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Increasing confidence and trust in research: cracking down on misconduct  

28 Apr 2022 by Faye Holst

Author: Kim Eggleton, IOP Publishing’s Research Integrity and Inclusion Manager 

According to Retraction Watch, a website which keeps tabs on research papers withdrawn from scientific journals, from the millions of papers published every year, about 30,000 retractions have been added to the Retraction Watch database. This number is expected to rise dramatically as research misconduct becomes increasingly industrialised with the emergence of paper-mills. This is where falsified research submissions are produced at scale by profit-oriented organisations. The consequences of paper-mills are incredibly damaging as their prevalence erodes credibility, trust and confidence in science.   

 In January, publishers large and small came together at the Academic Publishing Europe Conference to discuss the future of the permanent record. In the session The Version of Record under Attack! The Dark Side of the Scholarly Publishing Universe it was estimated that the amount of revenue generated by the paper-mill business model could be over 1 billion EUR a year.  

 Sorting out the wheat from the chaff has proven to be hard. But publishers are committed to putting their houses in order and the methods of discovery and detection are improving at paceAlong with other publishers, IOP Publishing is investing heavily in new resources and technology to manage this onslaught of misconduct. Conference proceedings and special issues are considered more vulnerable due to the lack of editor proximity to peer review, which is often compromised in suspected papermill cases.  

Publishers and editors have a responsibility to develop robust, scalable and sustainable systems that can help detect misconduct and stop them finding their way through the publishing process. We have recently implemented multiple new systems and checks to identify problematic papers before publication. Early results of these measures look promising – but not fool proof.  Where falsified papers do get through, correcting the version of the record is essential and we are open and transparent about the retractions and expressions of concern that we make.   

Considering the scale of the issue, it’s clear that it will take a collective effort. One publishing company cannot battle misconduct single-handedly. A solution can only transcend isolated cases when the size of the problem and the repetitive patterns of dubious papers are detected across the industry. Finding misconduct cases early is paramount if we are to preserve the reliability of the published record and save editors and reviewers precious time by weeding out these manuscripts at submission. 

This is why we are supporting the STM Association’s new initiative – the STM Integrity Hub. 

What is the STM Integrity Hub? 

The STM Integrity Hub is a robust, united and direct response to safeguard the integrity of science. Through a combination of shared data and intelligence, and technological innovation, we are developing the most comprehensive means to date to detect dubious manuscripts and respond to the threat of counterfeit material entering scholarly communications. 

The Integrity Hub provides a cloud-based environment for publishers to check submitted articles for research integrity issues. In this environment publishers can collaborate with other parties to develop and operate screening tools for the benefit of the entire scholarly ecosystem. The Hub will work as a knowledge exchange, where publishers can share experiences and learnings; a policy and legal frameworks think tank; and will provide access to new infrastructure and tools. The Hub aims to spark and sustain collaboration among publishers and technologists, to uphold research integrity, to empower all publishers, and to enable rapid responses to new threats. 

 STM Integrity hub demonstrator launch 
The STM Integrity Hub is holding a demonstrator launch on 28 April to provide the publishing and academic community a first look at this new solution. Click here to sign up and weigh in to help evolve this system. 


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