Publisher is Retracting 350 Articles at Once – Retraction Watch

IOP Publishing has withdrawn a total of 350 papers from two different 2021 conference proceedings because an “investigation uncovered evidence of systematic manipulation of the publication process and significant citation manipulation.”

The case is just the latest to concern the discovery of papers full of gibberish – also known as “tormented phrases” – thanks to the work of Guillaume Cabanac, a computer scientist at the University of Toulouse, Cyril Labbé of the University of Grenoble-Alpes and Alexander Magazinov . by Skoltech in Moscow. The tool detects papers that contain sentences that appear to have been translated from English to another language and then back to English, likely with the involvement of paper-making software.

The articles appeared in the Journal of Physics: Conference Series (232 articles) and IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering (118 articles), plus four editorials.

According to IOP’s Rachael Harper, director of marketing communications, 20 of the papers were listed in the Problematic Paper Screener:

Both volumes were submitted by the same conference organizers representing the 2021 International Conference on Computing, Communication, Electrical and Biomedical Systems (ICCCEBS) and the 2021 International Conference on Chemical, Mechanical and Environmental Sciences (ICCMES) respectively. After reports from an anonymous whistleblower and the discovery of tormented phrases by the Problematic Paper Screener, we were concerned enough to launch investigations into two volumes. Our investigation uncovered evidence of systematic manipulation of the publication process and significant citation manipulation. There was no reasonable explanation from the conference organizers on either volume as to why these problems arose.

Arulmurugan Ramu of Presidency University in Kolkata, India, who is listed as the contact for both proceedings, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Retraction Watch.

Harper said that “indicators of manipulation include:”

  • Almost all contributions in both volumes contain more than one independent reference to the work of the conference organizer and others in the organizer’s institutions (many of which are authors in the proceedings).
  • Authors report that their work was accepted immediately and they received no peer-reviewed reports
  • High level of similarity between manuscripts
  • Some articles have significant overlap with other articles published by other authors around the same time
  • Some papers contain tormented phrases that hide high levels of plagiarism
  • Similarities in content and format of peer review reports

Harper continued:

After investigation, we took additional measures to prevent them from reoccurring. These include automated checking of all articles for known tormented phrases and a new platform for submission of proceedings, which gives us a more detailed look at how the organizer manages the content. We continue to invest in ways to identify problematic content before it is published.

IOP has had similar issues before, including a case that resulted in more than 20 revocations in 2020.

Update, 1430 UTC, 02/24/22: The “anonymous whistleblower” referred to by the IOP was Nick Wise, an engineering student at Cambridge who previously identified problems in IOP publications, Retraction Watch has learned.

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