Upholding Research Integrity in Preservation and Archiving

By Gali Halevi, MLS, PhD
Collection Director at CLOCKSS

In the dynamic world of academic publishing, maintaining the integrity of research is absolutely crucial. These journals bear the weighty responsibility of upholding the principles of research integrity and appropriate scholarly conduct.

However, in recent times, a troubling trend has emerged. Predatory journals and paper mills have begun to proliferate, casting a shadow over the sanctity of academic research. Alongside this surge, there has been a disconcerting increase in the number of retracted articles, revealing cracks in the foundation of research integrity.

The numbers are staggering. Cabell’s, a reputable source in academic publishing, reports a shocking 17,000 journals flagged as predatory in their database https://cabells.com/solutions/predatory-reports. Meanwhile, the Retraction Watch database catalogues over 50,000 retracted articles http://retractiondatabase.org/, serving as a grim reminder of the challenges we face.

While organizations like COPE diligently strive to raise awareness about these pressing issues, the onus ultimately falls on publishers and editors to ensure that the research they disseminate meets the highest standards of integrity. They are the gatekeepers entrusted with the task of safeguarding the integrity of scholarly discourse.

In the realm of preservation and archiving, the complexities abound, particularly because organizations in this sphere aren't directly involved in the publishing process. Yet, when it comes to safeguarding against false journals or predatory publications, the challenges are undeniable and everyone has a part to play. First and foremost, there's the issue of inadvertently perpetuating misinformation. Think about it: archiving retracted articles or dubious journals might unknowingly keep false claims alive. Imagine a researcher diving into archived articles, completely unaware of their retracted status. The result? The dissemination of inaccurate or unreliable information, which can have far-reaching consequences. Then, there are the ethical dilemmas. Archiving unreliable or fictitious publications raises serious questions about the dissemination of flawed or fraudulent research. Without proper labelling or warning signs, the lack of context could seriously erode public trust in the scientific process. After all, if people can't rely on the integrity of academic publishing, what can they trust? And let's not forget the practical implications. Archiving such publications isn't just a matter of hitting the save button. It comes with real costs—storage space, maintenance, staff time—the list goes on. By allocating resources to preserve these dubious materials, we're inevitably diverting attention and funding from other critical archival priorities, like preserving valuable research or championing open access to scholarly literature.

In confronting these multifaceted challenges, maintaining the integrity of academic discourse remains paramount. It's not solely about safeguarding the present dialogue but also about honouring the continuum of scholarly inquiry. However, alongside this commitment lies the pragmatic concern of resource allocation. The scholarly enterprise relies on efficient resource management to propel advancements, making every allocation decision pivotal.

Moreover, time adds a nuanced dimension to this discourse. What may be regarded as a seminal contribution today might undergo reassessment tomorrow. Therefore, while the impulse to expunge retracted content from archives may seem warranted, it's imperative to exercise caution. Deleting such content risks erasing valuable lessons learned and insights gained from past missteps. Instead, a nuanced approach is required—one that acknowledges the evolving nature of academic discourse and preserves a comprehensive record while ensuring transparency and accountability.

In essence, navigating these challenges isn't merely about striking a balance; it's about orchestrating a symphony of considerations—balancing the imperatives of integrity, resource allocation, and temporal dynamics. By embracing this complexity with diligence and foresight, we uphold the credibility and trustworthiness of the scholarly community, ensuring its enduring legacy of knowledge dissemination and discovery.

It's a daunting task, but one that's absolutely essential in upholding the credibility and trustworthiness of the scholarly community.

Although archives and digital preservation services lack the capacity to directly enforce research integrity at the publication level, they can implement measures to prevent the preservation of misleading or fabricated publications.

To mitigate the risks associated with preserving false journals or predatory publications, archives and digital preservation services can implement measures such as the following:

  1. Evaluate Retraction Rates: Before archiving a journal, assess its retraction rate to gauge its reliability and integrity. Journals with a high proportion of retractions may be indicative of editorial laxity or ethical issues.
  2. Review Editorial Team: Investigate the credentials and affiliations of the journal's editorial team. A reputable journal should have a diverse and qualified editorial board with expertise in the field, comprising respected scholars and researchers.
  3. Examine Journal Website: Scrutinize the journal's website for transparency and credibility indicators. Look for clear editorial policies, publication ethics statements, and information about peer review procedures. A lack of transparency or vague policies may signal potential issues with the journal's integrity.
  4. Assess Peer Review Procedures: Verify the journal's peer review process to ensure it adheres to rigorous standards. Look for evidence of double-blind peer review, transparent review criteria, and reviewer guidelines. A robust peer review process is essential for maintaining the quality and reliability of published research.
  5. Engage in Due Diligence: Conduct thorough due diligence before archiving any publication. Consult reputable sources, such as indexing databases, academic directories, and professional organizations, to verify the credibility and legitimacy of the journal.
  6. Establish Clear Archiving Criteria: Develop clear criteria for determining which journals to archive based on their adherence to research integrity standards. Consider factors such as indexing in reputable databases, adherence to publication ethics guidelines, and endorsement by recognized scholarly organizations.
  7. Provide Contextual Information: When archiving publications, provide contextual information about retractions or concerns regarding the journal's integrity. Ask the publisher whether there is a clear label of retracted articles and include information about the reasons for retraction or any ethical issues associated with the journal.

By implementing these measures, archives and digital preservation services can play a proactive role in upholding research integrity and preventing the preservation of misleading or fabricated publications. By maintaining high standards of transparency, credibility, and ethical conduct, preservation organizations can contribute to the reliability and trustworthiness of scholarly literature for future generations of researchers.

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