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Guest article: Detecting integrity issues

Discovering fraud and protecting the scientific record

Scientific fraud is possibly as old as science itself. An early, notorious example is the Piltdown Man. In 1912, amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson claimed that he had discovered the "missing link" between ape and man in the form of bone fragments discovered near the English village Piltown. Although there was skepticism of his findings from the beginning, it took more than 40 years to prove that the finding was a hoax. The fragments turned out to be a collection of the remains of three distinct species.

Today, we want to discover fraud and prevent it from entering the scientific record more quickly. And publishers and editors have risen to the challenge. Research integrity specialists have been trained to screen for suspicious behavior and content; screening tools have been developed and are widely deployed. And of course COPE has made crucial contributions to strengthening the network of support, education and debate in publication ethics.

At the same time, efforts by the publishing and editorial community have become more and more challenging. For example because of paper mills, profit oriented, unofficial and potentially illegal organizations that produce and sell fraudulent manuscripts that seem to resemble genuine research. These illicit organizations make use of sophisticated technologies to manipulate, plagiarize or produce texts, images and data that make it difficult to detect these papers in the editorial process. This is placing a heavy burden on publishers, editors, and reviewers, who are calling for reliable, state-of-the-art technology solutions to detect misconduct and support the editorial decision-making process.

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Working together

This makes collaboration necessary. Speed and agility are critical in a tech ‘arms race’, which can be better achieved by working together. Also, we arrive at better solutions and greater return on investment when sharing resources and expertise. In addition to that, more and more problems simply need a joint solution, where no publisher can solve it on their own – especially there is a very high barrier for smaller & mid-sized publishers

This inspired STM Solutions, the operational arm of STM (The International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers) to start the development of a powerful new platform to detect integrity issues in manuscripts submitted for publication to scholarly journals — the Collaboration Hub. It will provide a cloud-based environment for publishers and individual journals to check submitted articles for research integrity issues. In this environment journals and publishers can collaborate with other parties to develop and operate screening tools for the benefit of the entire scholarly ecosystem. The platform will significantly improve on existing capabilities to detect and remedy research integrity issues before publication, empowering the STM publishing industry to advance high quality, trusted research.

STM aims to deliver an MVP (Minimal Viable Product) in the first quarter of 2023. Leading up to that release, various working groups consisting of representatives of publishers and other organizations such as submission systems, are working to tackle particular issues. Working groups are currently focusing on the topics of image alteration and duplication (hard to detect by editors), illicit duplicate submissions, and the aforementioned paper mills. Task forces are addressing specific (and sometimes crucial) issues or challenges in this effort, such as legal and privacy issues, and cybersecurity. In this effort, STM will continuously collaborate with other crucial organizations within the research ecosystem - including COPE. It is only together as an ecosystem that we can solve these challenges threatening science, and therefore, society at large. If you are interested to hear more or want to join any of the working groups, please contact Joris.

Joris van Rossum, Director of Research Integrity, STM

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Related resources

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