Not long ago I wrote about a Chinese journal that said that about a third of its submissions turned out to contain plagiarized material. Journal publishing in that country is apparently a real swamp, and the Chinese government has taken the publishers by surprise with an announcement that they're going to drain it:
Li Dongdong, a vice-minister of state and deputy director of the General Administration of Press and Publications (GAPP) — the powerful government body that regulates all publications in China — acknowledged that the country's scientific publishing had a "severe" problem, with "a big gap between quality and quantity", and needed reform.
Opening a meeting of scientific publishers in Shanghai on 7 September, Li announced that by January 2011, new regulations will be used to "terminate" weak journals.
Precisely how this reform will work is the subject of hot debate. . .News of the regulation startled many of the publishers at last week's meeting.
I'll bet it did, particularly those publishers who are turning out junk. And believe me, you know if you're publishing a crappy journal full of papers that no one reads. As that Nature News article goes on to detail, China is full of "campus journals", which exist only for the local grad students and the like to accumulate lines on their publication record. A colleague of mine used to call such titles "The Journal of Our Results", and that's right on target.
But while I can understand China's desire to upgrade its sometimes embarrassing scientific publishing world, I have to worry about the way that they're choosing to do it - not that it doesn't fit the best traditions of the Chinese government, mind you. This sit-still-while-we-fix-you approach may work in the short term, but if there's a demand for the Journal of Our Results (from authors, if not readers), then won't such titles just spring back up again under different names? As longtime readers here will easily be able to guess, I'd prefer a more market-oriented solution.
If the committees evaluating publishing records decided not to value such journals, much of their reason to exist would presumably vanish. While it's true that there's no perfect way to evaluate journals, a situation like China's - overrun with Journal of Whoozat Technical Colleges, 98% stocked with multi-part papers from the faculty of Whoozat - would seem to be waiting for everyone to just stop pretending. This let's-be-honest-here approach would let the people publishing this junk continue to exist, but they'd probably have to find a better business model.
As it is, just shutting these people down doesn't do anything for the let's-pretend side of the market, which I presume will continue to exist. And it'll probably be filled by the all-new Proceedings of the Whoozat Academy, Whoozat Letters, Acta Whoozatica, and who knows what else.