The mill and the loss: Journal up to 39 retractions, just under half linked to paper mills

An abandoned paper mill, via Flickr

We’re rounding out the week with a third post about paper mills: A Taylor & Francis journal is up to 39 retractions, 18 of which appear to have been the work of at least one such operation.

Last March, The publication, “Artificial Cells, Nanomedicine, and Biotechnology,” issued an expression of concern for 13 of the articles, after a group of data sleuths pointed out problems with the papers. 

As Science magazine pointed out at the time, the sleuths, including Elisabeth Bik, found evidence that more than 400 articles generated by the suspected mill contained fabricated images. All of the papers came from research teams based in China, they noted. 

By our count, Artificial Cells, Nanomedicine, and Biotechnology has now retracted 39 papers.

The journal has not retracted 37 more papers that the data sleuths had flagged in their analysis, and some of the EoCs have yet to be resolved

Thirty -nine’s a big number, but earlier this week the Royal Society of Chemistry announced the retraction of 68 papers it had published in several of its journals, mainly RSC Advances. Some of those notices are available here.

Correction, 1715 UTC, 1/25/21: We have edited the headline and first sentence of this story to more accurately reflect how many of the retractions from this journal are because of likely involvement of paper mills. Thanks to Richard van Noorden for flagging this error in a comment below, which includes more details.

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5 thoughts on “The mill and the loss: Journal up to 39 retractions, just under half linked to paper mills”

  1. Really? If this was supposed to be a joke, where’s the “wink”? Alternatively, if the authors or editors really don’t understand that a “paper mill” in this case apparently refers to a person or institutionalization that churns out purported scientific papers with inadequate research and/or plagiarism, and not a facility that manufactures paper or paperboard, as in the accompanying photograph, well there goes journalistic credibility!

  2. Your statement ’39 retractions of papers that appear to have been the work of one such mill’ is in error.

    (i) Although your database lists 39 retractions since 2020 for this journal, 2 are not retractions.
    10.1080/21691401.2019.1575843 is marked retracted, but it is not. (Your ‘retraction’ DOI 10.1080/21691401.2020.1769277 links to a different retraction. And 10.1080/21691401.2020.1836859 is marked as a retraction, but it is an expression of concern.

    (ii) Six of the retractions come from a group in India and Saudi Arabia. While those papers may also have come from a papermill, it seems unlikely that they were the same mill (‘… one such mill …’) as the others (which are from authors from Chinese hospitals), and these articles were not among those flagged by the data sleuths in early 2020.

    (iii) More than a dozen of the other retracted papers, by my counting, were not among those flagged by the data sleuths in early 2020, at least not in the spreadsheet they shared. These other papers might have come from a papermill, and might even have come from the same papermill, but then again, they might not.

    1. Thanks very much for pointing all of this out, Richard. We’ve corrected the post and added a correction note at the bottom, per (ii) and (iii).

      Re: You are correct that one of the papers listed as retracted in our database was an expression of concern. We have fixed that error.

      The notice that seemed to redirect to the wrong link, however, was an error by Taylor & Francis. The paper in question was originally marked as retracted but the notice linked to the article about overexpression. Here is the text of the notice:


      We, the Editors and Publisher of the journal Artificial Cells, Nanomedicine, and Biotechnology, have retracted the following article:

      Su Pan, Zhiping Qi, Qiuju Li, Yue Ma, Chuan Fu, Shuang Zheng, Weijian Kong, Qinyi Liu and Xiaoyu Yang. (2019). Graphene oxide-PLGA hybrid nanofibres for the local delivery of IGF-1 and BDNF in spinal cord repair. Artificial Cells, Nanomedicine, and Biotechnology. 47:1, 651–664. DOI: 10.1080/21691401.2019.1629953

      Since publication, concerns have been raised about the integrity of the data in the article. When approached for an explanation, the authors checked their data and confirmed there are fundamental errors present. Therefore, they have agreed to the retraction of this article. The authors apologise for this oversight.

      We have been informed in our decision-making by our policy on publishing ethics and integrity and the COPE guidelines on retractions.

      The retracted article will remain online to maintain the scholarly record, but it will be digitally watermarked on each page as ‘Retracted’.”

      With the status of that article now retracted, but the one previously marked as retracted by Taylor & Francis now listed as a correction, the total remains at 39.

      Thanks again for the careful read!

    2. As Richard notes, half-a-dozen of the recent ‘Artificial Cells’ retractions are for Niyaz Ahmad and his colleagues. That is, they’re home-made artisanal fakes, not mass-produced ones. Ahmad was a busy beaver, with 25 papers flagged at PubPeer in various journals, and retractions trickling in.

      A dozen or so of the other recent retractions are intriguing, with the reason for retraction being “Authorship concerns”.

      It has come to our attention that the full authorship and affiliations for this manuscript were changed entirely since submission. We have contacted the authors for an explanation, and they responded to all of our queries on the matter, but they were unable to provide a satisfactory explanation.

      IOW a papermill submitted each confection under one set of (probably fake) names, and once it was accepted, the journal allowed them to replace the entire authorship list with the names of paying customers.

      IMHO this phenomenon deserves a post of its own.

      1. Inquiry reveals two other recent retractions for Niyaz Ahmad papers – both (like “Artificial Cells”) in Taylor & Francis journals, so this seems to be a publisher-wide policy of reading PubPeer.

        “PNIPAM nanoparticles for targeted and enhanced nose-to-brain delivery of curcuminoids: UPLC/ESI-Q-ToF-MS/MS-based pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamic evaluation in cerebral ischemia model”
        “Improvement of oral efficacy of Irinotecan through biodegradable polymeric nanoparticles through in vitro and in vivo investigations”

        Also a Correction from RSC Advances;
        “Preparation of a novel curcumin nanoemulsion by ultrasonication and its comparative effects in wound healing and the treatment of inflammation”

        …while Elsevier journals are ignoring the critiques completely.

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