School Boots Professor Off Campus After He Exposes Its Complicity In Predatory Publishing Schemes

from the bitten-hand-bites-back dept

Predatory publishing — the pay-for-play practice that allows anyone to have their research published as soon as the check clears — may end up costing a professor his job. Derek Pyne, associate professor of economics at British Columbia’s Thompson Rivers University, has managed to turn his own campus against him simply for telling the uncomfortable truth.

His 2017 paper, The Rewards of Predatory Publication at a Small Business School, exposed the ugly side effects of the constant pressure on researchers and academics to be published. “Publish or perish,” the saying goes. And if you can’t get published by someone who thinks your research is worth publishing, get published by someone who thinks everyone with enough cash on hand deserves to be published.

What Pyne found was schools rewarding publication, whether or not the publication was bought and paid for.

It finds that the majority of faculty with research responsibilities at a small Canadian business school have publications in predatory journals. In terms of financial compensation, these publications produce greater rewards than many non-predatory journal publications. Publications in predatory journals are also positively correlated with receiving internal research awards.

Some of those who were reaping the rewards of being published by taking advantage of pay-for-play publications were Pyne’s associates at Thompson Rivers University. They didn’t appreciate being the data set Pyne used in his research paper. This backlash has led to Pyne being ousted from the campus of the school that employs him. (via Reason)

As a result of that 2017 paper and the media attention that followed, Pyne says, he’s been effectively banned from campus since May. He may visit only for a short list of reasons, such as health care. Teaching is out and so, too, is the library. It’s unclear when, or if, Pyne will be allowed to resume his normal duties.

This isn’t the only thing Pyne has done to piss off his colleagues. He’s also engaged in a number of heated arguments with faculty about the quality of the school’s grad programs and brought his numerous complaints to the press. Administrators claimed coworkers were afraid of him and demanded he undergo a psychological evaluation. His keys were taken and he was banned from campus. Pyne cleared the psych eval — one that found (understandably) Pyne felt persecuted by his employer. He’s now back on the payroll, but has been told to “cease communicating inappropriate, defamatory and insubordinate statements” about the school.

Fortunately, Pyne has a few allies. Retraction Watch — an essential site with zero sympathy for predatory publications — is now involved in Pyne’s fight against the university.

Ivan Oransky, Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University’s Arthur Carter Journalism Institute and co-founder of Retraction Watch, has followed Pyne’s case for over a year. He said recently that he was “puzzled” about “what’s actually going on. It’s not very helpful when a university takes action like this but doesn’t say why.”

That’s why Retraction Watch has argued for the release of university investigations, he said, citing an article on why Cornell University hasn’t released its findings in the Brian Wansink research misconduct case, among other similar incidents elsewhere.

He also has some free speech warriors of the Canadian variety helping him out.

Canada’s Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship has appealed to Thompson Rivers on Pyne’s behalf. The Canadian Association of University Teachers, similar to American Association of University Professors, is also looking into the case.

Thompson Rivers has refused to participate in that investigation so far, David Robinson, CAUT’s executive director, said recently.

“This is a very peculiar case,” Robinson said. “But certainly criticizing colleagues’ research or his administration is intramural speech protected by academic freedom. These are matters of educational quality. He may be correct, or he may not be correct. But he certainly has a right to express his views on educational quality.”

Entities that can’t handle criticism love shooting the messenger — especially when that messenger is pointing out the university’s willingness to reward quantity over quality. Whatever reputational damage the school and its pay-for-play professors are suffering isn’t the result of defamation or inappropriate statements from Pyne. It’s a direct result of their actions and the incentives the university employs. The university says it will reward educators who publish. And those educators are hastily shoving receipts from sketchy publications into their pockets as they make cases for merit raises. The university could have responded by altering its incentive programs, and those stung by Pyne’s research could have acknowledged their gaming of the system. Instead, they’re doing this, which is unfortunate, but also just as unfortunately, unsurprising.

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Comments on “School Boots Professor Off Campus After He Exposes Its Complicity In Predatory Publishing Schemes”

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Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Anti-intellectualism: cause, meet consequence

For all the bawling about the increase in anti-intellectualism and the assault on established institutions, etc., has it not occurred to anyone that they need to be trustworthy in order to be trusted?

Attacks on elitism begin when incidents like this occur. Mr. Pyne has not brought the university into disrepute, its own behaviour did that. What he has done is show them that a problem exists and that they ought to resolve it. They should be grateful, not doing everything they can to degrade intellectual endeavour by reducing it to a pay-for-play deal where any old Joe can get work published irrespective of its merits.

Streisand, meet effect.

Anonymous Coward says:

Poor employee performance metrics aren't anything new.

I forget what company it was, but back in my I/O Psych classes in college we heard this story. It was a call center that came up with a brilliant idea to measure employee performace through ass time. Basically, physical sensors were put on the seats and measured time with pressure. Of course this was found out by the employees, so they simply put books onto the seats when leaving for a break. Amazingly sales stayed the same, but the employees were all doing increadibly and deserving bonuses.

The sad fact is that Thompson Rivers University can’t see it’s not the school, but the way they are evaluating professor’s performance that is the issue. I’m wondering if Government funded money maybe directly related to the amount of publications published, so this is trickling downhill.

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