Fake paper identification in the pool of withdrawn and rejected manuscripts submitted to Naunyn–Schmiedeberg’s Archives of Pharmacology


Honesty of publications is fundamental in science. Unfortunately, science has an increasing fake paper problem with multiple cases having surfaced in recent years, even in renowned journals. There are companies, the so-called paper mills, which professionally fake research data and papers. However, there is no easy way to systematically identify these papers. Here, we show that scanning for exchanged authors in resubmissions is a simple approach to detect potential fake papers. We investigated 2056 withdrawn or rejected submissions to Naunyn–Schmiedeberg’s Archives of Pharmacology (NSAP), 952 of which were subsequently published in other journals. In six cases, the stated authors of the final publications differed by more than two thirds from those named in the submission to NSAP. In four cases, they differed completely. Our results reveal that paper mills take advantage of the fact that journals are unaware of submissions to other journals. Consequently, papers can be submitted multiple times (even simultaneously), and authors can be replaced if they withdraw from their purchased authorship. We suggest that publishers collaborate with each other by sharing titles, authors, and abstracts of their submissions. Doing so would allow the detection of suspicious changes in the authorship of submitted and already published papers. Independently of such collaboration across publishers, every scientific journal can make an important contribution to the integrity of the scientific record by analyzing its own pool of withdrawn and rejected papers versus published papers according to the simple algorithm proposed in the present paper.