WUR Library


Tool tip: How to check for problematic papers?

June 17, 2024

Scientific publishing is facing a huge increase in fake and fraudulent papers. In this article, we discuss a set of tools to gauge the legitimacy of research articles. These tools can help you lower the chances that you cite retracted or problematic papers.

Papermills, fake papers and AI-generated papers and images have recently dominated the headlines of scientific news sites. The blotched AI-generated image of the Rat received a lot of media attention (The rat with the big balls and the enormous penis – how Frontiers published a paper with botched AI-generated images – Science Integrity Digest). And see these two articles on the enormous increase in retracted papers: More than 10,000 research papers were retracted in 2023 — a new record and Biomedical paper retractions have quadrupled in 20 years — why?.

Addressing integrity concerns of publications is often arduous and protracted. By the time a journal decides whether to correct, express concern, or retract a paper, substantial delays of months or even years frequently occur. Given these challenges, it's wise to check the credibility of the publication you want to cite.

Tools to identify problematic papers

You can use the following tools during your literature search to check if a specific paper has been identified as problematic or has been retracted.

  1. Retraction Watch is a database and blog that tracks retractions of scientific papers. It highlights papers that have been retracted due to errors, misconduct, or other issues. Start by reading the user guide to learn how to search for retracted papers. Then dive into the Retraction Watch Database where you can search for specific papers. This ensures you will never cite retracted papers!

    Retraction Watch Database has also been integrated into the reference managers EndNote and Zotero. For more information, please check EndNote Integration (or on Clarivate webpage) and Zotero Integration.

  2. PubPeer is an online platform for post-publication peer review. It allows scientists to comment on and discuss published research anonymously or openly. The platform promotes transparency and helps to identify errors or issues in publications, thereby contributing to the overall quality and reliability of scientific literature.

    An important aspect of the platform is that it allows anonymous commenting. The platform also tries to inform corresponding authors about comments on their papers. To comment on publications, go to the PubPeer platform and search for a publication by its title or DOI.

    If you want to receive comments on a paper, you can install the browser plugin. With the PubPeer browser plugin, a pop-up from PubPeer shows when you're on the article’s webpage. This only happens when there are comments on the specific paper. Note that the colour of PubPeer’s box is pale and might not always be easily seen.

  3. Signals helps researchers, journal editors, and research integrity professionals to identify and prevent publication fraud. Signals gathers information about a publication from multiple sources. It analyses, for example, citation patterns and flags papers with potential issues. These insights are called "signals". You have to register to use the platform.

    After you paste the DOI of a paper in the search box, the tool will start analysing the paper and give recommendations based on various perspectives. If the paper was retracted, Signal will show that information in the first highlight. it also shows if the journal of the searched paper is indexed by Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). For more advanced settings, you can also configure the setting by clicking the gear button on the right.

  4. RedacTek is another tool to enhance research integrity and to ensure the credibility of scientific publications. The tool notifies you when an article has been retracted or when any of the primary and secondary sources cited in a publication have been retracted or have received Pubpeer comments. Additionally, RedacTek flags articles with high self-citation rates. You can use Redactek via its website or install the Chrome Browser plugin to use it while searching for literature. You have to register to use the platform.


We hope you find these tools helpful. We’d love to hear what you think. If you know of any other tools, we’d like to hear about them as well. You may also contact us to discuss doubts about the legitimacy of a particular publication. Please email the Servicedesk Facilities to contact the Library’s information specialists.

In the series of Tool tips, Library staff review handy research tools. Think of tools that can help you with publishing your research, accessing literature, and managing data. Interested in other tool tips? You can find them on the right-side of this page. Please let us know if you have a research tool that others might find handy.