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Bestoun S. Ahmed, Ph.D. Posts

Don’t Publish in the Fake Journals

When I started my master study early 2007, immediately I got a fellowship from my university. A condition in the fellowship contract was to publish at least two journal papers, without mentioning which kind of journal. I was entirely new in this business, and I had nobody to guide me. When I got the first set of results from my research, I started writing a paper. At that time, I got an email from a journal inviting me to publish a paper. The publication price was so low, almost 50$. They wrote in the “About” page of the journal that the impact factor of the journal is 1.2. Immediately, I finish the paper and sent it to them. Surprisingly, after almost one day, they sent me an email, Congratulations, your paper has been accepted! Without any review !!

I was so happy, to have my first paper getting published. There was nobody to tell me that you have to check the impact factor and the quality of the journal from WoS. Anyway, after few years, I realized what the problem is. In fact, I regret about those papers published in those journals. The quality and the content of the papers was not bad.

After these years, I started writing for impact factor or high-quality journals. However, still those papers are like a nightmare in my academic life, and they came back to me from time to time. The sad thing in academia is, people are looking at you negative points. I have to say that those papers were negative points in my academic career but that is just an early stage trial for publication. I have been rejected in many job application partially because of them. I got negative feedback like “The applicant has published in fake journals” One of my grant application also rejected recently because the reviewer took a bad impression on me and he said, “this investigator has many papers published in the fake journal.” Well, as I said they are not many, they are just four papers.

In fact, there are different kind of fake journals and quality journals nowadays. Fake journals are well-known now. If they are not listed in WoS, then my advice is to do not publish because it does not count for you. There is one good trick that I like to do sometimes. There are many good journals listed in Elsevier or WoS, and they did not get impact factor yet. Most of the time, those journals are published papers in open access style. Here, you will get two benefits. First, you will get better citation since they are open access, and second, they will get impact factor soon since they are open access and following peer review process.

So, don’t make the mistake that I did in my academic life. I’m trying to erase them as much as I can by taking care of my papers and my work. I believe that putting more efforts in your job, taking care about what you are doing, update your self, be honest and love what you do, then finally people will appreciate and recognize you.

My story with t-way testing

When I started my Ph.D. research around 2009, my supervisor suggested working on t-way testing. The whole software testing field was new to me, although I came with a good background in benchmarking of distributed systems. But now I can say it was not really software testing rather it was benchmarking. I started by reading several books about the software engineering and then other books about software testing. Later, I understand the whole process, and I was able to implement my first draft of code to generate t-way test suites. I met a friend of mine who worked on the use of search algorithms in control engineering. I realized that could be useful in my work and after several weeks of discussion I started using particle swarm optimization (PSO) for t-way testing. I was the first who implement the PSO in t-way. However, I was not the first who use search algorithms. One other researcher used Simulated Annealing (SA). After graduation and getting my degree, I realized that, instead of t-way tasing, I also have something to say about these search algorithms. I have used the t-way testing as a case study then and I with my supervisor implemented several improvements of the search algorithms and applied those improvements into t-way testing.

We enjoyed doing this job actually, and we implemented many new variants of those algorithms by making some small changes and contributions to those search algorithms. We published several papers in that direction. In fact, in software testing in general and t-way specifically, few famous names think that they are guard and god of this field. That is not wrong actually. However, they started criticizing us, indirectly by giving tough comments on our papers and also rejecting many of our papers. In fact, there was one reason behind this behavior. They thought that we are repeating ourselves and even they were asking for new bounds in t-way testing. In fact, those reviewers missing our aim in the papers although we tried to elaborate that in the text.

We aimed to say something in the search algorithm part not the t-way testing part. The t-way testing here was just a case study. Now you may ask why we did not use the standard mathematical benchmarks in optimization methods? Well, we thought to do that also, but as far as we have a real problem why we use some theoretical problem? Using this approach, already many people cited our papers by using our improvements on the search algorithms.

In fact, these days we stopped writing those papers although we still have many things to say. But, when the editors see the t-way testing phrase, they have few choices for reviewers, and when they get our paper, they just reject it without reading.

I think the generation research of t-way testing is getting into saturation nowadays. It is very hard to publish a paper in that direction especially when the paper goes to those well-known names in this field. However, there are many things that we can say in the application of t-way testing. T-way testing is not applied very well to the real-life problems and also in the industry. So, the contribution now is in the application, not the generation.

Tips and advice when you review a scientific paper

Over the past seven years, I have reviewed more than 150 scientific papers in my field. You may ask why I’m reviewing all these papers? First, I’m getting the most up-to-date papers by this work. Imagine that people are reading papers when it is getting published, but I’m reading them even before publication. Second, you know what others do in research, hence, the review broadens your scope. Third, I see this review process as a public service. I tried my best to help authors to improve their works by giving useful feedback, and I hope others look as critical and constructive to my own work.

Recently, I have tried to record some of them on . Check out my account on publons, here. I have also served as an Editorial board member for some journals, like Applied Soft Computing, by Elsevier (I.F. 3.5). I got many certificates, appreciations, and awards for my reviews and feedbacks for those papers I reviewed.  Over these years, my experience in the review has been improved gradually. I reached to an understanding that, reviewing, criticizing, giving feedback to others’ works is an art. Of course, you may know this already, but I reach it by experience. Now, I can confirm that my first review in 2011 is not like my review a few days ago. Over the time, you become more stable and able to give wise advice. In fact, while I’m trying my best in this process, sometimes, as an academic, I’m suffering from “bad” review on my papers. Of course, by “bad” review I don’t mean that they reject or ask for a revision, but because the reviewer (sometimes the associated editors also) does not know to criticize or give feedback in principle. Now, I know most of the journals are providing guides for reviewers, among other guides; however, these guides are too formal, and they don’t contain real advice. Combining all these reasons, I decided to write down those points that I recognized during this time and put them all together to form some informal guidelines from my experience. I will categorize them into three categories, (1) Accepting a paper to review, (2) Reviewing a paper, and (3) Submitting a review. I will update these guidelines from time to time when I recognize some new issues.


Accepting a paper to review

This stage is when you get an invitation to review and you have to accept or decline it.

  • Don’t accept a paper if it does not belong to your field of expertise. When you accept a paper out of your scope, most probably, your judgment will not be fair. Besides, you will spend longer time to understand and review. Accepting a paper out of your scope will lead to delay in the review process also.
  • If you have a conflict of interest with one of the authors, never even accept this paper to review. This may also harm your reputation in the future if the editor knows that without informing him.
  • If you don’t have time, don’t waste others’ time also. If you feel that you cannot finish the paper within one month and a half (this is my timing suggestion, it is not standard), decline the review.
  • Don’t waste your time to review for fake and low-quality journals. Sometimes, this review is just a procedure, and they will accept the paper even when you reject it.
  • If for some reason you accept to review a paper, and during the review, you discovered that it is out of your scope, don’t hesitate to contact the editor asking him to pull it out of your responsibility.

Reviewing a paper

This stage is the actual review stage when you accepted the invitation to review.

  • Don’t start your review when you are not in a good mood.
  • Be responsible and do it in time. Don’t differ your review until you get many notifications from the journal. As far as you accept the invitation, it is your responsibility, put it on your agenda and do it.
  • Try to write in a simple and clear English. Don’t make it too complicated.
  • Be open to new ideas and don’t try to take the author to what you want. As a reviewer, you have to have a vision. Some papers are really breakthrough in the field even they are not long, or they don’t have complicated and colorful graphs. Also, think about the impact of the paper in the field. Some papers are establishing new directions of research.
  • Complicated papers are not necessarily of good quality. Besides, complicated and colorful graphs are not an indication of good results.
  • Remember, your style of writing is not standard. The author does not know you to follow your writing style. Give some space and freedom to the author.
  • Do not be so harsh. Being tough sometimes is ok but not “Rude.” I tend to be tough in some specific situations, like, when it seems that the author doesn’t know what he is doing and just through some words, or when the method is wrong from the beginning to the end, or when he is taking some parts from other researchers without mentioning. Of course, be tough (or even harsh) when you see plagiarism.
  • Don’t build your impression for the paper based on the author name. Having the name of one or more well-known professors on the paper does not mean that its quality is excellent. Concentrate more on the content rather than names. In the same way, getting a paper from a well-known institute does not mean it is a quality paper.
  • Never, ever look at the country of origin of the paper or institute. Nowadays, science is everywhere, and you may get a high-quality paper from a very developing country. In software engineering, for example, an excellent outcome may come from a researcher who sits in an impoverished village with one computer and an internet connection. There are no boundaries, and not limitations nowadays.
  • When you start reading the paper, first open a text editor file and write down your notes. Do the review in two stage, first is the fast screening review, and Second, detail review. While you read the paper in detail in the second stage, in the first stage, just write general comments about the paper. For example, in the first stage, write about the preparation of the paper, quality of the graphs, references style, … Etc.
  • When you know that this work is from a new Ph.D. student, be gentle and kind to him. Maybe it is his first time writing a scientific paper. Try to give him useful advice even if you are going to reject the paper. Try to be his supervisor for one hour and provide him with advice to improve his work. If you are going to reject his work, start with the positive parts of his work, don’t criticize him from the beginning. Your harsh feedback may hurt him without knowing that. He may not get sleep for two days (It happened to me during my Ph.D., and my student during his master). With those old and well-known professors, I tend to be tough.
  • Be specific and don’t give general comments. Specify exactly the point of weakness and where in the paper? For example, a reviewer wrote “The methodology is not consistent” for one of my papers. What does this comment mean? It means many things.
  • The length of the paper is significant to me. There is no specific page number for the length unless the journal has it in the instruction. However, in general, when I get a paper, after reading it, I will figure out if the paper is an original title that may establish a new direction or an improvement over an already established area. For those original papers, it is reasonable if the paper is lengthy; however, I don’t think any reason for long papers when the area is already-established, and there is no need to give an extensive review about every single aspect of that area.
  • In general, I prefer straightforward Abstract. Giving lengthy introduction in the abstract doesn’t make sense as you have already introduction section. As a general rule, I follow the following concept of abstract Problem>> Aim>> Method>> Results and findings.
  • Check the citation of the references. For many papers I get, authors are using references like fillers. Check the cited reference and assure that the reference really supports the sentence that cited for.
  • Check the references for fake journals and conferences. I think we must cite references from reliable sources like well-known journals and conferences. We should not give credit to those fake venues.
  • The quality of the figures and graphs is really a big problem. Zoom in the pdf document and see if the quality of the graph changes. Nowadays, I’m forcing the authors to insert the figures and graphs in pdf. This will assure the quality of the graph even when you zoom in. You can find many papers nowadays in which there are small graphs with small essential measurements on them, but you cannot see them well.
  • When you ask for a revision, you have to be specific about what you want exactly from the author. If you feel that what you want is not possible in less than three months, it is better to reject the paper at the first stage. Rejecting a paper after revision is really disappointing for the authors. Of course, you can reject a paper after revision if you find significant problems.
  • Verifying the results is really a big problem to me. You can easily draw a graph with fake results. You have to be careful about this point really. I got many papers with fake results. In general, when the author makes something available online, you will have a better feeling. However, even in this case, you have to verify the results.
  • The editor in chief in most of the reputable journals will do a preliminary assessment including the plagiarism checker. You have to be sure that the paper passed this stage. Otherwise, it is better to check it.
  • When you receive a revised version of the paper again, it is useful to check other reviewers’ comments. Sometimes, reviewers are asking to cite their papers. In this case, it is better to notify the editor about this situation. This is an unethical situation, and the reviewer must not force the author to cite his paper just to get more citation.

Submitting a review

This stage is when you finished the review and now you are about to submit it.

  • Think twice when you filled the review form and about to choose your decision before submission. This is a very critical moment. Be careful, even when you give positive feedback but you decide to reject, this may lead to rejection. In fact, some editors are reading the comments carefully and don’t consider that decision as the main point. However, still, this is very important.
  • Almost in all reputable journals, there is some section for the confidential comment for the editor. Here you can write your opinion on the paper frankly. Try to make it clear and don’t confuse the editor. Don’t say for example “I cannot decide on this paper!”
  • In some journal, you have to give a score to the paper in addition to the decision. Sometimes, this score makes confusion to the editor also. For example, it is not consistent if you decide to reject the paper but give it 80 on a scale of 100!

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