Rooting out manipulation should not depend on dedicated amateurs who take personal legal risks for the greater good. From a story on Financial Times:
As the Oxford university psychologist Dorothy Bishop has written, we only know about the ones who get caught. In her view, our “relaxed attitude” to the scientific fraud epidemic is a “disaster-in-waiting.” The microbiologist Elisabeth Bik, a data sleuth who specialises in spotting suspect images, might argue the disaster is already here: her Patreon-funded work has resulted in over a thousand retractions and almost as many corrections. That work has been mostly done in Bik’s spare time, amid hostility and threats of lawsuits. Instead of this ad hoc vigilantism, Bishop argues, there should be a proper police force, with an army of scientists specifically trained, perhaps through a masters degree, to protect research integrity.
It is a fine idea, if publishers and institutions can be persuaded to employ them (Spandidos, a biomedical publisher, has an in-house anti-fraud team). It could help to scupper the rise of the “paper mill,” an estimated $1bn industry in which unscrupulous researchers can buy authorship on fake papers destined for peer-reviewed journals. China plays an outsize role in this nefarious practice, set up to feed a globally competitive “publish or perish” culture that rates academics according to how often they are published and cited. Peer reviewers, mostly unpaid, don’t always spot the scam. And as the sheer volume of science piles up — an estimated 3.7mn papers from China alone in 2021 — the chances of being rumbled dwindle. Some researchers have been caught on social media asking to opportunistically add their names to existing papers, presumably in return for cash.