Calling on Librarians to Help Ensure the Credibility of Published Research Results

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Guest post by Jennifer Marill, Kathryn Funk, and Jerry Sheehan.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) took a simple but significant step Friday to protect the credibility of published findings from its funded research.

NIH Guide Notice OD-18-011 calls upon NIH stakeholders to help authors of scientific journal articles adhere to the principles of research integrity and publication ethics; identify journals that follow best practices promoted by professional scholarly publishing organizations; and avoid publishing in journals that do not have a clearly stated and rigorous peer review process. The notice identifies several resources authors can consult when considering publishing venues, including Think Check Submit, a publishing industry resource, and consumer information on predatory journals from the Federal Trade Commission.

Librarians have an especially important role to play in guiding researcher-authors to high-quality journals. Librarians regularly develop and apply rigorous collection criteria when selecting journals to include in their collections and make available to their constituents. Librarians promote high-quality journals of relevance to their local communities. As a result, librarians are extremely familiar with journal publishers and the journals their constituents use for research and publication.

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) is no exception. One of NLM’s important functions is to select journals for its collection. The journal guidelines from the NLM Collection Development Manual call for journals that demonstrate good editorial quality and elements that contribute to the objectivity, credibility, and scientific quality of its content. It expects journals and journal publishers to conform with guidelines and best practices promoted by professional scholarly publishing organizations, such as the recommendations of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors and the joint statement of principles of the Committee on Publication Ethics, Directory of Open Access Journals, Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association and World Association of Medical Editors.

Criteria for accepting journals for MEDLINE or PubMed Central are even more selective, reflecting the considerable resources associated with indexing the literature and providing long-term preservation and public access to full-text literature. MEDLINE currently indexes some 5,600 journals; PubMed Central has about 2,000 journals that regularly submit their full content. PubMed Central is also the repository for the articles resulting from NIH-funded research.

For the most part, NIH-funded researchers do a good job of publishing in high-quality journals.  More than 815,000 journal articles reporting on NIH-funded research have been made publicly accessible in PubMed Central since the NIH Public Access policy became mandatory in 2008. More than 90 percent of these articles are published in journals currently indexed in MEDLINE. The remainder are distributed across thousands of journals, some 3,000 of which have only a single article in PubMed Central. While many are quality journals with sound editorial practices, effective peer review, and scientific merit, it can often be difficult for a researcher-author to evaluate these factors.

That’s where local librarians can be of great assistance. And many already are—helping researchers at their local institutions select publishing venues.

If you have a good practice in your library, let us know about it so we can all learn how best to protect the credibility of published research results.

Jennifer Marill serves as chief of NLM’s Technical Services Division and the Library’s collection development officer. Kathryn Funk is a program manager and librarian for PubMed Central. And Jerry Sheehan is the Library’s deputy director.

2 thoughts on “Calling on Librarians to Help Ensure the Credibility of Published Research Results”

  1. Librarians do take a very active role in Scholarly Communications, more so now than ever. The acknowledgement of their engagement and influence in responding to the problem of questionable publishers is important here. Thank you. I would however, like to express my concern that despite the selective criteria for indexing articles in Medline, I have seen citations in PubMed from questionable publishers, including one by OMICS International, which is currently the defendant in a lawsuit filed by the FTC for dishonest and misleading publishing practices. The journal for this citation was not actually indexed in Medline, but this is discovered only by looking at the NLM Catalog Record for the journal – something many users of PubMed may not know to do. Required deposits to PubMed Central via the NIH Public Access Policy was the reason for the presence of the citation in PubMed, but I did see another citation for a non-indexed journal, also from a questionable publisher. This particular article was not deposited with PubMed Central. Casual and inexperienced users see a citation in PubMed, and trust its presence there as valid, and likely proceed with using it for their work. Users are usually not aware of the difference between Medline and PubMed, so has become part of my practice to alert our faculty and students to this situation as best I can, and to encourage thorough vetting of any publication they are not familiar with, regardless where they found the citation. With citations from “predatory” publishers creeping into respected indexes, despite a formal vetting process, it is increasingly up to the end user to know how to evaluate the source of information. Librarians can, and do, take the lead in educating their patrons. This is critical for those involved in the Health Sciences and its related professions.

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    1. You are right that there are citations in PubMed from publishers and journals that have not been selected for MEDLINE or PubMed Central. For that reason and others, a researcher cannot assume that a journal that appears in PubMed adheres to good publishing practices (though most do). That’s why it’s incredibly important for the library community to be engaged. Thank you for the assistance you provide researchers at your institution.

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