A HORRIFIC STORY OF DISHONESTY IN PUBLISHING SCIENTIFIC PAPERS

It was about 2004 that publishing companies began publishing scientific manuscripts online, rather than in paper journals. GEITP is guessing that PLoS Publishing Company was first (and it remains honest and legitimate). But it didn’t take long before somewhat shady, to downright fraudulent, “predatory online open-access journals” began to pop up. By 2014, there were at least 4,500 “predatory journals” and today there are probably more than 18,000.(!!)

Over the past 15 years, GEITP has discussed many of these fraudulent publisher stories (https://genewhisperer.com/). One extreme example was a “family of four, living in a tiny house in a small village in Turkey, using their kitchen table as their ‘publishing company’, and raking in $1.2 million in one year (without paying any taxes).” The modus operandi is always similar: [a] recruit for “papers” (even if they’re only one or two pages in length), [b] pretend they are quickly “peer-reviewed” (which may or may not be the case), [c] accept the manuscript quickly, almost always without any need for modifications, and [d] charge an exorbitant amount of money in “page charges” to have “your manuscript published quickly online.”

One major factor in considering an academic PhD or MD for a position, or promotion to a higher position — is the “number of publications” the applicant reports. [In some circles, the “number of publications only in highly prominent journals” is an important criterion, but that’s not the case for the vast majority of hiring and promoting of individuals in academia, worldwide.]

And then, in 2009, we should all remember the Sokal Hoax [ https://physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/ ] in which a physicist wrote a completely gibberish paper and submitted it to what was considered one of the better journals in the field (Social Text). And the paper supposedly got peer-reviewed and published anyway. The editors later backtracked by saying that they thought the paper “lacked originality, that it wasn’t well written, that they just accepted it as a favor to Dr. Sokal, a physicist, visiting their rigorous area of study, and so on” — but the fact remains that an editor should be able to distinguish a valid paper from a pile of garbled nonsense.

During the last 6-8 years, it has become popular to “tack on the names of coauthors from the same institute or hospital who were not actually involved with the research,” to help these individuals in getting hired and/or promoted (i.e., maybe five scientists did all the work and writing the manuscript — but another 18 physicians, in need of “more publications”, had their names inserted in the middle of the co-authorship list). GEITP has also covered such fraudulent stories in the recent past.

Now comes the latest [see attached Jan 2024 editorial]: shady “companies,” churning out fake papers, have decided to bribe journal editors.(!!) Exploiting the growing pressure on scientists worldwide to amass publications — even if they lack resources to undertake quality research — these sneaky intermediary “companies” (by some accounts) pump out tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of articles every year. Many contain fictional data; others are plagiarized, or of low quality. Regardless, authors pay to have their names on them, and these “paper mills” can make tidy profits.

Nicholas Wise (a fluid dynamics researcher at the University of Cambridge (England), moonlights as a scientific fraud buster; he was digging around on shady Facebook groups and saw something new. Rather than targeting potential authors and reviewers, someone (who calls himself “Jack Ben”, from a firm whose Chinese name translates as “Olive Academic”) was approaching journal editors — and offering them large sums of cash, in return for accepting papers for publication. [Even a spokesperson for Elsevier said every week its editors are offered cash in return for accepting manuscripts.]

“Sure, you will make money from us,” “Ben” promises prospective collaborators in a document linked to the Facebook posts, along with screenshots showing transfers of as much as $20,000 or more. More than 50 journal editors have already signed on, he wrote. There was even an online form for interested editors to fill out.

According to a new preprint, more than half of medical residents in one country admit they have engaged in research misconduct — such as buying papers or fabricating results. One reason is that publications, although no longer always a strict requirement for career advancement, are still the easiest path to promotion in a range of professions — including doctors, nurses, and teachers at vocational schools, according to sources. Yet these groups may have neither the time nor the training to do serious research. In such a setting, paying a few hundred or even a thousand dollars to see one’s name in print may seem a worthwhile investment.

Everyone is invited to read the complete amazing story in the attached pdf file.(!!)

For scientists about to submit their manuscript and who are wondering how to select an honest journal versus a “predatory online open-access journal” — you are encouraged to contact the “Membership in the Directory of Open Access Journals” or the “Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association.” These are good indicators that are able to confirm whether a journal is not predatory. You can check these sites to help you determine that the journal in which you are interested is legitimate. Also, please read this interesting 2020 publication https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7237319/ and these 2024 updated library guidelines as to “how to determine whether your selected journal is legitimate or predatory”: https://nuim.libguides.com/openaccess/predatory

DwN

Science 19 Jan 2024; 383: 252-255

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