There’s no question: The incredible information-sharing opportunities the internet has brought to the scientific community continue to enhance the spread of knowledge and exponentially increase the speed of technological advancement across virtually every area of academic research. But the very platforms for spreading this knowledge are creating problems that can erode science and scientific publishing foundations. The most important of these problems include plagiarized image use, the spread and cost of fake news and misinformation, and predatory scholarly journals. How big of a problem are these issues — and who is working to combat them?
Plagiarized image reuse
One area of academic publishing fraud is image plagiarism or the use of someone else’s imagery in published research. Inaccuracies in scientific research can be the result of sloppiness, honest mistakes, or ethical misconduct for personal gain. In the misconduct category, researchers may plagiarize to augment their research if they haven’t performed the work, or may even alter images to enhance or misrepresent study results to fit a desired outcome. However, when researchers plagiarize these images, they impact research integrity as well as result reproducibility in their own work and the work they “borrow” from. Such action can also result in article retraction, causing damage to careers, reputations, and scientific institutions.
Journal publishers, editors, and peer reviewers have important roles in identifying problematic imagery before publication — but it’s not easy. Until now, it was an arduous, time-consuming task. But a team of researchers published a report in Nature about how they developed an algorithm to successfully search biomedical papers for duplicate imagery.
“This research shows that it is feasible to use machine learning to conduct advanced analysis of science with big data,” says School of Information Studies (iSchool) Assistant Professor and research team member Daniel Acuna in an iSchool press release. “If editors and research integrity officers were to adopt this method, it would make it easier for them to screen and evaluate images in scientific papers before publication — something that currently requires considerable effort, isn’t widely undertaken, and is prone to errors.”
He believes that the new tool will “help ensure scientific integrity across a broad range of disciplines.”
The spread of misinformation
The ability to instantly transmit data worldwide comes with a price: information validity. A study published in Science found “it took true information on Twitter six times as long as misinformation to reach 1,500 people.” No wonder fake news has become the problem it is today.
As it becomes more difficult to discern truth from fraudulent information and credible sources from fake news outlets, researchers, journal publishers, and editors are scrambling for ways to counter the spread of misinformation in academic publishing. In fact, organizations are springing up to offer news gatekeeping services, but publishers and researchers need to put pressure on tech platforms to help provide solutions as well. It’s also important for all involved to communicate the importance of news literacy.
In an NBC News article, Jen Golbeck, professor at the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies, said, “The issue really becomes one … of social literacy and teaching people how to evaluate sources. If you look at elementary and high school, it’s something we’re not doing a great job of yet.”
The rise of predatory journals
A rapidly growing number of self-proclaimed scientific publications and related organizations and conferences today rely on the underlying paradigm of publish or perish to prey on unwary researchers. Their methods have grown sophisticated enough to dupe even the most experienced researchers and academics. Some don’t even maintain a semblance of scientific review but publish completely fraudulent or nonsensical studies.
For example, one paper in a publication from the World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology (WASET) was completely made up — the result of a joke software program some MIT students wrote. That’s just one article published in one journal through WASET, which hosts many such online publications. This false research proliferation erodes public trust in science. It’s up to legitimate academic publishers and researchers to do everything possible to combat it. Researchers need to be wary about where they publish their papers as they can lend credibility to predatory journals — and being associated with these journals can damage researchers’ own credibility.
Reputable publishing practices, thorough vetting of authors and rigorous peer review, are still researchers’ main defenses against predatory publishers as well as other fraudulent content aggregation and unethical or sloppy practices. This makes it imperative for publishers to stay informed about the latest threats to scientific integrity and the tools and methods to mitigate such practices.
Contact your Sheridan representative or visit our contact page to learn how we can help you streamline your publishing processes, reduce costs, and keep up with changes in print and publishing strategies.