No Joke: Academics Cheat Bit Time

April 1, 2021

It looks as though academic journals are finally addressing the scourge of fraudulent studies that plague their pages. Heck, that publisher Royal Society of Chemistry now publicly acknowledges the problem is a big step. Nature examines “The Fight Against Fake-Paper Factories that Churn Out Sham Science.” Prompted by outside investigations, journals have retracted hundreds of fraudulent papers since last January, with more under investigation. Nature has assembled a list of over 1,300 articles identified as possible paper-mill products over that time. Many of these suspect papers come from authors at Chinese hospitals, but China is not the only place fake research is churned out. Iran and Russia are also home to paper mills, for example. However, writers Holly Else and Richard Van Noorden report:

“China has long been known to have a problem with firms selling papers to researchers, says Xiaotian Chen, a librarian at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. As far back as 2010, a team led by Shen Yang, a management-studies researcher then at Wuhan University in China, warned of websites offering to ghostwrite papers on fictional research, or to bypass peer-review systems for payment. In 2013, Science reported on a market for authorships on research papers in China. In 2017, China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) said it would crack down on misconduct after a scandal in which 107 papers were retracted at the journal Tumor Biology; their peer reviews had been fabricated and a MOST investigation concluded that some had been produced by third-party companies. Physicians in China are a particular target market because they typically need to publish research articles to gain promotions, but are so busy at hospitals that they might not have time to do the science, says Chen. Last August, the Beijing municipal health authority published a policy stipulating that an attending physician wanting to be promoted to deputy chief physician must have at least two first-author papers published in professional journals; three first-author papers are required to become a chief physician.”

Here’s a thought—maybe remove these requirements. We’re told reports produced by physicians in these positions are already widely suspect and not taken seriously, so where is the value in maintaining such hoops? See the lengthy article for more details on how the pros detect fraudulent papers and what the industry is planning to do about it.

Cynthia Murrell, April 1, 2021

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