Journal flags a dozen papers as likely paper mill products a year after sleuths identified them

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A journal has issued a dozen expressions of concern over articles that a group of data sleuths had flagged last year on PubPeer as showing signs of having been cranked out by a paper mill. 

The 12 articles were published between 2017 and 2019 in the International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology and were written by authors in China. They carry the same notice

It has been brought to SAGE’s attention that this article may have been written (and possibly submitted) by a third-party agency, and that the contents of the article may be partially or wholly fabricated. SAGE is currently conducting a thorough investigation into this to establish the most appropriate way forward.

Elisabeth Bik, who along with several others drew attention to the suspect studies, said the articles were among the 400-odd “tadpole” papers that show signs of having been milled. As Bik posted last year on PubPeer, they: 

share very similar Western blots with tadpole-like shaped bands, the same background pattern, and striking similarities in title structures, paper layout, bar graph design, and – in a subset – flow cytometry panels. Despite these similarities, these papers are authored by researchers from different departments and institutes, with almost no overlap in authors.

Bik told us: 

I am not sure why the publisher did not retract these papers (yet). Based on the wording of the notices, SAGE is currently investigating these cases, so it might be that the authors have just been contacted and that the editors did not yet receive an answer from them. We flagged all of these about a year ago, so I am not sure why the publisher did not put these notices out earlier, but given the glacial responses of some other journals in issuing retractions or EoCs, this might be considered a relatively fast response. Still much too slow, though, in my professional opinion.

Wondering how you, too, can spot the work of a paper mill? Check out this list of 20 features such operations appear to share.

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3 thoughts on “Journal flags a dozen papers as likely paper mill products a year after sleuths identified them”

  1. A large number of recent retractions from “Journal of Cellular Biochemistry” and “Journal of Cellular Physiology” (both from Wiley), for papers that were flagged a year ago as being the work of the same papermill. Not all the retractions seem to have shown up in your database yet, but they are noted in the papers’ respective PubPeer threads.

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