Fred Barbash, Washington Post, March 27, 2015
A major publisher of scholarly medical and science articles has retracted 43 papers because of “fabricated” peer reviews amid signs of a broader fake peer review racket affecting many more publications.
The publisher is BioMed Central, based in the United Kingdom, which puts out 277 peer-reviewed journals. A partial list of the retracted articles suggests most of them were written by scholars at universities in China, including China Medical University, Sichuan University, Shandong University and Jiaotong University Medical School. But Jigisha Patel, associate editorial director for research integrity at BioMed Central, said it’s not “a China problem. We get a lot of robust research of China. We see this as a broader problem of how scientists are judged.”
Meanwhile, the Committee on Publication Ethics, a multidisciplinary group that includes more than 9,000 journal editors, issued a statement suggesting a much broader potential problem. The committee, it said, “has become aware of systematic, inappropriate attempts to manipulate the peer review processes of several journals across different publishers.” Those journals are now reviewing manuscripts to determine how many may need to be retracted, it said.
Last year, in one of the most publicized scandals, the Journal of Vibration and Control, in the field of acoustics, retracted 60 articles at one time due to what it called a “peer review and citation ring” in which the reviews, mostly from scholars in Taiwan, were submitted by people using fake names.
In a blog post yesterday, Elizabeth Moylan, BioMed Central’s senior editor for research integrity, said an investigation begun last year revealed a scheme to “deceive” journal editors by suggesting “fabricated” reviewers for submitted articles. She wrote that some of the “manipulations” appeared to have been conducted by agencies that offer language-editing and submission assistance to non-English speaking authors.
“It is unclear,” she wrote, “whether the authors of the manuscripts involved were aware that the agencies were proposing fabricated reviewers on their behalf or whether authors proposed fabricated names directly themselves.”
Ultimately, when they tracked down some of the scientists in whose names reviews were written, they found that they hadn’t written them at all. Someone else had, using the scientists’ names.