It’s general practice in research publishing to issue retractions for papers that must be withdrawn. But what to do when the papers in question are not merely flawed science, but utter gibberish generated by a computer programme?
Springer found itself tackling this unusual situation after Nature News revealed on Monday that it had published 16 fake articles as conference proceedings.
Its solution, in a statement today: “We are in the process of taking the papers down as quickly as possible. This means that they will be removed, not retracted, since they are all nonsense. A placeholder notice will be put up once the papers have been removed.”
Springer adds that it is reviewing its procedures to find out what happened. “When flaws are detected by us, or brought to our attention by members of the scientific community, we aim to correct them transparently and as quickly as possible,” the publisher says.
But the US Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), which has published more than 100 fake papers in a variety of conference proceedings, took a different route. It wiped article records from its database last year, and again this year, without making that fact clear to subscribers.
In statements made to Nature News last week, the IEEE said: “It was brought to our attention over a year ago that there might have been some conference papers published in our IEEE Xplore digital library that did not meet our quality standards. We took immediate action to remove those papers, and also refined our processes to prevent papers not meeting our standards from being published in the future.”
The issue first came to light when French computer scientist Cyril Labbé, who detected the fakes, told the IEEE of a batch of 85 nonsense papers in 2012. It subsequently removed them from its database without public comment. Readers attempting to access those articles on the IEEE website reach only a “page not found” notice, with no placeholder statement acknowledging their withdrawal.
Labbé informed the IEEE of a further batch of fake papers in December 2013; but for two months, the publisher left these papers online. After being contacted last week by Nature News, the IEEE removed this second batch of papers from its database. Again, only a “page not found” notice greets curious visitors.
A list of papers the IEEE has removed is posted here: IEEE-wiped-articles.pdf. (Some duplicates can be found elsewhere on the internet).