Perhaps because he loves cats, erotic images of lab rats piqued the curiosity of Smut Clyde, for what was supposed to be his first investigation into scientific cheaters. Besides, isn’t Smut the name of his first pet? “I used this pseudonym to mock myself and it has merits. I can’t use an argument from authority to assert that my criticisms are valid. These guys should get back on their feet.”Via videoconferencing, this 64-year-old retiree from the academic world is hardly bothered by cats passing by his desk.
So, in September 2017, browsing PubPeer’s forum for scholarly article reviews, he came across an amusing post. The same images of mice, which were subjected to different treatments, were found in two articles by different authors: the same position of the ears or legs, the same tumor. He asks his favorite search engine for text fragments borrowed from these first two articles and comes across a new production that uses similar images to the previous ones, but With a frame on mouse cells. He makes new requests and, in addition to plagiarism, finds other identical graphs in articles by teams with no common point. “I have a good visual memory. In the forest, I notice mushrooms or orchids well.”explains the New Zealander with a long, sparse beard that makes him look more like a man of the woods than a former researcher in the psychology of cognition at Massey University, Wellington.
Although this initial investigation found only about fifteen articles that appeared to derive from the same sources, it was his first discovery of what are known as “paper mills” (Paper mills). The scam consists in selling to unscrupulous researchers eager to enrich their biographies with ready-made articles, which mimic the canons of the genre: a catchy title, speaking images, promises of therapeutic applications … The first “mill” and the first victory: some discovered articles are withdrawn by Journals. “I like the phrase ‘scientific detective’ or ‘flag keeper’. Taking care of bad science and getting it right is the work of good science.”he explains.
Surveys and spreadsheets
Successes follow one another, collected in spreadsheets listing articles, authors, publisher decisions… He even has a spreadsheet of spreadsheets, summarizing his investigations: 46 paper mills identified, relating to more than 9,500 supposedly fraudulent articles, including 4,000 were withdrawn. “I like brainteasers and puzzles. I like finding relationships between things, and putting together pieces.”describes Smoot Clyde.
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