Peer-review mafia ring busted; science journal forced to retract 60 papers after fabricated reviews exposed

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(NaturalNews) Dozens of scientific papers have been pulled from a prominent international journal after an investigation revealed that they were all illicitly passed through the peer-review process. All 60 studies, explains a recent announcement by the independent academic publishing group SAGE, were the product of a covert "peer review ring" involving phony peer reviewers that were completely fabricated and non-existent.

All of the studies had been published in the Journal of Vibration and Control (JVC) by a Taiwanese professor named Peter Chen, who at the time worked for the National Pingtung University of Education (NPUE). Chen allegedly created a number of aliases in the SAGE Track system, which he then used to peer review his own papers as if he were other people.

"In total 60 articles have been retracted from JVC after evidence led to at least one author or reviewer being implicated in the peer review ring," reads an announcement by SAGE.

The investigation began after JVC's then Editor-in-Chief, Professor Ali H. Nayfeh, became aware of the fact that the SAGE Track system was being abused back in 2013. He took immediate action, aiding in the launch of a full investigation that eventually revealed many of the papers published by Chen to be fraudulent.

"While investigating the JVC papers submitted and reviewed by Peter Chen, it was discovered that the author had created various aliases on SAGE Track, providing different email addresses to set up more than one account," explains SAGE.

"Consequently, SAGE scrutinized further the co-authors of and reviewers selected for Peter Chen's papers, (and) these names appeared to form part of a peer review ring."

In accordance with the guidelines of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), Prof. Nayfeh contacted Chen and gave him an opportunity to respond to the investigation's findings before they were published. Chen responded, but apparently provided an unsatisfactory explanation, resulting in NPUE being directly notified in September 2013 of the proceedings.

Together with SAGE and JVC, NPUE helped uncover the fraudulent citations and peer reviews present in the 60 papers, which then gave the green light for Thomson Reuters to fully retract all of them. Several months later in May 2014, NPUE notified SAGE and JVC that Chen had resigned from his position at the school in February.

Around the same time, Prof. Nayfeh announced his own retirement from JVC.

Chen used hundreds of fake email accounts to peer review his own papers

Later in July, SAGE released a subsequent announcement that as many as 130 fake email accounts may have been involved in the peer review and citation ring. Based on an extensive inquiry, the group was unable to verify the Open Research and Contributor IDs (ORCIDs) of any of the suspicious email accounts, which essentially proves that they were counterfeit.

"We do not know the definitive number of individual scientists involved in this ring and cannot verify their identities due to the nature of the accounts registered with ScholarOne," confirmed SAGE. "However, we contacted 130 email accounts, a large number of which we believe to be either aliases or fabricated accounts. Many of the named individuals had more than one email address registered on our system."

Both SAGE and JVC remain insistent that the "full extent" of the problem has been identified and addressed, and that the system failures that allowed such fraud to occur in the first place have been remedied. But as the saying goes, "On the internet, no one knows that you are a dog." In other words, as long as the peer review process occurs online through online portals, the potential for fraud remains.

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