Springer Nature has retracted 44 papers from a journal in the Middle East after determining that they were rubbish.

The articles, which showed up in the Arabian Journal of Geosciences starting earlier this year, many of which involve at least some researchers based in China, and from their titles appear to be utter gibberish — yet managed still to pass through Springer Nature's production system without notice.

The retractions follow the flagging of more than 400 papers by the publisher for concerns about "serious research integrity" breaches in the articles. Those concerns were first surfaced by a commenter on PubPeer and by a group of researchers who have been identifying and exposing nonsense papers.

The editor of a special issue in which the articles appeared told us in August that his email had been hacked — a problem we've seen several times before.

Here's an example of the retraction notices, this one for "Monitoring and early warning of loess landslide based on distributed environment and effectiveness calculation of physical training," by Erxia Liu, of the Nanyang Institute of Technology:
The Editor-in-Chief and the Publisher have retracted this article because the content of this article is nonsensical. The peer review process was not carried out in accordance with the Publisher's peer review policy. The author has not responded to correspondence regarding this retraction.
Then there's "Neural network-based urban rainfall trend estimation and adolescent anxiety management," by Mengjiao Liang, of Jiujiang University.

Another, "The characteristics of rainfall in coastal areas and the intelligent library book push system oriented to the Internet of Things," was purportedly written by Hailing Chi, of the library at the Zibo Vocational Institute in Shandong — which we loosely summarize as: "The rain in Spain falls mainly on my new smart refrigerator."

And, perhaps our favorite, "Distribution of earthquake activity in mountain area based on embedded system and physical fitness detection of basketball," which sounds like it might be the poorly-written elevator pitch for a new animated movie in which The Smurfs meet a volatile Shaq.

Click here for a complete list of the papers.

Chris Graf, the research integrity director at Springer Nature, told us:
Fully investigating the unethical practices that we have recently identified in four guest-edited issues is an absolute priority for us. We have completed rapid investigations of 44 individual papers whilst following COPE guidelines, and these papers have been retracted. Investigations into the other papers in these issues are ongoing but we expect to complete them in the near future.

We will not tolerate deliberate attempts to subvert the publication process. As previously stated, we are developing new AI and other-tech based tools and putting additional checks in place to identify and prevent attempts of deliberate manipulation. We are also supporting our Editors in Chief in handling guest-edited issues and increasing publisher oversight to ensure that our policies and best practice are adhered to. Moreover, we are gathering evidence into how these subversions are being carried out to share with other publishers, COPE, relevant institutions and other agencies to help inform the development of industry-wide practices and ensure that culpable parties can be held to account.
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