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The Paper Mill Tool in Action

Issue #71

Data, Numbers

On 14 March 2024, Ivan Oransky of Retraction Watch reported about a pilot  “Papermill Detection service” that “... flagged 10-13% of all of the 10,000 manuscripts submitted to …”¹ the Hindawi subsidiary of Wiley. The tool’s mechanism is not simple, and involves factors such as “... looking for similarities with known paper mill papers, searching for ‘tortured phrases’ and other problematic passages, flagging ‘irregular publishing patterns by paper authors,’ verifying researcher identity, detecting hallmarks of generative AI, and analyzing the relevance of a given manuscript to the journal.”¹ Wiley explained they are using the tool because “‘Research integrity is an industry-wide challenge, and we are committed to transparency and sharing what we learn about paper mills with our peers and the wider industry.’”¹

Oransky asked “... if Wiley has considered steps to reduce the incentives authors have to use paper mills …” and Wiley answered that “‘... this is a problem we must address across the entire scholarly communications ecosystem …‘”.¹ That answer is certainly true, but largely avoids the real issue, which involves every institution that puts pressure on scholars, especially young scholars needing a number of publications in order to keep their jobs or to get new ones. Further pressure on senior scholars gets compounded by the sheer amount of time and effort required by faculty committees at universities to review job or tenure applications, which also affects the ability of senior faculty to publish. In recent decades, the solution has been to rely on quantitative measures like rankings and publication numbers. Such measures effectively shift judgment to publishers and to those who run ranking systems. It is not a sustainable long term solution.

There probably is no simple and cost-effective way to handle the paper mill problem other than to change an incentive system that pushes scholars toward quantity. Only universities can change that by empowering senior scholars and institutional administrations to make judgements based on careful reading rather than quantity. Careful reading costs time and money, but dealing with the paper mills is itself expensive. At some point academic institutions must come to terms with the paper mill monster that they created. 


1: Oransky, Ivan. ‘Up to One in Seven Submissions to Hundreds of Wiley Journals Flagged by New Paper Mill Tool’. Retraction Watch (blog), 14 March 2024.


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