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8 grad schools awarded Ph.Ds to researchers citing theses published in 'predatory journals'

This picture shows a paper submitted and published to a predatory online journal in 2014 by a U.S. researcher to prove the medium's sloppiness. The text with no scientific meaning was created by computer, and the author's name is a character in the popular American animation program "The Simpsons." (Mainichi)

OSAKA -- At least eight graduate schools awarded Ph.Ds to medical researchers who cited their past theses published in online "predatory journals" of questionable quality, a survey by a Doshisha University researcher has found.

According to associate professor Sho Sato specializing in library and information science, of 106 successful doctoral theses he examined, eight articles approved by eight graduate schools contained references to the applicants' papers published in those journals as their achievements.

The doctoral candidates apparently used the journals to pad their resumes to meet the requirement set by most universities for publication in peer-reviewed journals in awarding Ph.Ds.

In his survey, Sato randomly selected the 106 papers out of 1,381 doctoral theses found in the database of the National Institute of Informatics. They were authored by graduate school students who were granted Ph.Ds in the medical field in 2017.

When checked against a list of predatory journals prepared by an American researcher, eight theses approved by eight graduate schools cited publication of their works in such online media as achievements. Four of them were released in journals by a publisher that was sued by a U.S. governmental organization offering research grants as "unfair and fake."

The author of one of the four papers was given a Ph.D from a public university in the Kinki region in western Japan in March 2017. The school required doctoral candidates to publish research papers in a peer-reviewed journal to be considered for a doctorate. A university official in charge said the paper was "carefully reviewed by the committee of professors," adding that the school sees no problem in granting a Ph.D to the author.

Sato said that the cases he found this time are the "tip of the iceberg." The number of questionable awarding of doctoral titles "will increase further if other disciplines are examined," he said, adding that it is a big problem for predatory journals to be involved in the conferring of Ph.Ds.

(Japanese original by Shinpei Torii, Osaka Science & Environment News Department)

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