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Scientific Journals: Increase in Paper Mill Submissions and Fraud Cause Editors Headaches

By Dick Weisinger

Writings found in scientific academic journals might be expected to be heavily checked and verified. If you can find it in a journal article, it’s likely to be true or our best-known understanding of the truth. But alternative truths seem to pop up everywhere and the writings in scientific journals are no exception.

Fraud and paper-mill articles are issues that journals infrequently bring up. A study by Nature found hundreds of fraudulent papers in academic journals. In many cases, fraud is organized and paper mills ghost-author fabricated content on behalf of researchers. The practice is common in China.

Catriona Fennell, head of publishing services at Elsevier, said that “the problem of organized fraud in publishing is not new, and not confined to China. We’ve seen evidence of industrialized cheating from several other countries, including Iran and Russia.”

The number of scientific papers retracted has grown by a factor of 10 since 2010 with fraud accounting for about 60 percent of those cases. Some of the increase in numbers is attributed to better oversight by journal editors. Nicholas Steneck, a research ethics expert at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said that “retractions have increased because editorial practices are improving and journals are trying to encourage editors to take retractions seriously.”

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