Monday, 6 February 2017

Academic witch hunt and publication ethics in the Czech Republic

Back in 2009, the Czech government, dissatisfied with the research output produced by the Czech Academy of Sciences, made a decision to introduce dramatic cuts to its funding. While the researchers from the fields of natural sciences mostly remained calm, knowing that if worse comes to worst, they would be able to find well-paid jobs in private sector, the social scientists engulfed Prague in massive protests. Czech sociologists, philosophers, historians were sending loud public outcries to the policy-makers begging them not to "kill the Czech science". Alarmed by these protests, the government backed up but introduced a system of research funding based on publication outputs in journals listed in Scopus and Web of Science rather than in self-published books printed in local obscure publication houses. Eight years later, it seems that the very same people who waged the war of saving the Czech science are struggling with the research criteria imposed on them by the Czech government. Thence, they invented a new tactic, now accusing everyone but themselves of publishing too much (or too little) and claiming that Scopus and Web of Science publications might not be the best measure of academic output. The Czech academic witch hunt has began.
With the unexpected shutdown of the famous "Beall's List" in mid-January 2017 (and nothing to refer to), a small but radical group of young researchers from the Czech Academy of Sciences is posting imaginary accusations on various blogs, organizes dubious conferences on the standards of academic publishing and spreads rumors both in the Czech Republic and abroad. They pose themselves as the fighters for academic purity and ethics but a closer look at the leaders of this movement tells quite a different story.
For example, Associate Professor Tereza Stöckelová who is an Editor-in-Chief of the English edition of the Sociologický časopis - Czech Sociological Review (the journal indexed in Scopus and WoS) enjoys publishing in the very same journal she is editing. One should ask: what happened to the peer review here? Stöckelová lists her 2-page editorials and "open letters" as articles in WoS database (probably in a vain attempt to boost her publication output).
Using these tactics, Stöckelová managed to get herself promoted to an Associate Professor of Sociology at the Faculty of Humanities, Charles University in Prague last year , with just a handful of publications and books published by the obscure publishers. For instance, she based her habilitation on a book published by the Sociological Publishing House (SLON) which lists Stöckelová's friend Luděk Brož alongside with Prof. Miloslav Petrusek (who passed away in 2012) as the members of its Editorial Committee). SLON might publish numerous research monographs in the field of sociology that are used by people like Stöckelová for speeding up their careers in the Czech academic system, but it also operates from an apartment building on the outskirts of Prague (an argument typically used by Jeffrey Beall in his e-mail communication with his victims on his infamous blog for adding such businesses to his list of "possible and probable predatory publishers").
Of course, there are more stories like that related to the Czech Sociological Review and SLON and people who are lurking around it. Salaries in the Czech academia are low and people have to get by somehow. With the current changes to the system of academic accreditations in the Czech Republic, the competition is getting tougher and more blood is likely to be shed. Now, that the "Beall's List" has disappeared, local academic bloggers and self-proclaimed experts are likely to create a contradicting system of values and ranking in the Czech science opening the path for the new witch hunt.