio-cultural, economic, and political context, particularly Sub-Saharan African contexts, very high among Western-centric top tier journals.

While the foregoing is plausible, we should be reminded that these ideological fault lines are only meant to ensnare the unsuspecting into believing that Westerners tend to spurn Afrocentric papers for lack of interest or incongruity of the interest of its readership to issues contained in these Afrocentric papers. But even if such is the case, what stops professional bodies on the African continent and African universities and their departments from initiating and promoting their own journals? So that this way, Sub-Saharan African scholars would be able to monitor and maintain the quality of the research enterprise. Hiding behind ideological fault lines or the ambiguity of Beall’s “potential, possible, or probable” classification does not exonerate scholars who fall prey to these fraudulent journals. The point is that there are reputable Afrocentric journals sponsored by African universities and academic departments which can equally serve as conduits for peer reviewed publications.

Turning to predatory journals cannot be a solution. We are aware that some scholars think that once the name “International” appears in the name of the journal, it must be something good. Far from that. Indeed, some of these fraudulent journals are nothing but a one-man operation, where the same person is the editor, the reviewer, and the publisher, and most probably, without a postgraduate education. Most of these fraudulent journals can be traced to Nigeria, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the US, among other countries. This scam is well wide spread and has assumed epidemic proportions.

Implications for Failing to Act

As is the case, tenure and promotion committees in most African universities are unable to recognize works published in these fraudulent journals, since most members of these committees in many African universities are political appointees, not necessarily based on an in-depth understanding of the intricacies of the academic environment. As a general perspective, according to Beall, when an authentic scholar’s work appears side-by-side other works that contain author misconduct, such as plagiarism, image and manipulation, etc., it devalues the work of the honest and credible author.

Specifically, with regard to Sub-Saharan Africa, academics from other countries and geographical regions of the world tend to look down on our academic institutions, certificates, and scholars from these institutions as unscholarly bunch of jokers. If a high school leaver or an undergraduate can set up an online scheme to scam our top academics or scholars in these ways, why do we have to regard you as a scholar of equal standing? Furthermore, we must be aware that when fraudulently published academic papers become the basis for policy formulation and implementation, they shake the very foundation of our society. From the construction of bridges, planning of cities, implementation of business plans, execution of medical decisions, and promotion and tenure of scholars in the academy, this situation hurts our society and its development pathways in profound ways.

The Publicly Displayed Profile of Dr. Gerald Dapaah Gyamfi Interrogated

In his publicly displayed profile, the Dean, Weekend School, Dr. Gerald Dapaah Gyamfi, displays about 10 peer reviewed articles (Please follow the link to his profile: http://upsa.edu.gh/history.php?page=10#openModal4). By academic standards, these articles must have been the basis for his promotion and tenure. But a critical interrogation of these articles revealed that only three of these articles can be said to have passed the litmus test of the double-blind peer review process. Analyses of the articles are as follows:

  1. Gyamfi, G.D. (2013b). Evaluating entrepreneurship education as a tool for economic growth: The Ghanaian experience. British Journal of Education, Society and Behavioral Science, 4(3), 318-335. This Journal is published by Science Domain International, a predatory journal based in India with addresses purporting to be UK-based (Please follow the link to information about this journal:
  2. https://scholarlyoa.com/2015/04/09/oa-publisher-to-peer-reviewer-never-mind/
  3. http://enrobe5.rssing.com/chan-3627281/all_p282.html
  4. http://www.braincontour.com/2014/04/02/is-sciencedomain-org-a-scam-science-domain-international-publication-solicits-manuscript-review/).
  1. Gyamfi, G.D. (2013). Application of Student Development Theory: A Phenomenological Study of Needy Students. International Journal of Development and Sustainability, 2(2), 1-12. The publisher of this journal is listed on the Beall’s list of predatory journals (please follow the link here https://scholarlyoa.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/2013-lists2.pdf).
  1. Gyamfi, G.D. (2008) Assessing brain drain and its associated effects on the economy of Ghana. Pentvars Business Journal, 3, 50-59. This journal is established and run by the Pentecost University of Ghana; thus, its authenticity is not in doubt. If in doubt, promotion and tenure committees can easily check authenticity.
  1. Gyamfi, G.D. (2011). Assessing the effects of industrial unrest on Ghana health service: A case study of nurses at Korle-Bu teaching hospital. International Journal of Nursing and Midwifery, 3(11), 1-5. The authenticity of this journal can be ascertained. This journal in our view is authentic, unless proven otherwise by any investigator.
  1. Gyamfi, G.D. (2012). Evaluating the relationship between selection requirements and performance of police personnel in Ghana. Human Resource Management Research, 2(1), 1-5. This journal is published by Scientific and Academic Publishing, which is listed as a predatory publisher on the Beall’s list (Please follow the link here https://scholarlyoa.com/2012/02/05/new-publisher-scientific-academic-publishing/).
  1. Gyamfi, G.D. (2012). Assessing the effectiveness of credit risk management techniques of microfinance firms in Ghana. Journal of Science and Technology, 32(1), 96-103. This journal is published by University of Science and Technology. Thus, authentic. If authenticity is in doubt, it can easily be checked.
  1. Gyamfi, G.D. (2016). Police governance and human trafficking: The Ghanaian experience. Police Practice and Research: An International Journal, 17(5) doi 10.1080/15614263.1196912. This article cannot be found with either the digital object identifier (doi), a unique alphanumeric string to identify content on the Internet, or with the heading of the article.
  1. Gyamfi, G.D. (2014). Influence of job stress on job satisfaction: Empirical evidence from Ghana police. International Business Research, 7(9), 108-118. Published by the Canadian Center of Science and Education. This publisher is listed on Beall’s predatory publishers list.
  1. Gyamfi, G.D., Agyemang, C.B., & Nyanyofio, J.G., (2014). Job stress, sector of work, and shift-work pattern as correlates of worker health and safety: A study of manufacturing company in Ghana. International Journal of Business and Management, 9(7). Published by the Canadian Center of Science and Education. Same as number eight (8).
  1. Gyamfi, G.D., Underdahl, L., Daou, N., Ramlal-Chirkoot, L., Stott, Y., & Dell, G.V. (2013). Millenial University: Today’s Learner’s-tomorrow’s leaders. The Exchange: A Journal of Academic Forum, 2(1), 20-29. The status of this journal yet to be determined.

The point is that if out of ten (10) articles published by a scholar, the authenticity of six (6) of them are in question, wherein lies the integrity that should guide the academic endeavor or enterprise? The disconcerting aspect of this continuing discourse is that we have individuals who claim to have double doctoral degrees from either institutions that are unaccredited or are in some shadowy relationships with other institutions, e.g., the Swiss Management Center (SMC), UGSM Monarch Business School, Atlantic International University, Central University of Nicaragua, Universidad Azteca, etc., and the same individuals are also the ones being accused of suspicious scholarly outputs. Juxtapose on this, we have a hydra-headed academic situation on our hands. This will certainly undermine quality academic output both in the long-term and the short-term.

While the University of Professional Studies, Accra (UPSA), Alabi-led administration in particular, and many African universities in general, are likely to believe that they are doing the right things for their institutions, as it is in the management of organizations, we tend to carry favorite solutions in our minds and look for problems that fit them. In this regard, when others who are not part of our organizations are pointing to the missing tooth of the jigsaw, we tend to look at them with suspicion, anger, and rancor. However, it is not uncommon that when malfeasance is uncovered and exposed, the protagonists go through the well-known Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief. These stages consist of denial at first, followed by anger, then comes bargaining, depression sets in, and finally acceptance. It is not lost on us that the tarried trajectory the diatribe has taken is ample testimony of the state of mind of all those parties involved.

Drawing Down the Curtain

One important recommendation to rescue the academic enterprise in UPSA, other Ghanaian universities, and on the continent of Africa would for libraries and senior faculties in our local universities to organize series of seminars on academic publishing. We need to start from the scratch. All our lecturers need to be taught the rudiments of publishing. It needs to be part of the Quality Assurance Exercise of our local universities.

As concerned Ghanaian citizens, we will continue to highlight these issues to educate both the general public, Ghanaian scholars, and their students about these pitfalls. Academic committees in Ghana and elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa can choose to act now to save the situation or ride with the consequential and disastrous downturn and be complicit in the tempestuous scam on our hands. As pointed out by Beall, academic committees can decide for themselves, in their institutional context, what is relevant and what is irrelevant. But choosing to act or not has consequences; it is probably best to act than not.

By Prosper Yao Tsikata, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Communication & A .Kobla Dotse, Ph.D., Director, Chemical Research & Development

Postscript for Further Reading on these Issues:

AJCU Business Deans’ Resolution on Predatory Journals

  1. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55d1dd88e4b0dee65a6594f0/t/564b5e8c841abae9c84f1226/1447779980530/AJCU+Business+Deans+Resolution+on+Predatory+Publishing.pdf

Federal Lawsuit

  1. https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2016/08/ftc-charges-academic-journal-publisher-omics-group-deceived
  2. http://www.chronicle.com/article/Federal-Prosecutors-Join-Fight/237615

Jeffrey Beall’s Continuing Work on Predatory Journals

  1. https://scholarlyoa.com/2016/01/05/bealls-list-of-predatory-publishers-2016/
  2. https://www.facebook.com/POA.Publishers/

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