Science

Science Publisher Retracts 44 Papers for Being Utter Nonsense

A 2017 drought in Spain cracked the mud where a reservoir once was.

A 2017 drought in Spain cracked the mud where a reservoir once was.
Photo: David Ramos (Getty Images)

The publisher Springer Nature was forced to retract over 40 papers from its Arabian Journal of Geosciences after realizing they were nothing more than garbled jargon. This is just the latest in a series of shoddy research papers getting past the publisher.

First reported by research journal watchdog Retraction Watch, the slew of retractions comes on the heels of other issues at the publisher, where hundreds of papers were previously flagged with “expressions of concern” for research integrity breaches.

The retraction notice on one of papers reads as follows: “The Editor-in-Chief and the Publisher have retracted this article because the content of this article is nonsensical. The peer review process was not carried out in accordance with the Publisher’s peer review policy. The author has not responded to correspondence regarding this retraction.”

The journal is intended for geoscience research; discussion of volcanoes, soils, and rocks are par for the course. But these questionable papers’ topics were further afield, with many discussing sports, air pollution, child medicine, and combinations of the aforesaid.

Some titles of the farkakte research: “Simulation of sea surface temperature based on non-sampling error and psychological intervention of music education”; “Distribution of earthquake activity in mountain area based on embedded system and physical fitness detection of basketball”; “The stability of rainfall conditions based on sensor networks and the effect of psychological intervention for patients with urban anxiety disorder.” A complete list of the retracted papers can be found here.

They read a bit like a college student throwing around big words to cover up a lack of understanding. Though purportedly written by humans, the content of each paper definitely reads as if it were put together by a computer that doesn’t quite grasp speech patterns or grammar. The papers are filled with redundancies and generally lack logic.

As amusing (or alarming) as the idea of earthquakes being connected to basketball might be, the screwup highlights issues in science publishing that let farcical research slip into the realm of real work. As highlighted by the Chronicle of Higher Education in August, when the 400-odd papers in the geosciences journal got expressions of concern attached to them, many suspicious papers appear to have been written by scholars affiliated with Chinese institutions, where researchers are incentivized (sometimes financially) to publish in notable journals and where many doctoral students must publish a paper before graduation. The founder and editor-in-chief of the Arabian Journal of Geosciences told the Chronicle at the time that he reads every paper published in the journal each month (which would mean about 10 papers per day, including weekends), and that he thinks the fabricated research got into the journal through hacking.

Chris Graf, the research integrity director for Springer Nature, told Retraction Watch that “As previously stated, we are developing new AI and other-tech based tools and putting additional checks in place to identify and prevent attempts of deliberate manipulation.”

“Moreover, we are gathering evidence into how these subversions are being carried out to share with other publishers, [the Committee on Publication Ethics], relevant institutions and other agencies to help inform the development of industry-wide practices and ensure that culpable parties can be held to account,” Graf added.

Whether such measures are effective or not remains to be seen. Based on the previous issues seen at this and many other journals, there’s not much reason to be hopeful.