COPE and STM undertook a study with Maverick Publishing Services, using data from publishers, to understand the scale of the problem of paper mills. The study also involved interviewing stakeholders - research investigators, publishers, and Retraction Watch.
All stakeholders believe that the issue of paper mills is a real threat to the integrity of the scholarly record. Collective effort is needed because publishers are clear that they cannot solve this problem alone. A joint effort by publishers, funders and research institutions is needed.
- Paper mills are the process by which manufactured manuscripts are submitted to a journal for a fee on behalf of researchers with the purpose of providing an easy publication for them, or to offer authorship for sale
- There is a pressure to publish for researchers and for some it is necessary to advance their career, and in some countries use of such services are perceived to be less unacceptable.
- Fake papers are being identified both during the submission process and after publication.
- There are indicators, usually a combination of factors, editorial staff can look out for during the submission process.
- Tools and processes are increasingly being used to identify paper mills.
- After publication concerns are raised by readers and following investigation, which can take some time, papers will be retracted.
- Research integrity teams are retracting multiple published fake articles.
- The submission of suspected fake research papers, which is often associated with fake authorship, is growing.
- A major education exercise is needed to ensure that Editors are aware of the problem of paper mills, and Editors/editorial staff are trained in identifying the fake papers.
- Continued investment in tools and systems to pick up suspect papers as they are submitted.
- Engagement with institutions and funders to review incentives for researchers to publish valid papers and not use services that will give quick but fake publication.
- Investigation of protocols that can be put in place to impede paper mills from succeeding in their goals.
- Review the retraction process to take account of the unique features of paper mill papers.
- Investigate how to ensure retraction notices are applied to all copies of a paper such as preprint servers and article repositories.
- Systematic manipulation of the publication process COPE guidance
- How to recognise potential manipulation of the peer review process COPE infographic
- STM integrity hub STM platform to identify suspect papers
- Authorship for sale: how do we deal with the growing problem of paper mills? COPE seminar session 2021 (Members only)
- Systematic manipulation of the publishing process via paper mills COPE Forum discussion, September 2020
- Potential paper mills and what to do about them – a publisher’s perspective article, October 2020
- Retraction guidelines COPE guidelines
- Expressions of concern, COPE Forum discussion, February 2018