Watch out for soaring publication rates, journals say

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Scholarly publishers should be increasingly wary of journals that achieve incredibly high increases in their publication rates, says the academic sleuth behind hundreds of recent retractions.

The warning from Nick Wise, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge, comes after Hindawi announced he was looking into accusations that his journal Wireless Communications and Mobile Computing may have published dozens of fake newspapers produced by paper mills.

It follows a survey by Dr Wise of the journal, which has grown from around 200 articles a year to 2,429 articles in 2022 to date, largely achieved by creating special issues on certain topics, including most have published about 200 articles each. .

Analyzing a special issue on energy emissions from digital devices, Dr Wise found that many of the articles had almost no connection to the main topic of the issue, with some articles covering table tennis, children’s literacy and pedagogy.

Many articles included false references to articles unrelated to the topic being discussed, Dr. Wise said. Times Higher Education. “Five of these articles would refer to the same author, even though their article has nothing to do with the claims they make,” he said.

An academic working at a Jordanian university was referenced 139 times in the 62 articles in the special issue, Dr Wise added. “The odds that the authors of almost every article will independently decide to cite the same person seem low,” he said.

Further analysis indicated that only four authors of the special issue used email corresponding to their institutional affiliation, while 51 used the same little-used email domain names, he added.

“I’m pretty sure they’re stationery, and they haven’t gone to great lengths to hide the fact,” said Dr. Wise, whose investigations led IOP Publishing to remove nearly 500 suspicious items on last month, while another 350 were withdrawn last year after raising concerns.

While the rapid growth in journal output could sometimes be justified if publishers managed this increase carefully, the tenfold increase in publication rates seen in the journal Hindawi should have raised concerns, Dr Wise said.

“These huge increases don’t necessarily mean journals are junk — if you broaden things out by hiring more staff and peer reviewers, journals can keep an eye on quality,” he said.

“However, even if everyone is working with the best of intentions, things might not work out if you grow to this scale,” added Dr Wise, noting that some journals from other publishers have multiplied their output. 100, even 200. , over the last four years.

“The problem is that publishers want this kind of growth – they don’t see it as a red flag because it’s their business model,” he added.

Hindawi, which was bought by US publisher Wiley in 2021 for $298m (£265m) in January 2021, said it was “grateful for the work done by independent experts from research integrity, like Dorothy Bishop and Nick Wise, who helped expand our investigation” into the research fraud, which saw him withdraw 511 articles last month.

“We are applying what we have learned from the investigation so far, which will allow us to be more proactive in detecting evidence of potential forms of manipulation in articles published and under review,” he said. – he added, stating that “these learnings also inform additional screening measures implemented for all Hindawi journal content, including stricter checks of guest editorial teams and multiple checks specifically designed to identify known characteristics of stationeries. and the manipulation of peer reviews”.

However, relying on volunteers to report research issues to editors was becoming increasingly untenable, Dr Wise said. “There should be a body or watchdog that looks for search fraud like this because paper mills rely on no one to look. Nor is there anyone to force journals to investigate such matters.

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