Paper mills research project
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Paper mills continues to be a hot topic in the academic journals community, as evidenced by a session last week at the annual (and this year virtual) Academic Publishing Europe Conference. The session, “The Version of Record under Attack! The Dark Side of the Scholarly Publishing Universe”, was chaired by Dr Liz Marchant (Taylor & Francis). The session had presentations from two editors of scholarly journals, Professor Dr Christian Behl and Professor Dr Bernhard Sabel, and from Tim Kersjes, a Research Integrity Manager at Springer Nature, and Hylke Koers, CIO of STM Solutions.
After clearly stating the case for integrity being the “absolutely non-negotiable prerequisite for the acceptance of scientific facts” and that, because of this, researchers and teachers must “live and exemplify integrity”, Professors Behl and Sabel addressed the issue of paper mills and how the continuing infiltration of the scientific literature by fake papers, from profit oriented organisations who produce and sell fabricated manuscripts, is undermining trust in the scientific record. Professor Sabel estimates that the revenues of this fraudulent industry are billions of Euros per year, and called for action to be taken by publishers, editors, science policy makers and administrators, and institutions.
Current efforts to stem the flow of papers published by paper mills focus on finding and removing fraudulent articles in submission and during peer review, some of which have been published. Tim Kersjes described the work of the research integrity group at Springer Nature and lamented that paper mills are getting more and more sophisticated, which makes detecting these papers a moving target. Hylke Koers described the Research Integrity Collaboration Hub recently launched by STM which will access content from multiple publishers during the editorial process and check for integrity issues.
However, as Professor Sabel pointed out, more is needed. We need to try to tackle the issue at source, removing the demand for these organisations, educating potential customers of the risks of using these organisations, and working with institutions and science policy makers to change behaviours by reducing the pressure to publish.
For this reason, COPE and STM are about to embark on a joint project which will first seek to understand the scale of the problem of paper mills, and outline the key issues, challenges and solutions Based on the results of this research, a plan will be produced and executed on how to tackle paper mills at source. If you would like to tell us about your personal or professional experience of the problem, or that of your organisation, please add your contact details.
Deborah Kahn, COPE Trustee