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"The current state of affairs is concerning: falsified scientific articles are damaging the credibility of research to a critical level."

“The current state of affairs is concerning: falsified scientific articles are damaging the credibility of research to a critical level.”

Scientists are cautioning that a growing international scandal involving the publication of fake research papers is causing harm to medical and academic communities. This fraudulent trend is impeding drug development and undermining promising academic studies, posing a threat to the integrity of scientific research.

In the previous year, research journals retracted more than 10,000 papers, which was a record high. Many experts believe this number is just the beginning of a much larger problem of fraudulent scientific practices.

Professor Dorothy Bishop from Oxford University expressed concern over the current state of affairs, stating that the increasing number of fraudulent publications is causing significant issues for the field of science. This trend is making it challenging to establish a comprehensive understanding of various subjects, as there is a lack of reliable research to build upon. Moreover, the situation is only deteriorating.

The significant increase in the production of false scientific papers can be traced back to China, where aspiring doctors and scientists were mandated to have their research published in order to advance in their careers. These unofficial groups, also known as “paper mills,” started providing fraudulent studies to be published in Chinese journals.

The trend has now extended to India, Iran, Russia, former Soviet Union countries, and eastern Europe. Paper mills are providing fabricated studies to a growing number of journals, as more and more young scientists attempt to enhance their careers by falsely claiming research experience. In certain instances, editors of journals have been bribed to accept articles, while paper mills have successfully placed their own representatives as guest editors who approve a large amount of falsified work for publication.

Dr Dorothy Bishop sitting in a gardenView image in fullscreen

Professor Alison Avenell of Aberdeen University expressed concern over the inadequate performance of editors and peer reviewers, some of whom are receiving substantial compensation. The situation is troubling.

The items produced by paper mills may appear to be typical articles, but they actually utilize predetermined templates with random placement of gene or disease names among fabricated tables and figures. This poses a concern as these articles can potentially become part of extensive databases used by individuals involved in drug research and development.

Some submissions are unusual and involve studies that are not relevant to the journal’s subject area, indicating a lack of peer review for that particular article. One instance is a publication on Marxist ideology in the journal Computational and Mathematical Methods in Medicine. Others stand out due to their peculiar language, such as using terms like “bosom peril” instead of breast cancer and “Parkinson’s ailment” instead of Parkinson’s disease.

Organizations that monitor scientific misconduct, like Retraction Watch, have observed an increase in retractions by journals due to discovered fabrications. A study conducted by Nature showed that in 2013, there were approximately 1,000 retractions. However, by 2022, the number had risen to over 4,000 and in the last year, it exceeded 10,000.

Out of the total mentioned, over 8,000 papers that were retracted had been released in journals under Hindawi, a branch of Wiley Publishers. This has prompted the company to take action. According to a spokesperson from Wiley, they will be discontinuing the Hindawi brand and have already started incorporating the 200-plus Hindawi journals into Wiley’s collection.

The representative also stated that Wiley has discovered numerous individuals engaging in fraudulent activity within their collection of journals, including those who have served as guest editors. These individuals have been removed from our systems and we are committed to taking proactive measures to improve the integrity of our publications and collaborate with others in the industry for solutions.

Wiley maintained that they were unable to address the crisis by themselves, a sentiment shared by other publishers who claim to be facing pressure from paper mills. Despite this, academics are exercising caution. The issue lies in the fact that in numerous countries, academics receive compensation based on the quantity of papers they publish.

Professor Marcus Munafo from Bristol University stated that the current situation is a result of an increasing number of researchers being pressured to publish for the sole purpose of publishing, and a rise in profit-making journals that publish these articles. This has created a “perfect storm” in the industry.

The negative impact of sharing inaccurate or falsified research is exemplified by the use of ivermectin, a drug commonly used to treat parasites. Initial experiments suggested it could potentially treat Covid-19 and it was praised as a revolutionary treatment. However, subsequent investigations revealed that these studies were fraudulent and medical experts have not endorsed it as a viable treatment for Covid-19.

According to Jack Wilkinson from Manchester University, the issue was that anti-vaxxers were using ivermectin as evidence that vaccination was unnecessary. However, the studies supporting this argument were not legitimate.

Wilkinson added that he and his colleagues were trying to develop protocols that researchers could apply to reveal the authenticity of studies that they might include in their own work. “Some great science came out during the pandemic, but there was an ocean of rubbish research too. We need ways to pinpoint poor data right from the start.”

Professor Malcolm MacLeod from Edinburgh University emphasized the threat of the increasing prevalence of paper mills and falsified research papers. He expressed concern about the difficulty for scientists to verify the credibility of papers related to a specific drug for treating cancer or stroke, as fabricated papers are contaminating scientific knowledge. This situation is causing a crisis in the scientific community.

Bishop supported this idea, stating that individuals may be capitalizing on the prevalence of fraudulent scientific research to advance their careers. This could potentially lead to these individuals attaining positions of authority within scientific institutions and being utilized as reviewers and editors by mainstream journals. As a result, corruption is infiltrating the system.

Source: theguardian.com