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Major science journal retracts 64 papers after publishing them with fake peer reviews

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(NaturalNews) A major publisher of scientific studies has been forced to retract some 64 published articles in 10 journals following an internal investigation that found peer-reviewed reports linked to the articles' publication were fabricated, Nature reports.

The Nature website noted that Berlin-based Springer announced it had made the retractions in a statement released Aug. 18.

"After a thorough investigation we have strong reason to believe that the peer review process on these 64 articles was compromised. We reported this to the Committee on Publishing Ethics (COPE) immediately. Attempts to manipulate peer review have affected journals across a number of publishers as detailed by COPE in their December 2014 statement," the statement said.

In May, Springer merged with publishing divisions of Macmillan Science and Education, the publisher of Nature, to form a new company, Springer Nature.

The culling of published scientific work by Springer comes amid previous discoveries of "fake peer review" by a number of other major publishers, including BioMed Central, a division of Springer based in London. That publishing house began retracting 43 articles in March citing "reviews from fabricated reviewers."

'Peer-review process cornerstone of quality and integrity'

In July, Natural News reported that 60 studies by a single Taiwanese professor, Peter Chen, were pulled from the Journal of Vibration and Control, a prominent international journal, after an internal review found that they had been illicitly passed through the peer-review process. The investigation found that the studies were the product of a covert "peer-review ring" that involved fake peer reviewers.

Nature noted that some reviews are fabricated when researchers submit a paper for publication and suggest reviewers but then give contact information that actually leads back to the same researchers.

"The peer-review process is one of the cornerstones of quality, integrity and reproducibility in research, and we take our responsibilities as its guardians seriously. We are now reviewing our editorial processes across Springer to guard against this kind of manipulation of the peer review process in future," said the statement from Springer.

"In all of this, our primary concern is for the research community. A research paper is the result of funding investment, institutional commitment and months of work by the authors, and publishing outputs affect careers, funding applications and institutional reputations," the statement continued.

The company's internal investigation began in November 2014 when a journal editor-in-chief discovered irregularities in contact details for peer reviewers. The irregularities included email addresses that the editor believed may be bogus but were nevertheless accompanied by the names of actual reviewers, according to William Curtis, the vice president for publishing, medicine and biomedicine at Springer.

Just double-check email addresses

Nature further reported:

The investigation, which focused on articles for which authors had suggested their own reviewers, detected numerous fabricated peer-review reports. Affected authors and their institutions have been told about the investigation's findings, says Curtis.

The publisher would not identify the articles or journals involved in the purges, but a search of the publisher's website identified more than 40 retraction notices between August 17 and 19 for articles that had been published in eight Springer journals.

As a result of the discoveries, Springer says it will better vet peer-reviewer suggestions, according to Curtis. And, in the future, the publisher's journals may request institutional email addresses or Scopus author IDs for reviewers.

In response to the fake reviewer discoveries, some publishers like BioMed Central and San Francisco-based PLOS have ended the practice of allowing authors to suggest reviewers.

However, Elizabeth Wager, a publication consultant and former chairperson of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), says "less drastic" measures like double-checking non-institutional email addresses given for reviewers should suffice.





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