off record
Shaukat Ali Jawaid

Manipulating publications
through “Paper Mills”

Faced with pressure to publish more papers the academic staff all over the world is seen manipulating publications through “Paper Mills”. These are institutions, organizations which are engaged in production of fraudulent papers which not only includes original papers but also even Thesis and Dissertations at a massive scale.

These fraudulent organizations which have been severely infected with the materialistic virus are profit oriented. Most of them are reported to be unofficial and illegal. Those running and managing these organizations have mastered the art of fraudulent studies. They produce and sell these manuscripts which surprisingly resemble as genuine research work to many who are not aware of what is going on in the world of scientific publishing. Some of them also provide services to the authors to submit their papers to various journals, offer and provide review facilities. They indulge in all sort of scientific misconduct and unethical practices. It is because of these organizations that the business of “Sale and Purchase” of authorship is flourishing. Many novice authors, researches get trapped who utilize their services but get disappointed when it dawns upon them that these organizations are involved in fraudulent business. Some of the authors get their papers published in predatory journals which have a robust website and then they cannot get their research work published in a quality standard peer reviewed journal.

There are thousands of predatory journals published on the net and most of them have titles like International Journal of this specialty and that specialty. The word international is used most often to attract the authors who are very keen to get their manuscripts published immediately to meet some deadlines for academic promotions. Sale and purchase of authorship is quite common in many countries, Pakistan being no exception and it is the duty of the medical editors to uphold professional ethics, ensure that the menace of gift authorship is checked as it is another form of intellectual corruptions.

It is the responsibility of the medical editors to ensure that all manuscripts are screened properly, checked for plagiarism using different software like TurnitIn or iThenticate etc. which of course are not free and one has to pay for that which eventually increases the cost of publications. Insist on approval of the study protocol by the Ethics Committee/Institutional Review Board before processing them further. Not only that the editors must also ensure that all the listed authors given written undertaking about the integrity of the research studies and exclusive submission of their manuscripts to that particular journal.

We in Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences always insist and no manuscript is processed further after submission unless it is accompanied by Ethics Committee/IRB approval, Letter of Undertaking signed by all the listed authors. We also do not accept more than four authors in single center studies and if they insist, they have to get permission from the EC/IRB which have approved the study that all listed authors fulfill the authorship criteria by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). At times this looks very harsh decision and the authors do not like it but it has helped us to check Gift Authorship to a great extent. We also believe that even in case of four authors, some of them do get Gift Authorship but it is extremely difficult for the editors to check this menace and intellectual corruption totally.

The situation can be improved if the academic staff in the institutions is educated, asked to attend some mandatory workshops arranged by their institutions on scientific misconduct and its consequences, how to detect and avoid plagiarism. Medical Writing and Research Methodology should be included in the curriculum at the undergraduate level. The Dept. of Medical Education in the institutions needs to be further strengthened and their duties, responsibilities should also include teaching and training in medical writing and scientific publishing. Not only that they should have full time Statistician, to provide the much needed help for statistical analysis and interpretation of the data to the authors, researchers. Other staff in the Dept. of Medical Education should include medical editors and copy editors who can help redesign tables, graphs, and illustrations. If resources are difficult to find, they can have part time staff performing these duties. The institutions should have staff to check all the manuscripts to ensure that the requirements of the journal to which it is being submitted have been met before making the final submission. Without providing these much needed facilities, one cannot expect to promote research culture and the art of medical writing, scientific publishing. However, it also depends on the head of the institution, if they are themselves interested in research and academics, they will manage to get the needed resources.

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