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Research Article Fraud Industry so called "Paper Mill"

已有 1244 次阅读 2023-4-24 01:19 |个人分类:技术类|系统分类:海外观察

Research Article Fraud Industry so called "Paper Mill"

In recent years, a team led by the well-known academic "detective" Elisabeth Bik has identified more than 16 "paper mills" and over 2,000 papers produced by them, most of which involve Chinese authors. These "academic garbage" papers were posted on the peer review website Pubpeer after being reported. Some journals choose to retract the papers after being reported. Wang Jingzhou, the deputy editor-in-chief of the Journal of Jinan University, analyzed the 526 retracted papers and found that they came from 54 journals of 20 international publishers, with Chinese authors listed, and mainly concentrated in the basic life sciences and health sciences fields. Recently, this result was published in the "Chinese Journal of Science and Technology Journals" under the title "Distribution Characteristics and Governance Paths of Retracted Papers Due to 'Paper Mills'". Bik's team member, Banhu, told the "Chinese Science News" that "100% of the domestic paper mills are Chinese clients, and some of the foreign paper mills are also Chinese clients. From a global perspective, the largest buyers undoubtedly come from China." Banhu also stated that they have found various ways to expose the fraudsters by referring to references, chart composition and color, email addresses, and co-authors. Wang Jingzhou told the "Chinese Science News" that "compared with the paper mills that appear in international journals, most of the paper mills in domestic journals are small workshops, which are more concealed and provide more precise services." He once traced 62 papers published by the same intermediary agency from 2013 to 2020 using the "author profile" query item of the Weipu database.


The retracted papers were mainly published from 2017 to 2019, and the retraction occurred from 2020 to 2021, according to Wang Jingzhou's analysis of 526 paper mill papers in the Retraction Watch Database as of July 31, 2021. The reasons for the retraction of more than 400 papers were "third-party accusations," meaning that they were reported by third parties other than the authors or journals. The first authors come from 29 provinces/cities in China, with Shandong Province having the highest number of appearances (155 papers, 29.47%) followed by Henan Province and Jilin Province. Jilin University has the highest number of appearances in terms of institution (57 papers, 10.84%), followed by Qingdao University and Central South University. These papers are mainly concentrated in the fields of basic life sciences and health sciences. However, these analyses are based on a portion of papers from the Retraction Watch Database and thus have limitations in terms of data and conclusions. Banhu stated that 80% of the retracted papers involving Chinese authors were directly or indirectly pushed by their team. They have had a significant impact since 2020, such as when the team's member posted more than 100 fraudulent papers last week. Therefore, paper mills are becoming more secretive, and fraudulent practices are also changing accordingly. Although the number of exposed paper mills has decreased compared with 2020, there are undoubtedly still many paper mills that have not been exposed. Banhu believes that the reason for more paper mills in the life sciences and medicine is related to the promotion of doctors.

In the process of handling manuscripts, I have found the same phone number and email address of a paper mill in the author introduction section of the VIP database, and tracked down 62 papers published by the same paper mill from 2013 to 2020. Catching every suspicious place and finding clues of the paper mill. There are several ways to catch factory papers. One is based on the reference. Recently, many factory papers have been caught, such as literature cited unrelated to the topic, citation of the same batch of literature, etc. Some of these literature are produced by the same factory, and some are pushed by guest editors of journals to promote the citation rate of certain people, some like buying hot searches. The second is based on the picture composition, chart color matching, data, etc. Some members of our team are very sensitive to composition and color matching. They have found many suspicious papers based on composition and color matching. Through team discussions, most of them are found to have problems. The compositions from the same factory are often very similar, and the charts are of the same style. For example, there is a factory, and all papers are first taken from clinical tissue samples, then implanted into animals. The sample sizes are similar, and different papers cultivate different cells, but the pictures are almost identical. The third is based on email addresses. When a suspicious paper is found, we will search for the author's email address. Often, not many will be found, but many authors' email addresses are regular, such as zhangsan66@163.com, lisi88@126.com, etc. At first, team members were curious and asked me about the special meanings of 66 and 88 in Chinese. If it is a unit email, when a suspicious paper is found, we usually browse all the related papers in the group, and there are often unexpected gains. Sometimes we can find dozens of papers, including domestic celebrities as corresponding authors. Fourth, through replies on Pubpeer. After we posted on Pubpeer, the so-called "authors" will come to defend themselves and so on. We found that their tone of reply was the same, and the grammar errors they made were the same, but these authors were unrelated people. This must be the customer service of the paper mill. I also encountered the situation of using one author's account to reply to another author's paper, probably forgot to switch accounts, and not just once. Fifth, based on the author's unit, region, etc. On the one hand, in order to avoid misjudgment and to trace the relationships between co-authors, such as one from Jilin and one from Yunnan, and their personal profiles do not show that they have cooperated with each other, it may be that they cooperated to buy the same paper.


In recent years, the issue of paper mills and industrialized academic fraud among Chinese researchers has drawn close attention from the Western academic community. A special article published on April 23, 2023, by the British scientific journal Nature, exposed the problem of industrialized paper fraud facing the publishing industry, stating that the number of fraudulent papers from Chinese hospitals has increased by about 50 times in the past 20 years. The consequences of these papers are severe, as subsequent researchers build on these fraudulent results, believing them to be true. However, some journals are now requiring Chinese authors to provide original data before sending their papers for review, otherwise, they will be rejected. Despite exposing many cases of academic fraud, the team behind the investigations has received many threats and retaliation, even from international corporations whose products are based on scientific research. The team's work is not limited to China but includes exposing academic fraud globally. The situation is challenging, and the team is calling for the Chinese government to take strong action against paper mills and fraudulent academic practices.

The article reports that since January 2020, more than 1,000 academic papers have been identified as potentially related to "paper mills". Among them, 370 withdrawn submissions from China have been identified as coming from "paper mills", and 45 have been flagged for attention. In addition, 197 withdrawn papers have some image similarity issues.

These "industrialized" fake papers seem to have been generated using a generic template, with similar features including Western Blot images with suspiciously smooth contours and the same background; different titles derived from the same topic; and bar graphs with the same layout from different experiments. However, these features are only apparent when compared with each other.

Investigators believe that the situation of academic paper fraud revealed so far is only the tip of the iceberg. The problem is not limited to the medical field, as the computer, engineering, humanities, and social sciences are also affected.

Chinese doctors and researchers are often targeted by "paper mills" because they need to publish papers to advance their careers. The article quotes two Chinese researchers who lament that the poor publishing environment in China has led to a lack of trust in or citation of papers written by Chinese scientists, and this "plague" is even starting to affect foreign medical journals, seriously affecting China's international image.




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