ATG Caught My Eye: Publishers grapple with an invisible foe as huge organised fraud hits scientific journals

by | May 30, 2021 | 0 comments

Publishers grapple with an invisible foe as huge organised fraud hits scientific journals appears in Chemistry World and is posted by Katrina Krämer, Science correspondent, Chemistry World

‘”As with many hidden criminal syndicates, you don’t always know what’s happening,’ says Retraction Watch’s Ivan Oransky about paper mills. They are the biggest organised fraud perpetrated on scientific journals ever, eroding scientists’ trust in the publishing system – and in each other.

“While plagiarism and fraud isn’t new – individual researchers have been caught photoshopping electron microscopy images or inventing elemental analysis data paper mills serve up professional fakery for their customers on an industrial scale. Buyers can apparently purchase a paper, or authorship of one, on any topic based on phony results to submit to a journal. This makes them not only harder to detect and crack down on, but also exponentially increases the damage they could do.

“The extent of their operations became apparent in early 2020. Two independent groups of image detectives came across a number of manuscripts, all from different authors at different institutions working on different biomedical topics, that seemed to share strange inconsistencies – as if they had all used the same stock images. The set now contains almost 600 manuscripts. Another set of 125 was discovered only a few months later. And there could be 10 times as many professionally manipulated papers that have not yet been – and might never be – found, estimates science integrity consultant Elisabeth Bik.

“Image manipulation or use of stock images at this scale has never been seen before, says Sabina Alam, director of publishing ethics and integrity at Taylor & Francis (T&F). The Biochemical Society’s Portland Press called it a ‘new and acute pandemic of falsified information’, having rejected over 600 manuscripts suspected to originate from paper mills in less than a year.

Shadowy outfits

“Paper mills are the essay mills of the scientific publishing world. Instead of students buying a ghost written term paper for a few hundred pounds in the hope of improving their mark, for up to 100 times as much, academics can buy a research paper – with publication guaranteed – and pretend it is their own work. Whether the research within those papers is entirely made up, has been copied from genuine studies or is manipulated in other ways remains unclear. It is one of the many unknowns when it comes to paper mills…”

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