Academic fraud factories are booming, warns plagiarism sleuth

Firms that sell co-authorship on papers accepted by reputable journals are likely turning over millions of pounds a year

January 19, 2022
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Paper mills that promise scholars publication in a Scopus-listed journal for as little as £150 are likely to be turning over millions of pounds a year, a leading academic integrity researcher has warned.

Anna Abalkina, a research fellow at the Free University of Berlin who focuses on academic fraud, said she believed the trade in ghostwritten journal papers was growing rapidly as scholars seeking publication by nefarious means turned away from low-quality predatory journals and towards businesses that guaranteed them publication in recognised outlets.

“While predatory publishers are still with us, I understand things aren’t going well for them,” said Dr Abalkina. “Many people now realise that it is very risky to work with these publications which could be delisted by Scopus or Web of Science at any point.” Such low-quality publications were now “easily detected”.


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Instead, many scholars were turning to businesses such as International Publisher LLC, which offers the opportunity to become a co-author of a manuscript that is already accepted for publication by a journal. Academics can choose from a range of papers to which they would become attached – which, Dr Abalkina said, were usually written in the Ukraine and used plagiarised materials from Russian-language PhD theses or from trade journals. These were then translated into English, making them difficult for plagiarism software to detect.

In a new investigation of International Publisher LLC, published on the arXiv preprint server, Dr Abalkina identifies 303 journal papers with potential links to the paper mill, which, it says, “guarantees the publication and indexation of a manuscript in the journals indexed [by] Scopus…[or] Web of Science”. Prices for co-authorship begin at €180 (£150) but could go as high as €5,000 for a first authorship in a reputable journal, she explains.

The value of the co-authorship slots offered by the company from 2019 to 2021 is estimated at $6.5 million (£4.8 million), with many more papers offered for sale in 2021 compared with 2019, she reveals.

While International Publisher LLC – which did not respond to Times Higher Education’s request for comment – was the best-known business of this kind, several other similar companies had been created in Russia alone in the past year, and similar services also target markets in India, China, South Korea and the Middle East, particularly Iran, said Dr Abalkina. “In China, you often have doctors who are obliged to publish or they will not be promoted,” she noted.

Dr Abalkina said that this kind of fraud was difficult to detect because it involved papers that were written to order, and because anti-plagiarism software often doesn’t operate in multiple languages.

She highlighted potential red flags as being when the specialism of scholars did not correspond with the subject of a paper, or when every single author came from a different university or country.

“When you see scholars from a medical university writing something about oil extraction or chemical engineering, it can be a cause for concern,” Dr Abalkina explained. “But it’s a difficult area as academics are now encouraged to be multidisciplinary and cooperate widely.”

Institutions should be more willing to investigate suspicious patterns of collaboration, and retract papers and take action against staff if wrongdoing is proved, Dr Abalkina said.

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

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Print headline: Fraud mills booming, says integrity sleuth

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Reader's comments (1)

Why single out China to say if they don't publish they don't get promoted? I have sat on many tenure committees over 4 decades in the USA where exactly the same rule is applied. It is generally accepted in academia that if you don't publish you don't get promoted.

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