Triumph of illiteracy. How the science department can spoil the ratings of Al-Farabi

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The specialists at Scientific Publications company received an entertaining document at their disposal, which was imposed on the employees of the Al-Farabi Kazakhstan National University on behalf of the Scientific Department of the University. As the absolute leader in the field of scientometrics in the CIS countries, we have repeatedly spoken out about the activities of our employees, which are more based on a desire to prove themselves than on professionalism. In case of this document, the examination seems to be based on scraps of information from newspapers and the yellow press, but not on official sources and in-depth understanding of the sphere.

The activities of employees from scientific departments of various universities in the Republic of Kazakhstan, who actively make incompetent adjustments to the publishing activities of their colleagues, limit their capabilities to the point of absurdity, arguing this with pseudoscientific sources. Let us take a look and analyse this document in more detail.


1. Mistake # 1: Open Access is bad

2. Mistake # 2: Beall's list is still up to date

3. Mistake # 3: SJR, not CiteScore

4. Mistake # 4: Everyone has submitting systems

5. Mistake # 5: No need for confidentiality

6. Mistake # 6: International reviewers are incompetent

7. Mistake # 7: Formatting is bad

8. Will Al-Farabi remain in international rankings?


Mistake # 1: Open Access is bad

“Open Access Journals is one of the most widespread formats among scientific journals in the world, providing readers with free access to published articles. The OA format gained popularity about a decade ago. However, this format, which assumes that the author pays for the availability of the article to a wide audience, that is, a legal channel for obtaining funds from the author, has also become popular among journals with a dubious reputation."

Firstly, what is Open Access? Open Access Journals is a format of publications that provide free, full-text access to scientific information materials, implemented for any user in the global information network without any restrictions on both access tools and further use.

The first public initiative to create and promote open access was mentioned at the Budapest Conference on Open Access in February 2002 and continues to actively develop to this day. A key stage in the development of the OA format is the adoption of a global strategy for the development of science called "Plan S", which is supported by leading Western states, world famous universities and major international organisations such as the World Health Organization and the European Commission.

Today, both world-class publications with the best indicators of publication activity and less popular, but high-quality publications operate in the open access format. To date, Scopus contains indexing data for 6,324 open access journals, as well as hybrid model journals, which are published in the open and closed access. These include: The Lancet Global Health (Elsevier), Forum of Mathematics, Pi (Cambridge University Press), Journal of High Energy Physics (Springer Nature), Protein and Cell (Springer Nature) and a lot others.

We deem that questioning international trends in the development of science and the progress of publishing is the height of incompetence and hubris, groundlessly stigmatising open access journals. 

Mistake # 2: Beall's list is still up to date

"Within the framework of this policy, al-Farabi KazNU made additions to indicator 2.1.1 of the Indicative Plan, according to which, when choosing a journal to publish an article, faculty members should be guided by the criteria for identifying journals with a dubious reputation developed by Jeffrey Beall."

To understand what is the mistake of the Science Department, we have to recap history. In 2010, Jeffrey Beall published a list of predatory journals, publicly raising the curtain on the existence of counterfeit journals. He provided a list of over 1,200 journals and 1,100 publishers, exposing them for “dishonest” activities. This list ceased to exist in 2017 as it included many journals that were engaging in honest publishing activities. According to several open sources, such a rushed assessment caused enormous economic and reputational damage, thereby forcing the opening of numerous lawsuits and international proceedings where Jeffrey Beall acted as a defendant.

At present, international databases have much more sophisticated systems for analysing unscrupulous publications, for example, the Radar (Scopus) system, which excludes those who conduct unstable and unfair activities. Such exceptions occur from 2 to 5 times a year.

Thus, the staff of the Scientific Department propose to evaluate journals based on data from a dubious (and in some cases illegal) list of eleven years ago, which no country in the world is guided by anymore.

Mistake # 3: SJR, not CiteScore

“In particular, accounting only those publications (document type only Article and Review) in open access journals that are included in the first quartile according to the SJR indicator. This is conditioned by the fact that publications with a dubious reputation, using dishonest practices, are included in the second, and even the first quartile in terms of CiteScore (percentile), however, they are absent from the first quartile in terms of SJR."

All scientometric indexes of journals (in particular CiteScore and SJR), which are formed by international databases, ratings, and authoritative scientists, are based on just a few indicators: the number of articles published by the publication, the number of citations of these articles and the period of time. Further, depending on the purposes of the calculation, they are used in various formulas.

Moreover, metrics such as the quartile and percentile of a publication, which are mandatory when selecting a journal for obtaining titles or degrees in the Republic of Kazakhstan, are currently calculated in the Scopus database based on the CiteScore indicator.

It turns out that with such dubious requirements, the Scientific Department not only contradicts the statutory documents of the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Kazakhstan, but also cannot mathematically substantiate its position.

SJR or CiteScore?

Mistake # 4: Everyone has submitting systems

Mistake # 5: No need for confidentiality

Mistake # 6: International reviewers are incompetent

“If there are controversial issues requiring a detailed analysis of the publication where the article of the teaching staff was published, deputy head of the department for scientific and educational activities and/or the deputy dean for scientific information activity and international affairs have the right to request a login and password to the author's personal account in the online system of downloading the journal article to study the reviews of the article in detail. Since the main criterion for high-quality journals is quality reviews of articles submitted for publication."

Actively acting as a scientific consultant for the heads and representatives of the Ministry of Education and Science in many countries of the world, we know that not all international journals, even those with a worldwide reputation and indexing in the first quartile of the international databases Scopus and Web of Science, have an online submission system. Many journals use simplified options for accepting material, such as sending an article through a form on the site with subsequent notification by mail, or sending it in a letter format and do not have personal accounts of the authors.

  • We are sure that most of the people who read this analysis have repeatedly submitted an article in similar or alternative ways. Moreover, there is currently no filter that allows selecting from the total number of journals only those that have an automatic filing system.
  • No less controversial is the requirement to provide a wide range of people with access to personal information and confidential data. This not only contradicts all provisions of publication ethics, but also constitutes a gross violation of personal rights and freedoms.
  • How strong a conviction of their intellectual superiority must the authors of this document have to challenge and doubt the expertise of international reviewers and editors of peer-reviewed publications of high-quality databases! Indeed, very often the authors evaluate their articles quite subjectively, not always realising the relevance or importance of the study in the international community. Only the sound approach of an experienced reviewer can help create a truly great scientific article.

Mistake # 7: Formatting is bad

“Thus, when analysing individual publications by the staff of UNiPA (university publication department), it was discovered that, as comments, reviewers of journals with a dubious reputation indicated the need to edit the layout of the tables, expand the abbreviations, and change the layout of the equations.”

International publications use only high-quality publication material that meets all standards of structuring, layout, and formatting. The editors have the right to request different formats of tables, equations, text and layout of lists of references, depending on discipline, region, language and their individual professional criteria. For example, one of the most popular text formatting systems is the LaTeX system, which is used to prepare mathematical and technical data for publication in scientific publications.

Based on our experience, the computer literacy of many scientists does not include additional knowledge that is necessary for the correct preparation of materials in accordance with international standards; therefore, they often face the need to re-format and change the layout of some parts of the article after reviewing.

It turns out that the request of editors or reviewers to bring the layout of an article into a proper form, which would correspond to the requirements of scientometric bases and editorial policy of publications, constitutes a manifestation of dishonesty, and not a desire to develop science. Absurd.

Will Al-Farabi remain in international rankings?

Will Al-Farabi remain in international rankings?

“It is important to remember both for the authors themselves (teaching staff and students) and the deputy heads of the departments for scientific information activity and international affairs and deputy deans for scientific information activity and international affairs that the policy adopted at Al-Farabi KazNU in the field of publication activity and the measures taken in this area are aimed at maintaining a high reputation of the University in the national and international academia, further improving the quality of research and promoting the University in the world rankings of universities.

With such a policy, in a few years the number and quality of publications that are carried out by the employees of Al-Farabi KazNU will be reduced to such negligible indicators that the very fact of the university being in international rankings will be a big question. To help you, dear reader, imagine just how unprofessional this document is, consider the following scenario:

Within a year, a dishonest closed access Journal X, using circular citation, will easily increase the required level of the SJR indicator, create the illusion of reviewing articles and will not even specify the layout requirements for tables and formulas. Moreover, it has an automatic submission system, where robots answer instead of real people, and instead of an official publication fee, the "editorial board" will ask for a "symbolic" $ 500-1000 for expedited publication. By the way, this journal is not on Beall's list, since the journal itself is merely 2-3 years old.

According to this document, it is these publications that will be considered the benchmark in the Al-Farabi KazNU.
We hope that our analytics will make you think at least a little about the consequences that can be caused by such scientometric illiteracy. Our company's specialists are ready to speak in both public and private discussions to help eliminate logical gaps and lack of knowledge. Let us develop the science of the Republic of Kazakhstan together!

AS a reminder, we have recently released an article " How to publish in Scopus and Web of Science? New cycle of webinars on scientometrics".

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