Human gene research generates new biology insights with translational potential, yet few studies have considered the health of the human gene literature. The accessibility of human genes for targeted research, combined with unreasonable publication pressures and recent developments in scholarly publishing, may have created a market for low-quality or fraudulent human gene research articles, including articles produced by contract cheating organizations known as paper mills. This review summarises the evidence that paper mills contribute to the human gene research literature at scale and outlines why targeted gene research may be particularly vulnerable to systematic research fraud. To raise awareness of targeted gene research from paper mills, we highlight features of problematic manuscripts and publications that can be detected by gene researchers and/or journal staff. As improved awareness and detection could drive the further evolution of paper mill-supported publications, we also propose changes to academic publishing to more effectively deter and correct problematic publications at scale. In summary, the threat of paper mill-supported gene research highlights the need for all researchers to approach the literature with a more critical mindset, and demand publications that are underpinned by plausible research justifications, rigorous experiments and fully transparent reporting.
© The Author(s) 2022. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.