If you visit this website (click here), you will read: “We sell our prepared manuscripts for publication in the journals indexed in Scopus, Web of Science and other scientific databases. The manuscripts are already written and accepted by the journals. You can buy a whole manuscript or an author-place in the list of authors of the manuscript. You just need to pay, and we publish and index a manuscript with your name.” The price for co-authorship starts at about $200 while first authorship in a reputable journal can cost up to $5,000.
A report published this week in Times Higher Education was based on an interview with Dr Anna Abalkina (seen below left) who, as a research fellow at Freie Universität Berlin, concentrates on academic fraud. She has evidence that the business of ghostwritten articles has increased in the past few years and suggests the reason may be that researchers have turned away from the low-quality predatory journals. She named a Russian company called International Publisher LLC she has been investigating and has documented her findings on the arXiv preprint server.
Of the 975 papers published during 2019-2021 and listed on the 123mi.ru website, Abalkina identified 303 articles as potentially linked to the paper mill. She highlighted further evidence of suspicious provenance, including the number of co-authorship slots, country of co-authorship, and country of journal. Abalkina estimated the value of co-authorship slots offered by International Publisher LLC during 2019-2021 was $6.5 million and commented that there are similar companies operating in Russia, India, China, and the Middle East.
Dr Brian Perron at the University of Michigan (seen below right) and colleagues have just published an article on Retraction Watch that reveals the inner workings of a paper mill. Having identified fraudulent papers that had first been advertised on the 123mi.ru website, they approached the authors and journal publisher. While the authors did not respond, the publisher did, and said she was “surprised and disturbed” to see fraudulent activity, and assured Perron that her company MDPI would actively investigate the cases brought to its attention.
We might well ask: Why do researchers use these fraudulent ghostwriting services, and what can be done to eradicate the problem? The answer to the first question is obvious – it’s the age-old question of “publish or perish,” where academics need to publish journal articles to advance their careers. Answering the second question will be more difficult, but the onus must be on editors – and indeed on us as consumers – to be more vigilant. We owe Drs Abalkina and Perron a debt of gratitude.