Inquired by Prosecutors about a Conference with a Suspicion Publisher, Unicamp Opens an Inquest

(Translation of “Questionada pelo MP sobre evento com editora suspeita, Unicamp abre sindicância”, March 31, 2016.)

Site da 3ª ICCEA (Conferência Internacional de Engenharia Civil e Arquitetura), realizada em 2014 na Unicamp em parceria com a editora chinesa IACSIT. Imagem: Reprodução

District Attorney has given 90 days for the university to conclude the investigation, that it has refused to do, about a conference in partnership with a Chinese ‘predatory publisher’.

MAURICIO TUFFANI
Editor

During eight months, Unicamp (State University of Campinas) tried to justify to the Prosecution Service of State of São Paulo the organization of a conference in its own campus in 2014, in partnership with a Chinese publisher accused of violating quality standards not only in scientific publications, but also in academic conferences. In February, the university answered it had decided to open an inquiry to investigate the case. Upon receiving this response, the District Attorney of the Public Patrimony of Campinas has given a period of 90 days to complete the investigation.

Based on the opinion of the university’s attorneys, since November 2014 the Dean of Unicamp was alleging that “it is not possible to see the need for the establishment of an investigation” about the 3rd ICCEA (International Civil Engineering and Architecture Conference). Held on 30 July and 1 August 2014, the conference was the third in an annual series created by IACSIT (International Association of Computer Science and Information Technology), which is an academic publisher claiming to be based in Singapore but that has its operations in China.

Prior to the 3rd ICCEA, the reputation of IACSIT outside Brazil had already aroused the concern of some professors of the Faculty of Civil Engineering, Architecture and Urbanism. This unit of Unicamp articulated the partnership with the publisher, which since 2012 is included in the famous list of “predatory publishers” of the Scholarly Open Access blog, organized by the academic librarian Jeffrey Beall of the University of Colorado at Denver. The list includes publishers who exploit scientific journals without rigorous academic standards and that charge fees to publish articles in open access on the Internet.

In addition to being considered “predatory”, IACSIT is also mentioned in several websites of academic institutions and blogs of researchers in other countries by poorly organizing scientific conferences. In 2012 the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), founded in 1884 in the United States, stopped granting sponsorship to IACSIT.

Mischaracterization

When publishing the manuscripts presented to the 3rd ICCEA, IACSIT did not added them in the same publication, but scattered them in different editions of its journal IJET (International Journal of Engineering and Technology). In addition to this scattering, the articles contained no reference to the conference in which they were presented.

To make matters worse, at least 31 of the manuscripts presented at the 3rd ICCEA were published in August 2014, but into post dated editions from July up to December 2015 of the IACSIT journal. This mischaracterization allowed at least 30 authors to register their articles as “complete articles published in peer-reviewed journals” in their curricula — classification whose weight is greater than the “complete works published in conference proceedings” in academic evaluations for promotions or scholarships and grant awards.

These facts had already been reported by this journalist in the article “Scientists ‘embellish’ papers presented at Unicamp” published in Folha de S.Paulo on March 19, 2015. The daily newspaper widely criticised this occurence four days later in its editorial “Science in review” (03/23/2015).
Without clarifying how much was spent with the conference, Unicamp, in response to this journalist, said in a statement that 14 professors of the College of Civil Engineering, Architecture and Urbanism were part of the scientific committee, made up by 41 researchers. The University did not report, however, if the group was aware of any of the various negative information about IACSIT on the Internet.

Disappearances

Despite its commitment that led Unicamp to be the only university in the world to organize an ICCEA conference, this event in partnership with IACSIT not only disappeared from the references of sparsely published articles by this publisher. The series of conferences also disappeared even before October 2015, when it should have been held the 4th ICCEA conference in Thailand. The official ICCEA website is now inactive and does not give any information about the conference.

To make things even stranger, IACSIT itself does not indicate the annual series of ICCEA conferences in its events’ webpage, neither has in its list of publications the IJET journal, which stayed without editor-in-chief for at least ten months after this journalist have found that the Pakistani engineer had unduly presented himself as a professor of a US university (“Fasten your seat belts, the editor is gone!” blog Mauricio Tuffani, Folha de S.Paulo, 03/21/2015).

“Lack of evidence”

The DA’s office action started from a representation sent in June 2015 by Vinicius Arcaro, a professor at the College of Civil Engineering, Architecture and Urbanism. In September last year, about a month after the completion of the 3rd ICCEA, he had asked the Dean of Unicamp to open an inquiry to establish responsibilities. Two months later came the opinion of the university’s attorneys, based on information from the College of Civil Engineering, Architecture and Urbanism, claiming that there was no evidence to justify the investigation.

Arcaro is on sabbatical leave at the Ohio State University in Columbus, USA. Approached by telephone by this journalist, he said that he prefers not to comment on the matter, since the inquires were not yet completed, either by the university or by the District Attorney Cristiane Hillal, who is responsible for the case. Arcaro only confirmed that he have already testified through Skype to the inquiry committee, without providing further details.

The information in this text concerning the Prosecution Service of State of São Paulo was provided by its press office. Unicamp, the IACSIT publisher and the IJET journal did not respond to questions sent by e-mail on the 24th and repeated yesterday (March 30).

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