We have identified that many of these papers are written in very similar structures or templates, despite having no common authors. These papers often appear to be legitimate when viewed on their own, and many of the concerning features only come to light when comparing multiple papers.
This is clearly a serious breach of our ethical policies, and as members of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), we have stringently applied their recommendations during our investigation. Further information on the individual circumstances will be included in the retraction notice for each paper, and we will continue to be extra vigilant, ensuring that no stone remains unturned in papers published in our journals in future.
As a publisher committed to upholding the highest standards of peer review and ethical publishing we will implement a number of additional safety steps to ensure that the validity of the scientific record is protected. We will share our learnings with other publishers and across the scientific community to ensure this is enforced across disciplines.
As sophisticated fraudulent activity attempts to overcome any new developments, we will continually review our systems to mitigate against fresh attempts to play the system and undermine science.
Enhanced screening has been introduced at the initial stages of assessment, using knowledge we have gained from this investigation, to identify submissions of concern and to reject them. We are also trialling software to detect image manipulation, which will help to identify instances where images have been altered.
We are providing additional training for our Associate Editors, ensuring extra vigilance in the face of emerging, sophisticated digital fraud techniques, giving them the knowledge to be able to identify concerning submissions and take necessary action.
Finally, we would like to apologise to our community that we are having to make these retractions, and to assure our readers that we take the integrity of the scientific record very seriously and will take all necessary steps to ensure our editorial and peer review processes keep pace with the evolving threat and advancements in scientific fraud.