Earlier this month the Russian Academy of Sciences announced that it was retracting nearly 900 scientific papers which it found had been plagiarized from other papers. This is by far the largest number of papers ever retracted by the Academy. How did this happen? It began with a push by Vladimir Putin for Russia to become a world leader in the sciences:

Eight years ago, President Vladimir Putin decreed that Russia must become a leading scientific power. That meant at least five top-100 Russian universities by 2020, and a dramatic increase in the number of global citations of Russian scientific papers…

What went wrong? Many scientists blame Putin’s 2012 order, which provided greater funding but also led to pressure on scientists to churn out multiple papers a year regardless of quality, amid heavy teaching loads.

Critics also contend that Russia’s Ministry of Science and Higher Education fueled the problem. In 2018, Science and Higher Education Minister Mikhail Kotyukov said Russia had to double its publication of research articles. Universities offered contracts and promotions to those who published more papers and sidelined those who failed to.

In fact, there is reason to think that the actions of the Russian Academy is only scratching the surface of the scientific publishing scandal. In 2013 a group of Russian academics founded an organization called Dissernet which uses plagiarism software to identify fake papers. It identified thousands of papers which had been plagiarized:

In March 2018, for instance, Dissernet, a network aimed at cleaning up the Russian literature, identified more than 4000 cases of plagiarism and questionable authorship among 150,000 papers in about 1500 journals.

And Russian authors frequently republish their own work, says Yury Chekhovich, CEO of Antiplagiat, a plagiarism detection company. In September 2019, after sifting through 4.3 million Russian-language studies, Antiplagiat found that more than 70,000 were published at least twice; a few were published as many as 17 times.

The academic fraud goes well beyond the publication of plagiarized scientific papers. It also implicates thousands of dissertations for which people were granted advanced degrees in everything from medicine to economics:

In 2018, Dissernet used anti-plagiarism technology and found that 7,251 Russian degrees had been awarded for plagiarized or dubious work in the previous four years, including 529 medical degrees. Most were in economics, teaching and the law…

In 2016, Dissernet reported that 1 in 9 members of the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, had dubious degrees. A year earlier, it exposed Duma’s then-chairman, Sergei Naryshkin, now the director of foreign intelligence, for plagiarizing more than half of the pages in his economics doctorate.

Naryshkin just shrugged off the accusations and never lost his degree.

The evidence suggests that people are literally buying research papers and, in some cases, selling access to have their names appear on papers that have been accepted for publication.

Anna Kuleshova, the Russian Association of Scientific Editors and Publishers, told the Post that for a time you could buy stolen research with ease but now it’s a bit more expensive, as much as $1,600 per paper. “There are many professions where this has become the norm. There are so many pseudo-experts who are not real experts,” she said.