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Re: 'The situation has become appalling': fake liberal scientific papers push research credibility to crisis point

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Feb 7, 2024, 3:20:03 PMFeb 7
In <uq0b0u$1gg87$> A fool Big Trump Failure
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Tens of thousands of bogus research papers are being published in
journals in an international scandal that is worsening every year,
scientists have warned. Medical research is being compromised, drug
development hindered and promising academic research jeopardised
thanks to a global wave of sham science that is sweeping
laboratories and universities.

Last year the annual number of papers retracted by research journals
topped 10,000 for the first time. Most analysts believe the figure
is only the tip of an iceberg of scientific fraud.

“The situation has become appalling,” said Professor Dorothy Bishop
of Oxford University. “The level of publishing of fraudulent papers
is creating serious problems for science. In many fields it is
becoming difficult to build up a cumulative approach to a subject,
because we lack a solid foundation of trustworthy findings. And it’s
getting worse and worse.”

The startling rise in the publication of sham science papers has its
roots in China, where young doctors and scientists seeking promotion
were required to have published scientific papers. Shadow
organisations – known as “paper mills” – began to supply fabricated
work for publication in journals there.

The practice has since spread to India, Iran, Russia, former Soviet
Union states and eastern Europe, with paper mills supplying ­
fabricated studies to more and more journals as increasing numbers
of young ­scientists try to boost their careers by claiming false
research experience. In some cases, journal editors have been bribed
to accept articles, while paper mills have managed to establish
their own agents as guest editors who then allow reams of ­falsified
work to be published.

“Editors are not fulfilling their roles properly, and peer reviewers
are not doing their jobs. And some are being paid large sums of
money,” said Professor Alison Avenell of Aberdeen University. “It is
deeply worrying.”

The products of paper mills often look like regular articles but are
based on templates in which names of genes or diseases are slotted
in at random among fictitious tables and figures. Worryingly, these
articles can then get incorporated into large databases used by
those working on drug discovery.

Others are more bizarre and include research unrelated to a
journal’s field, making it clear that no peer review has taken place
in relation to that article. An example is a paper on Marxist
ideology that appeared in the journal Computational and Mathematical
Methods in Medicine. Others are distinctive because of the strange
language they use, including references to “bosom peril” rather than
breast cancer and “Parkinson’s ailment” rather Parkinson’s disease.

Watchdog groups – such as Retraction Watch – have tracked the
problem and have noted retractions by journals that were forced to
act on occasions when fabrications were uncovered. One study, by
Nature, revealed that in 2013 there were just over 1,000
retractions. In 2022, the figure topped 4,000 before jumping to more
than 10,000 last year.

Of this last total, more than 8,000 retracted papers had been
published in journals owned by Hindawi, a subsidiary of the
publisher Wiley, figures that have now forced the company to act.
“We will be sunsetting the Hindawi brand and have begun to fully
integrate the 200-plus Hindawi journals into Wiley’s ­portfolio,” a
Wiley spokesperson told the Observer.

The spokesperson added that Wiley had now identified hundreds of
fraudsters present in its portfolio of journals, as well as those
who had held guest editorial roles. “We have removed them from our
systems and will continue to take a proactive … approach in our
efforts to clean up the scholarly record, strengthen our integrity
processes and contribute to cross-industry solutions.”

But Wiley insisted it could not tackle the crisis on its own, a
message echoed by other publishers, which say they are under siege
from paper mills. Academics remain cautious, however. The problem is
that in many countries, academics are paid according to the number
of papers they have published.

“If you have growing numbers of researchers who are being strongly
incentivised to publish just for the sake of publishing, while we
have a growing number of journals making money from publishing the
resulting articles, you have a perfect storm,” said Professor Marcus
Munafo of Bristol University. “That is exactly what we have now.”

The harm done by publishing poor or fabricated research is
demonstrated by the anti-parasite drug ivermectin. Early laboratory
studies indicated it could be used to treat Covid-19 and it was
hailed as a miracle drug. However, it was later found these studies
showed clear evidence of fraud, and medical authorities have refused
to back it as a treatment for Covid.

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.”

The danger posed by the rise of the paper mill and fraudulent
research papers was also stressed by Professor Malcolm MacLeod of
Edinburgh University. “If, as a scientist, I want to check all the
papers about a particular drug that might target cancers or stroke
cases, it is very hard for me to avoid those that are fabricated.
Scientific knowledge is being polluted by made-up material. We are
facing a crisis.”
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