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September 2023

Hesitant to Publish: Growing Academic Misconduct in Scholarly Publishing Drives Author Uncertainty

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Recent events in scholarly publishing have forced the scholarly community’s attention onto the protection of editorial quality and combatting academic fraud. In 2023, authors began reckoning with significant issues of uncertainty, which have caused them to reconsider and revise their publishing strategies:

• Publishers identifying sophisticated paper mills and peer-reviewed rings
• Large scale retractions from journals particularly regarding special issues
• Unusual number of journal delistings from the Web of Science

Our scholarly publishing community is indeed somewhat stratified based on perceptions of “rank” among publishing venues. However, researchers can generally expect to succeed and to progress their career so long as a widespread threshold is met for the integrity of the scientific record across all reputable journals, irrespective of journal metrics of prestige and the self-correcting nature of science that sometimes results in retractions. However, when a journal is subjected to systematic fraud in the manner outlined in this paper, subsequent retractions—and possible delisting—can influence community perceptions in a manner that ultimately damages an author’s publishing record.

To understand the consequences of paper retractions, we discuss the following:

1. History and misuse of bibliometrics in the genesis of academic misconduct
2. The battle against paper mills, peer-reviewer rings, and hijacked publishing models
3. Visualization of this fight in the form of mass retractions and journal delistings
4. Insights into the reaction of authors, governments, institutions, and publishers to these events
5. Recommendations for the scholarly community and authors as individuals to evaluate publishing options, participate in the fight against academic fraud, and direct publishers toward systems of quality control

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