(NaturalNews) What good is the peer-review process if fraudulent studies routinely make it past this supposed litmus test into popular journals, completely unnoticed? This is the question many are now asking following the revelation that more than 120 papers published by two of the most prominent publishing groups in the world were fraudulent, having been generated by a computer program rather than written by real scientists.
The Germany-based publishing group Springer and the New York-based Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) both pulled dozens of papers recently after a computer scientist came forward with information about their illegitimacy. Cyril Labbe from Joseph Fourier University in France had been tracking papers published by the two groups when he found that many were produced using a software program known as SCIgen, which randomly strings together words and phrases to produce phony papers.
According to a report by Nature, Labbe discovered that these fraudulent studies had somehow made it into more than 30 published conference proceedings between 2008 and 2013. All of them had supposedly been peer-reviewed before publishing, but this clearly was not the case. In fact, Labbe says their illegitimacy was quite obvious, illustrating what appears to be rampant dishonesty both in scientific inquiry and peer-review scrutiny.
"The papers are quite easy to spot," stated Labbe to Nature, noting that he has since built a website where members of the public can test the authenticity of published scientific papers.
Labbe analysis tool allows public to test scientific papers for legitimacy
Labbe's fraud detection technique was described in a 2012 study published in the journal Scientometrics. The program basically searches for phrases and vocabulary that are unique to the SCIgen software, identifying them in suspect studies for further review. Just prior to the study's publishing, Labbe had notified IEEE of 85 papers he identified that had been faked using the SCIgen software.
A bulk of the phony papers had Chinese authors and were attached to conferences that allegedly took place in China, though many of these could also have been faked. At this point in time, most of the contacts listed in the phony papers have also not responded to requests by Labbe for verification, indicating massive fraud on a large scale.
"I wasn't aware of the scale of the problem, but I knew it definitely happens," added Jeremy Stribling, one of the co-authors of SCIgen, to Nature. "We do get occasional e-mails from good citizens letting us know where SCIgen papers show up," emphasized the software engineer, who now works for the California-based VMware software company.
Phony papers had undergone peer review, confirms publication head
Both publishing companies have responded to the notifications and taken down the fraudulent studies. But Ruth Francis, the UK head of communications at Springer, confirmed to Nature that every relevant conference proceeding was, indeed, peer reviewed. This leaves many unanswered questions as to how the studies in question ever even made it past this process, considering how easily they were later identified as fraudulent.
The IEEE, on the other hand, would not confirm whether or not the article submissions had been, or were supposed to be, peer reviewed. It also declined to indicate whether or not it had attempted to reach out to the authors or editors of the SCIgen papers, instead releasing a statement that it "continue[s] to follow strict governance guidelines for evaluating... conferences and publications."