Being trustworthy and accurate are non-negotiable values for a medical publisher. Knowing this from the early beginnings Karger has always placed importance on research integrity throughout its history. Have a read about how from then to now Karger has been supporting our editors, reviewers, authors and readers with research integrity and publication ethics.

200 investigations of articles and manuscripts, typically resolved within 36 days – these are only some of the numbers that shows the success of our research integrity and publication ethics team since its creation two years ago.

However, our history of correcting the scientific record is much older, going back over 100 years. Our first documented correction to an article was published in the journal Dermatology in 1895. For the majority of the time the responsibility for safeguarding and maintaining the accuracy of our articles fell to our dedicated editors. Through pre- and post-publication discussion of submitted manuscripts and articles, the editors ensured that researchers, healthcare practitioners and students can access the most up to date and accurate research in health sciences. As a result of the continuous publication of high quality and reliable papers our portfolio has grown to over 100 active journals publishing over 6000 articles per year.

Redoubling our commitment

As our titles grew in number and size, we wanted to expand our expertise on research integrity and publication ethics including support for the editors. Research integrity and publication ethics cover a broad range of topics, including ethical approval for a study, conflicts of interest, availability of data and peer review. In 2021, we established Karger’s first dedicated research integrity and publication ethics team. This small team works closely with our editors; informed by the latest best practice recommendations from institutions such as the Committee of Publication Ethics, World Associate of Medical Editors, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, the Council of Science Editors and others, the team aims to standardise how research integrity concerns are investigated in our journals. By establishing this team, we are redoubling our commitment to accurate and trustworthy health science research as we grow.

Taking our responsibility to the reviewers of the present and future very seriously, we have developed online training modules for researchers and reviewers on how to conduct, and how to peer review to ensure  the trustworthiness of our articles. All three peer review courses are freely available for our reviewers and to date more over 1000 people have enrolled in these courses and attended our webinars. Additionally, we made our reviewers guidelines publicly available for reviewers, authors, and readers because we believe that transparency forms a cornerstone of publication ethics. As transparency and reproducibility go hand in hand to maintain the high standards of our articles we have centred reproducibility when talking about research integrity and publication ethics in health sciences.

Current Challenges: Paper Mills

Unfortunately, there has always been a small number of external actors that attempt to undermine the publication process. Our research integrity and publication ethics team are helping our editors to tackle this threat. One major factor currently impacting research integrity in the publishing landscape are articles coming from so called paper mills. According to the Committee on Publication Ethics a paper mill is “the process by which manufactured manuscripts are submitted to a journal for a fee on behalf of researchers with the purpose of providing an easy publication for them, or to offer authorship for sale”; and these act to skew the publication record, likely for financial benefit.

Back in 2020, we and other publishers shared our initial thoughts on paper mills and what to do about them, calling for a collective response. Through extensive collaboration with our colleagues in the journal Cellular Physiology and Biochemistry (published by Karger until 2019), we have investigated over 100 articles in the last two years that were originally published by Karger with possible paper mill involvement. As a result of these investigations, we have co-published a number of corrections and retractions as a result. In addition, we contributed to a recent paper by STM and COPE examining publishers’ experience of the impact of submissions from paper mills. We continue to work across the industry to develop tools and strategies to detect concerning content earlier in the process and are participating in the STM integrity hub to help find industry-wide solutions. In addition, we are also investing in new monitoring and investigation tools to support our editors by harnessing the power of automation and artificial intelligence (AI).

Looking to the future

AI tools for researchers and publishers are likely to continue to make an impact on research integrity and publication ethics. For researchers that use AI tools as part of their research methodology, we have guidance on how these should be correctly and transparently cited in our data policy. As a member of COPE, we endorse their position on article authorship and AI tools; AI tools cannot be listed as authors of an article.

Through all these efforts the research integrity and publication ethics team at Karger has concluded over 200 investigations into manuscripts and articles in the last two years. The average time between a concern being raised and the investigation reaching a conclusion was 70 days, with the majority being resolved in 36 days. As our journals and books continue to grow and develop into new areas and new challenges lay ahead of us research integrity at Karger will continue to evolve to meet the needs of our community.

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