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Charleston in Between

Gain Romy Beard's take on the virtual Charleston in Between conference, exploring the event's focus on publishing integrity. 

Event duration March 19, 2024
Event location Virtual

Charleston in Between Conference Report: “It Takes a Village” 

The current publishing integrity crisis concerns everyone involved in the scholarly communication ecosystem: publishers, institutions, authors, funders, and everyone in between, including intermediaries and technology companies. As a hub connecting various stakeholders and working with publishers, institutions and funders for the benefit of authors here at ChronosHub, we’re also starting to see this impact. For example, since the SNSF, one of our funder customers, has announced that they no longer pay for APCs in particular issues, we have received questions and been included in conversations with publishers about this change, its reasons, and its impact. 

As such, the Charleston In Between conference, an online event held over two half-days with a focus on publishing integrity, was interesting to understand the current crisis as a whole better crisis as a whole, what is being done to address it, and what can still be done the Charleston In Between conference, an online event held over two half-days with a focus on publishing integrity was interesting to understand the current crisis as a whole better crisis as a whole, what is being done to address is, and what can still be done. Key insights for me included: 

  • Actions for libraries outlined by Curtis Brundy, notably using their position in negotiations to push publishers for answers on how they tackle the current crisis, what measures they are taking in checking manuscripts before they are published, if they are following retraction standards, and what they are doing with the APC money collected from retracted papers (one of Curtis’ suggestions was that this could go towards the work carried out by independent sleuths or bounty programs reporting fraudulent articles!). Libraries are already paying for this as part of subscription and/or read & publish agreements, which could be expanded to include clauses to make publishers liable to deliver on those initiatives.  
  • Actions already taken by publishers, for example hiring staff with a focus on research integrity assessments (IOP Publishing increased from one to six FTE, Wiley now has 26 FTE working on this), splitting research integrity assessment from editorial (Frontiers), and sharing key learnings for the benefit of the community (Wiley white paper) 
  • Current community initiatives: PubPeer, the STM Integrity Hub, United2Act working groups, and the NISO CREC working group for standardizing retractions were mentioned several times during the conference. 
  • A peek at different tech solutions out there that can help assess manuscripts for signs of fraud, such as Signals, Clear Skies’ Papermill Alarm, or Morressier’s integration of various tools (like Cactus’s Paperpal and imagetwin), as well as those that tackle the problem from the identity verification angle, like the Orcid Trust Markers, or tools that help identify and credit reviewers, like Reviewer Credits. 

Overall themes and take aways of the conference included: 

  • The need to collaborate: in the opening presentation Mohammed Hosseini, Assistant Professor at Northwestern University, used the phrase “it takes a village” and this was echoed throughout the conferences, and highlighted in many community initiatives, but also in some concrete suggestions such as the need for mentoring and training of researchers – both by institutions, but also publishers. Martin Delahunty from Inspiring STEM Consulting called out the need for publishers to invest in training researchers in all their roles – doing research, writing papers, peer reviewing others’ papers, etc.  
  • The need to invest in people and tech, especially publishers - tech on its own will not solve the issue. A good example here is the scaling up of staff in this area by publishers, as noted above. As Phil Jones of More Brains showed, paper mills are becoming more tech-savvy by using LLMs to write content and avoid markers like tortured phrases – which makes it harder for technological solutions to detect these. Phil stated that at the moment, no tech solution can detect if something has been written by an LLM. So, the only solution is real human interaction: someone has to read the paper and use their subject expertise to evaluate it.  
  • The need to change culture, and that includes research assessment based on quantity over quality that pushes authors to publish, as well as the need to change cultural power dynamics, where hierarchies within peer review play a role. Martin Delahunty gave the example that in many cultures, a PhD student would not feel like they are in the position to ‘call out’ a fake paper from a superior. As he put it, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Mentoring by different stakeholders is something that can help address this.  
  • The need to be transparent: Nandita Quaderi, Editor-in-Chief at Web of Science, stressed that publishers are not penalized for retractions, and that those publishers that come to Clarivate early with known issues and a clear outline of how to address the problems will not be punished (or punished less by being de-listed for a shorter period). Similarly, Curtis Brundy encouraged publishers to share openly how many staff they employ working on publishing integrity what measures they put in place and what they actually do – this should be common knowledge, out in the open, and not just be mentioned in one-to-one conversations. 

While some aspects of the debate were left off the table – for example the role institutions (as opposed to libraries) can play in this, and indeed what funders can do (and if changing policies has an effect, and if so, the right one?) - I found the event interesting as it brought together a wide range of perspectives. I did regret that the planned anonymous presentation from an author who had published in a paper mill fell through, as this would have given the event a different edge – though the human factor was addressed in depth by Martin Delahunty’s talk, albeit via research conducted rather than a personal voice. Although we acknowledge that “it takes a village," as with many discussions in this space, the main players – the authors – are often left out, and I would find the author's perspective on research integrity a particularly interesting one, as I believe that this will help the different stakeholders in this industry come up with even more effective solutions.


Head of Publisher Relations at ChronosHub
Romy Beard

Romy is specialized in the academic online publishing industry, with a focus on publisher relations. And she’s one of our key experts in Open Access publishing terms. 

Romy Beard

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