Physics publisher retracting nearly 500 likely paper mill papers – Retraction Watch

A physics publisher is retracting 494 papers after an investigation “indicated that some papers may have been created, manipulated, and/or sold by a commercial entity” – aka a paper mill.

The vast majority – 463 articles – are from the Journal of Physics: Conference Serieswhile 21 are from IOP Conference Series: Materials Science & Engineeringand 10 are from IOP Conference Series: Earth & Environmental Science. A bit less than a third – 142 – are appearing today.

In a statement, Kim Eggleton, Head of Peer Review and Research Integrity at IOP Publishing, tells Retraction Watch:

These articles are being retracted following an allegation that raised concerns regarding several manuscripts. IOP Publishing has conducted a comprehensive investigation, which indicated that some papers may have been created, manipulated, and/or sold by a commercial entity.

A typical retraction notice:

This article has been retracted by IOP Publishing following an allegation that raises concerns this article may have been created, manipulated, and/or sold by a commercial entity. In addition, IOP Publishing has seen no evidence that reliable peer review was conducted on this article, despite the clear standards expected of and communicated to conference organisers.

The authors of the article have been given opportunity to present evidence that they were the original and genuine creators of the work, however at the time of publication of this notice, IOP Publishing has not received any response. IOP Publishing has analyzed the article and agrees there are enough indicators to cause serious doubts about the legitimacy of the work and agrees this article should be retracted. The authors are encouraged to contact IOP Publishing Limited if they have any comments on this retraction.

Eggleton tells Retraction Watch:

We were alerted by an independent whistle-blower, Nick Wise (he has consented to being named), who noticed some similarities in a number of papers. We began investigating and found other similarities that pointed to a network of content being created by one source, despite multiple different authors being listed on the papers. We don’t publicly share the signals that cause us to believe articles are not the genuine work of the authors, as not to reveal too much information to the perpetrators, effectively handing them a “cheat sheet” to avoid being caught in the future.

Wise was also involved in flagging issues that led to IOP Publishing’s retraction of 350 papers earlier this year because an “investigation has uncovered evidence of systematic manipulation of the publication process and considerable citation manipulation,” and that was not the first time.

Eggleton said that paper mills are

producing fake research to order, used by unscrupulous “researchers” to boost their publication record. These are incredibly damaging as their prevalence erodes credibility, trust and confidence in science. We take publishing misconduct very seriously and are committed to increasing confidence and trust in academic research. As in this situation, we don’t shy away from retracting papers that meet the Committee for Publication Ethics (COPE) criteria for retraction and see it as our duty to protect and correct the version of the record.

Reached at the Ninth International Congress on Peer Review and Scientific Publication in Chicago, two researchers who have been at the forefront of identifying problematic papers that “This massive retraction of problematic papers will certainly help to depollute the scientific literature.”

Guillaume Cabanac and Cyril Labbé, who created the Problematic Paper Screener, tell Retraction Watch:

Correcting the record is of utmost importance to prevent readers and AIs (performing text mining for literature-based discovery) from building on unreliable papers and spreading errors.

Filtering out problematic/fraudulent papers upfront should be publishers’ and reviewers’ top priority to block paper mill productions.

There is growing evidence that the publishing industry is under pressure and flooded by the production of paper mills.

We believe publishers should source intelligence from PubPeer and other post-publication peer review platforms (even more).

Dedicated sleuths, under their own name or anonymously, contribute valuable reports pro bono; these should be seen as red flags to investigate.

Cabanac and Labbe said that Wise “is an innovator: he designs clever methods to expose fraud.”

In short, they said: “He rocks!”

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