Predatory Publishing (and does footwear in runners influence foot ‘disease’?)

What has that got to do with running? At first glance not a lot, but bear with me. I was first alerted to the concept of predatory publishing by Hylton Menz a while back in the context of a new journal that was launched by a predatory publisher, Clinical Research on Foot and Ankle (and yes, that is how they grammatically call it, which probably should be the first red flag).

Open access publishing has been somewhat of a revolution in publishing science and has increased the accessibility of research and is a very legitimate way of publishing research. There are several high impact and credible journals that are open access. I am most familiar with the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research (of which Hylton Menz is the editor-in-chief) which is backed by BioMed Central  and I have reviewed several papers published in PLOS ONE which is backed by  the Public Library of Science. They do charge authors a fee for publication (which is waived in certain circumstances) to allow for the open access as opposed to being locked behind a paywall restricting public access.

This charging of a fee and the low barrier to entry to open access publishing as a business model has led to a signification upsurge in the number of ‘for profit’ open access journals, many of which would be considered predatory to exploit academics and the business model. Characteristically a predatory open access publisher often:

  • charges a fee for publication (but so do the high ranking open access publishers)
  • generally have poor quality websites with spelling and grammar errors (most often due to English not being the first language of whoever created the website)
  • editorial boards that are made up of people with no significant history or track record in the discipline
  • editorial boards with fake academics or using an academic’s name without permission
  • not supported or backed by any academic or professional organisations
  • offer an expedited peer review that may be fake or less than rigorous
  • the quality of the publications are often poor (one may make the assumption that the publication may have been rejected from higher quality journals)

For more on predatory open access publishing see the Wikipedia page and Jeffrey Bealls list of predatory publishers.

The only reason I raise the above is that the publication below turned up in my alerts. First thing I noted was that I had not previously heard of the journal it was published in. I then noticed that the journal was on Beall’s list, so that was a red flag for it might not going to be very good and a cursory look at the abstract did not look good for it either. I was going to ignore it, so sat on it for a few weeks, then thought I could use it as an opportunity to spread the word above about predatory open access publishing! I also do not want to be accused of cherry picking and just ignoring some studies.

Does foot wear influence the occurrence of foot defects, deformities and diseases in long and middle distance runners?- An analytic cross sectional study
Watson Arulsingh and Ganesh S Pai
European Journal of Sports and Exercise Science, 2014, 3 (3):42-60  (PDF full text)
As controversy persists in the claims of barefoot running versus modernized running shoe in gaining advantage over injury prevention in running. Though literature goes on saying ill fitted shoes can cause foot problems like onychocryptosis, hyperidrosis, bromidrosis, hallux Valgus, hallux varus, arch collapse and the like. No studies have exclusively tested the correlation of shoe components to the occurrence of foot defects, deformities and diseases in endurance runners. 77 middle and long distance shod runners were chosen for this study to be screened for their various foot defects, deformities and diseases with validated tools. Bivariate non parametric test used to correlate shoe components to foot disorders. In the result shoe upper material made up of mesh correlated negatively with foot deformities. Shoe outer material made up of plastic correlated positively with foot defects r=0.35 and heel- forefoot height difference above 3cm correlated positively r=0.23 with foot defects. When shoe fixation components correlated, board lasting type had shown positive correlation of r=0.36 to occurrence of foot defects and positive correlation with foot deformities. Combination type had shown negative correlation with foot defects and also with foot deformities. Forefoot flexion point at proximal to first MTP joint correlated negatively with the occurrence of foot deformities (r=-.24) and forefoot flexion point at distal to first MTP joint correlated positively with foot defects (r=0.19). Shoes with fair motion control exhibited negative correlation to foot defects and medially tilted upper exhibited positive correlation (r=0.26). Shoes with no midsole wear pattern (MSWP) exhibited negative correlation to foot deformity and medially tilted wear pattern positive correlated. Shoes with normal way of outer sole wear pattern (OSWP) exhibited positive correlation to foot diseases and laterally worn OSWP exhibited positive correlation to foot deformities. All these variables discussed here have shown statistical significance.

I really struggled to work out the details of what they even did in this study, how they actually handled the data and what they actually found! But, here goes:

  • they conducted a whole lot of measurements and observations in 77 shoe wearing runners in Mangalore, India who had a minimum of 3 years running experience
  • the measurements looked at foot morphology, foot posture, ranges of motion and the presence/absence of a lot of things. They also did a number of measurements and observations on the shoes used and their characteristics
  • to the studies credit, most of the measurements and observations used were valid and well known good ‘tools’
  • they used that information to somehow “score” for foot defects (Black toenail, thick toenail, Bunions, neuromas, march fracture, jones fracture. tarsal tunnel syndrome, blisters, corns, callosities, fissures, Ingrown toe nail, calcaneal prominence) and foot deformities (overriding toe, hallux valgus, curly toe,  hammer toe,   hallux flexus, hallux rigidus,  pes planes, claw toe, mallet toe,  foot splaying,  calcaneo varus,  calcaneo valgus,  forefoot valgus, forefoot varus) and foot disease (Plantar warts, tinea pidea and toe nail Fungus).

They then went on a fishing expedition looking for correlations (using Spearmans) to find a correlation between the presence of foot disease, foot deformity or foot defects and the characteristics of the running shoes used. I counted 183 times they used Spearmans, so chances are you are going to find a lot of correlations just by chance if you do that many, especially with only 77 participants. Any result they found is potentially meaningless in that context! There is a whole litany of other problems with how they analysed the data and the conclusions they made, but I honestly too tired to even mention them after reading it (for eg, the continuous vs discrete variables; the handling of left v right v two feet data; etc). The study is fatally flawed. How did this get through the peer review process (if there was even one!)? My best guess would have to be because it was conducted by a known predatory publisher.

As always, I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise, and anything that is published by a publisher on Beall’s list should be … well …. ummmm …. you get it, right?

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One Response to Predatory Publishing (and does footwear in runners influence foot ‘disease’?)

  1. Rodger Kram October 23, 2014 at 12:44 am #

    PeerJ is a very interesting alternative to PLoS One etc.

    Open access for a low fee and with a well-recognized editorial board.

    Not too many biomechanics articles yet.
    My experience with them was very positive.

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