Many readers may have heard whisper of companies that offer a range of writing services — some more ethical than others. Although some companies offer to edit and polish writing, others can write PhD research proposals, masters’ theses, or even a dissertation. In other words, the students engage in so-called “contract cheating” — paying someone else to produce work they pass of as their own. We spoke to Cath Ellis at UNSW Sydney, first author of a recent analysis in the International Journal for Educational Integrity, about the extent of the problem, and what troubles her most about these services.
Retraction Watch: How many sites appear to offer PhD theses, which then might get published? Or any other services that could end up in the published literature (say, by even established researchers)?
Back in April, Springer retracted a record number 107 papers from Tumor Biology after uncovering evidence they were subject to fake peer reviews. But it appears that the Tumor Biology sweep was only part of the story.
During the Tumor Biology investigation, Springer found evidence that the “peer review process was compromised” in a dozen papers on brain cancer published in another journal. The 12 Molecular Neurobiology retractions have trickled in over the past year or so, published before and after the Tumor Biology sweep.
Chinese biomedical researchers estimate that 40% of research in their country has been affected in some way by misconduct, according to a new survey.
The authors are quick to caution against putting too much stock in this figure due to the subjective nature of the survey, published in Science and Engineering Ethics. The estimates also spanned a wide range, with a standard deviation of ±24%. But they say that the responses to this question and others on the survey suggest that scientists in the region feel academic misconduct remains a major problem that authorities have failed to adequately address. (Indeed, a recent analysis from Quartz using Retraction Watch data showed that researchers based in China publish more papers retracted for fake peer reviews than all other countries put together.)
The survey was designed by employees at Medjaden, a Hong Kong-based editing company that assists mainland Chinese biomedical researchers publishing in English-language journals. They invited all of their registered users by email to complete two surveys—roughly 10,000 users in 2010 and 15,000 in 2015. Like most online surveys, this one had a low response rate—around 5%, so caveats about sampling bias apply.
Study co-author Hua He, who is also Medjaden’s CEO, said:
Springer is retracting 107 papers from one journal after discovering they had been accepted with fake peer reviews. Yes, 107.
To submit a fake review, someone (often the author of a paper) either makes up an outside expert to review the paper, or suggests a real researcher — and in both cases, provides a fake email address that comes back to someone who will invariably give the paper a glowing review. In this case, Springer, the publisher of Tumor Biology through 2016, told us that an investigation produced “clear evidence” the reviews were submitted under the names of real researchers with faked emails. Some of the authors may have used a third-party editing service, which may have supplied the reviews. The journal is now published by SAGE.
Some recent communications from companies involved in academic publishing have some journal representatives worried. In one instance, a manuscript editing company offered to pay an editor to help its papers get published in his journal; in another, a research ethics company threatened to investigate all of an author’s papers if he or she didn’t donate thousands to support the company’s efforts. Bottom line: Research authors (and editors) should beware companies offering unethical manuscript editing and other publishing services. Below are examples (which we’ve verified) compiled by Chris Graf, Co-Vice Chair of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and Society Partnership Director at Wiley; Richard Holt, editor-in-chief of Diabetic Medicine and researcher at the University of Southampton; Tamara Welschot, the Director of Research Integrity and Publishing Services at Springer Nature; and Matt Hodgkinson, Head of Research Integrity, Hindawi Limited.
We share for the benefit of researchers (and journal editors and publishers) three new warnings cut from the same cloth as other recent peer review “scams.” These warnings appear to indicate that third parties continue to attempt to inappropriately influence peer review and journal publishing.
According to the retraction notice in the European Journal of Medical Research, the authors’ institution in China informed the publisher that the authors had used a third party to help with copyediting and submission to the journal, raising concerns about the authorship of the paper.
Did you know there is a black market for scientific papers? Unfortunately, there is a growing trend of authors purchasing a spot on the author list of papers-for-sale – and the better the journal, the higher the price. This worrisome trend has been on the minds of Peggy Mason at the University of Chicago and Maria Sol Bernardez Sarria of Yale University, formerly associated with the Ethics Committee of the Society for Neuroscience, which publishes the Journal of Neuroscience (Mason as Chair from 2013 to 2015, and Bernardez Sarria as assistant). In this capacity, they regularly scanned several websites and journals for ethics-related information, and developed an approach that might give away sold authorship.Continue reading 7 signs a scientific paper’s authorship was bought