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Attempts to bribe journal editors a ‘very real concern’


Major publishers confirm efforts by ‘paper mills’ to subvert their editors

Two major scholarly publishers have confirmed that so-called ‘paper mills’ make regular attempts to subvert their journals’ academic and editorial standards by offering editors bribes to accept substandard papers.

Paper mills are organisations that aim to make money by convincing people to pay for fake authorship of substandard or fraudulent academic papers to bolster their publication records.

Those operations are a long-standing problem for academia. But a report this month that paper mills have been attempting—sometimes apparently successfully—to bribe journal editors has added a new concern.

“We receive enquiries each week from paper mills that are passed on by our editors. They usually offer the editor money in exchange for guaranteed acceptance of papers,” a spokesperson for publishing giant Elsevier said.

A ‘very real’ problem

Publication in academic journals is dependent on peer review and a decision by an editor. The Elsevier spokesperson said the company was aware of paper mills that claimed to be able to “guarantee acceptance in journals including our own”.

Similarly, Sabina Alam, director of publishing ethics and integrity at Taylor and Francis Group, another major scholarly publisher, said: “Some editors have been actively working with us by sharing information and emails they receive where bribery attempts are being made. We’re aware this is a very real area of concern and we’re working with our editors on it.”

She added that the publisher’s code of conduct for editors already covers such bribery attempts. The code states: “The editor shall not allow or accept any payments in relation to the journal that are not specifically authorised by the publisher in writing. The editor shall immediately report to the publisher any unauthorised payments or unethical non-financial incentives that are offered to them or the editorial team.”

Improper actions alleged

Attempts by paper mills to bribe editors came to broad attention this month after the journal Science reported on an investigation it carried out in collaboration with the Retraction Watch website and industry experts. It said the investigation had identified more than 30 editors of reputable journals who appeared to have acted improperly, and evidence indicated the problem could be much more widespread.