March 23, 2021
By Holly Else & Richard Van Noorden
When Laura Fisher noticed striking similarities between research papers submitted to RSC Advances, she grew suspicious.
None of the papers had authors or institutions in common, but their charts and titles looked alarmingly similar, says Fisher, the executive editor at the journal. “I was determined to try to get to the bottom of what was going on.”
A year later, in January 2021, Fisher retracted 68 papers from the journal, and editors at two other Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) titles retracted one each over similar suspicions; 15 are still under investigation.
Fisher had found what seemed to be the products of paper mills: companies that churn out fake scientific manuscripts to order. All the papers came from authors at Chinese hospitals. The journals’ publisher, the RSC in London, announced in a statement that it had been the victim of what it believed to be “the systemic production of falsified research”.