Our paper contains a small bit of application of graph theory to something related to biophysics. A referee claims that we should mention other applications of graph theory to biophysics in the introduction. The "keywords" he gave us are actual titles of papers, and all but one has one common author. They are also not really relevant (which we pointed out), not really the important ones in that field (there are other, earlier papers doing very similar things), and this we have pointed out. He still insists, that according to him "as an expert", more references should be added. Now, I checked the guy who wrote those papers, and he had 60 papers in the last three years, is a professor somewhere in the middle east, and has no publications before those. Is there some way to check if the papers he want us to cite do not simply come from a paper mill? (Note, that this is a theoretical topic. I cannot check, e.g., measurements for having the same noise.)

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    One would think that pointing this out to a competent editor would suffice…
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 15:25
  • Possible duplicate: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/99745/… though I'll let the community decide whether the emphasis on a possible paper mill (rather than someone just boosting their own work) warrants a separate Q&A.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 15:26
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    @BryanKrause There's also Inappropriate reference requests from Journal reviewers. I don't think we have a question on "how to identify articles from paper mills" yet, so while this question currently appears close to an X-Y problem, editing it to further emphasize that aspect might be useful.
    – Anyon
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 15:31
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    Do you actually cite the earlier papers that are more important in the manuscript?? This isn't clear from your post, and it might make a difference as to your options Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 21:13
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    I've experienced this as well, it's really frustrating. Bear in mind that the editor makes the decision to accept or reject, not the reviewers.
    – Tom
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 22:44

1 Answer 1


I don't think it's up to you to show that the papers are from a paper mill or anything else to a standard that would convince a court beyond reasonable doubt.

Like Jon Custer states in a comment, a competent editor will understand this request is problematic and, like you, will find it worrying that these papers all share this suspicious author.

I'd write a note to the editor, separate from a response to the reviewers, raising your concern. It probably would have been best to do this in the first place but you can still do it now.

It's up to the editor, not this reviewer, to decide the fate of your paper. If the editor is also insisting on these additions, I'd question the editorial quality of the journal and likely resubmit elsewhere. If you're absolutely convinced of the quality of this journal, then it may be worth escalating above the editor.

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    As an added note, while OP suspects that the reviewer is this professor in the middle east but may be wrong on this, OP actually knows who the editor is and can therefore check whether the editor is involved with these papers in any way.
    – quarague
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 7:36
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    @Bryan Krause Yes, we have written a note to the editor. We have also added an outlook section now, demonstrating that there is plenty of activity in (somewhat) related fields, to satisfy what he wanted (references from 2022, 2023). We do not cite his unrelated papers. At least now we have recent references (which was his complaint), and still we are not giving in to extortion of citations to not-so-good and not-too-related papers. The journal seems to be a decent one. I'll check if the editor has anything to do with the topic, but I do not think so.
    – arpi
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 16:31
  • @quarague True, I am guessing. On the other hand, the other two referees consider that we have cited what is relevant. Also, what other motivation can someone have to try to make you cite unrelated research, than being the author and needing citations.
    – arpi
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 16:32
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    @arpi: Being a friend/colleague/supervisor/student of the author and wanting to get them citations. I know, it's not a substantially different motivation. Just pointing out that if the editor sees the common author of the papers is not the same person writing the review, it doesn't prove the citation request is valid.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 23:58

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