The Spandidos Ménage à Trois

Two authors and a publisher found each other – and happily copy/pasted text from PhD theses written by others to pass it off as new review papers. Not once, not twice, but at least nine times.

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Big trouble in a nanoparticles lab

After an anonymous tip about some papers by the Şen Research Group with possible duplicated graphs, I started digging around a bit more. And I found a couple more papers with duplications. And more. Quite a lot more. As of now, the SRG has 84 papers flagged on PubPeer. [Google Sheet link]

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The “48” mini-mill

A short post highlighting a small set of papers (currently five) that all share some interesting features. As before, these might all have been produced by the same paper-writing entity, a so-called “paper mill”.

Similar to the Tadpole paper set, where all Western blot panels showed the same background noise, most wound healing assay photos in this mini-mill share the same microscope irregularities. And all of them describe a group of 48 patients.

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The “Effect” Paper Mill

While working on the larger “Tadpole” and “Stock Photo” paper set, plenty of other papers with similar title and layout structure were found that appeared to belong to different sets.

In this post, I will present to you the “Effect” paper set, uncovered by super-spotter Hoya Camphorifolia (a pseudonym).

I called this set the “Effect” set because about half of the papers’ titles start with “Effect of” or “Effects of”.

As with other paper sets suspected of being produced by a paper mill, this group of papers are all authored by different research groups at different hospitals, studying different animal models and therapeutics. Yet, they all share at least one image with each other.

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The Stock Photo Paper Mill

A typical stock photo. License: CC0 Public Domain. Source: https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=53739&picture=people

“Are you looking to buy your own custom-made scientific paper? You have come to the right place. We are the Stock Photo Paper Mill! You can pick and choose all kinds of great items from our pool of stock photos to create your own paper. We have photos featuring colony formation, wound healing, and transwell assays. We have survival plots and flow cytometry panels too! Just pick what you like from our catalog, and we will turn your selection into your own, unique paper. “

A hypothetical commercial for a paper mill.

Stock photos are photos that you can pick and buy from a catalog. Some sites even offer free stock photos. Stock photos are often used by new sites and bloggers to illustrate their stories. Some photos can even be funny, especially if they depict models pretending to be professionals. On MicrobiomeDigest.com I have several blog posts about laboratory stock photo fails that might make you smile.

Here I will discuss the Stock Photo Papers, a set of 121 papers, almost exclusively published in the same scientific journal. The papers all have different authors from different institutions, and describe different cancer types and tissue samples.

However, although each of these papers looks unique at first glance, all papers in this set contain images from the same library of about 100 photos and plots. Like images in a stock photo library, each of these photos was used multiple times in different papers. My findings, covered by Eva Xiao in the Wall Street Journal, suggest that they were all created by the same paper mill.

TLDR: Links to the list of 121 papers: [English] Google SheetPDFExcel format

Update 7/7/2020: Links added to list of papers in Chinese – with big thanks to TigerBB8 for the translation and for adding the grants: [Chinese] PDF

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The Golden Arches paper set

Today I found four papers that appear to share colony formation and tumor photos with each other. Because they do not share authors or institutions, and because they all investigated a different type of cancer, it is hard to imagine how these four ended up with the same photos. The authors might have all used the same outsourcing laboratory or paper mill.

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The Octopaper

A follower on Twitter asked me to look at two identical papers. I agreed that they looked very similar, did some searches, and found six more. All eight papers presented the same survival curves, table values, and similar line graphs. But they were published in different journals by different authors, at different institutes, on different patients, and different cancers.

In this blog post, I present to you the Mysterious Case of the Octopaper.

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The Tadpole Paper Mill

Tadpoles. Modified image by MarjanNo from Pixabay.

Most posts on this website are about duplications within or between figures in the same paper, or about duplications found between papers by the same group of authors. But now, our small group of image forensics detectives has come across a large set of papers – over 400 as of today – from different authors and affiliations that all appear to have been generated by the same source. Based on the resemblance of the Western blot bands to tadpoles (the larval stage of an amphibian, such as a frog or a toad), we will call this the Tadpole Paper Mill.

Update: for those who cannot access the Google Sheets link above, here is a PDF version embedded in WordPress which I hope will work for all (generated March 3, 2020):

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Gasping for air: 18 papers from Sichuan University and UCSF

This blog post is not an accusation of misconduct, and reflects my personal opinion.

Happy New Year! I started 2020 by scanning a set of papers from researchers at the Department of Pediatrics, West China Second University Hospital, Sichuan University, Chengdu, with a connection to the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF). These researchers use a pretty cruel baby rat model to investigate the effect of oxygen deprivation on the developing brain. I found that one out of five papers from this group appears to have image problems.

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Concern about stem cell research from KU Leuven and the University of Minnesota

In the past week, I looked at papers from the group of Catherine Verfaillie, who previously worked at the University of Minnesota (USA) and later became the director of the Stem Cell Institute at the Catholic University of Leuven (KU Leuven; Belgium). The outcome of this renewed look at a “cold case” was first described by Leonid Schneider in a December 4 post on his For Better Science blog.

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