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Scammers impersonate guest editors to get sham papers published

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Scammers have impersonated researchers to acquire entry to respected journals and publish particular points full of nonsense papers.Credit: Getty

Hundreds of articles published in peer-reviewed journals are being retracted after scammers exploited the processes for publishing particular points to get poor-quality papers — typically consisting of full gibberish — into established journals. In some circumstances, fraudsters posed as scientists and supplied to guest-edit points that they then full of sham papers.

Elsevier is withdrawing 165 articles at the moment in press and plans to retract 300 extra which were published as a part of 6 particular points in one among its journals, and Springer Nature is retracting 62 articles published in a particular difficulty of 1 journal. The retractions come after the publishers every issued expressions of concern earlier this yr, masking a whole bunch of articles.

Science-integrity consultants count on that extra investigations will come within the months forward as different titles understand that they’ve been duped.

“It is very worrying,” says Guillaume Cabanac, a pc scientist on the University of Toulouse in France, who has labored to uncover nonsense science papers in particular points. He provides that it’s surprising to see such papers in journals from ‘flagship’ publishers and that “it is not only predatory journals that publish bullshit”.

A Springer Nature spokesperson stated that an investigation had revealed “deliberate attempts to subvert the trust-based editorial process and manipulate the publication record”. They added that they didn’t but know who was accountable (Nature is editorially unbiased of its writer).

Elsevier says that it has put measures in place to cease comparable issues taking place sooner or later.

Special-issue rip-off

Many journals publish particular points — collections of articles that concentrate on a specific subject of relevance to their readers. These points are sometimes overseen by guest editors who’re consultants within the analysis subject, however usually are not often concerned within the day-to-day editorial work of the journal.

Fraudsters have been caught a number of instances in recent times whereas making an attempt to use particular points as a manner to get low-quality papers published in reliable journals — however the variety of affected papers appears to be rising.

In 2016, the web site Retraction Watch reported that scammers had posed as a recognized scientist to trick The Scientific World Journal, published by Hindawi, into appointing them because the guest editor of a particular difficulty on metaheuristics. A subsequent investigation by the writer discovered that a number of peer-review studies for papers published within the particular difficulty had come from compromised e-mail accounts belonging to different researchers. Hindawi advised Retraction Watch that it had no concept who was behind the rip-off and stated it had put measures in place to assist forestall the issue from reoccurring.

In December 2020, Springer Nature’s Journal of Nanoparticle Research wrote that it had been “attacked in a new way by a sophisticated and organized network”. A gaggle of what appeared to be eminent laptop scientists and engineers from well-known establishments in Germany and the United Kingdom wrote to the journal’s editors suggesting a particular difficulty in regards to the function of nanotechnology in well being care in September 2019. The editorial board accepted the proposal, created a special-issue entry in its editorial administration system and gave three members of the group entry to it so they might deal with the manuscripts.

Months later, some members of the editorial board started to discover that a lot of the manuscripts submitted for the particular difficulty have been of poor high quality or didn’t match the theme. They launched an investigation, however by then 19 of the 80 submissions had already been accepted or published. These papers have since been retracted.

The investigation revealed that the individuals who had urged the particular difficulty weren’t who they claimed to be, however as an alternative have been scammers utilizing Internet-domain names that seemed very comparable to the true scientists’ institutional e-mail addresses. These included an e-mail suffix with ‘univ’ as an alternative of ‘uni’ and ‘-ac.uk’ as an alternative of ‘.ac.uk’. There have been additionally anomalies with the peer-reviewers’ identities and peer-review studies.

“All of the evidence points to an organized network that tries — in this case successfully — to infiltrate scientific journals with the objective of easily publishing manuscripts from pseudo-scientists or less-productive researchers who want to appear in respectable journals,” wrote three members of the journal’s editorial board within the December article.

Unclear motivations

It just isn’t but clear why scammers are manipulating the system to publish sham articles. Cabanac means that it could be due to the stress on researchers to publish papers to proceed their careers. The potential to publish in particular journals — even when the papers are clearly nonsense — may enable some researchers to “get publications for their CV and a green card to stay in academia”, he says.

But the scammers’ motivations stay a thriller to Ivan Oransky, a journalist who runs Retraction Watch. Even the article titles, which might be listed as a part of a person’s publication document, typically don’t make sense, he says. “The papers are so obviously terrible, so why would you want them on your CV?” He provides that it isn’t clear whether or not special-issue scamming is turning into extra frequent or whether or not it’s simply turning into extra seen. “I do think that the journals are waking up to it, actually looking for it and having systems in place,” he says.

The newest retractions from Springer Nature and Elsevier counsel that the apply is turning into extra refined and prevalent. In July, Elsevier issued expressions of concern for greater than 400 papers published in 6 particular problems with Microprocessors and Microsystems after the title’s editor had considerations in regards to the integrity and peer evaluation of the papers. Many of the papers have been from authors based mostly at Chinese establishments, and most contained nonsensical phrases that Elsevier thinks got here from the usage of reverse-translation software program to disguise plagiarism.

Elsevier says that the difficulty occurred due to a brief configuration error of their editorial system, which was corrected as quickly because it was found. The writer has withdrawn 165 papers in press and plans to retract 300 others. It says it validates the identities and {qualifications} of guest editors, and now asks the editor-in-chief or editorial-board members to verify every paper’s acceptance in order that any irregularities are flagged as a particular difficulty progresses.

The writer can be working with Cabanac and his colleagues to develop open-source computerised instruments that may flag when papers comprise robotically generated scientific textual content.

Springer Nature has up to now retracted 62 of the 436 papers published in ‘topical collections’ of the Arabian Journal of Geoscience that it flagged with expressions of concern in September. The prose in most of the affected papers switches between analysis on two seemingly unrelated subjects. For instance, 71 articles have abstracts or titles that comprise the phrases ‘dance’, ‘aerobics’ or ‘sports’ in relation to geoscience, together with the articles ‘Sea level height based on big data of Internet of Things and aerobics teaching in coastal areas’ and ‘Rock stress and deformation characteristics based on SVM and sports high-intensity interval training’. An additional 24 papers in a particular difficulty of Personal and Ubiquitous Computing are additionally being investigated at Springer Nature.

The writer says that as well as to placing additional checks in place, it’s growing artificial-intelligence instruments that may determine and stop makes an attempt to intentionally manipulate the system. It can be gathering proof about how the deceptions are carried out to share with different publishers. “We will not tolerate deliberate attempts to subvert the publication process,” a spokesperson stated in an announcement.

Oransky says that the massive query now could be what publishers do about particular points. They may pose a credibility downside, “even if it is guilt by association”. Whatever occurs, he’s sure that there are extra retractions forward.