Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Weekend reads: Former vice chancellor sent to jail for plagiarism; peer reviewers getting tired

with 9 comments

booksThis week, we published a feature in Nature on how some researchers are gaming peer review systems to review their own papers. Here’s what was happening elsewhere:

Written by Ivan Oransky

November 29th, 2014 at 9:30 am

Posted in weekend reads

  • Nils November 29, 2014 at 11:59 am

    Thanks to Tom Spears, now we know how the chicken crossed peer review.

  • Prof. Deepak Pental case November 29, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    There is additional insight and background about the Deepak Pental case reported to RW yesterday [1]. Two key publications which seems to have been the start of the controversy, and the origin of the transgenic seeds that are the focus of the case are a 2000 and a 2004 paper by Prasad and Saradhi:
    K.V.S.K. Prasad, P. Sharmila, P.A. Kumar, P. Pardha Saradhi (2000) Transformation of Brassica juncea (L.) Czern with bacterial codA gene enhances its tolerance to salt stress.
    Molecular Breeding October 2000, Volume 6, Issue 5, pp 489-499 (Springer)
    Plant Physiology and Biotechnology Laboratory, Department of Biosciences, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, 110 025, India

    K.V.S.K Prasad (a), P. Pardha Saradhi (2004) Enhanced tolerance to photoinhibition in transgenic plants through targeting of glycinebetaine biosynthesis into the chloroplasts. Plant Science Volume 166, Issue 5, May 2004, Pages 1197–1212 (Elsevier)
    (a) Department of Genetics, University of Delhi South Campus, Benito Juarez Road, New Delhi 110021, India
    (b) Department of Environmental Biology, University of Delhi, New Delhi 110007, India

    The changes in institutional addresses are curious in the 2000-2004 period, and may serve as an unexplored clue to this case.

    However, a search of several data-bases does not reveal any apparent subsequent papers that list KVSK Prasad and the codA gene, at least not in any major papers, so it is unclear if the supposedly stolen seeds were used for any subsequent research that would have resulted in a scientific paper. If so, then indeed, those journal(s) should be alerted to issue an expression of concern. Also, it is not clear exactly which paper was apparently plagiarized. It would be nice if these dozens of news outlets reporting this on the internet would get some basic information so that more can be investigated, at least aspects related to the scientific literature related to transgenic Indian mustard.

    Finally, KVSK Prasad does not appear to have published any papers after 2004, and does not appear to share any papers with Deepak Pental.


  • Narad November 29, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    Regarding Dingemanse,

    You’ll get an email notification with your password thrown in for good measure. In plaintext.

    This is a rather curious thing to get excited about per se, since E-mail is always in “plaintext” unless one takes the trouble to use PGP or some other purpose-built system such as ProtonMail. He then compounds this by throwing in “your password could be intercepted by any old packet sniffer.” Where’s this going to be installed? By whom?

    You know what else can be sniffed in this scenario? Password reset links sent by E-mail, mooting the whole “reversible encryption” complaint about password storage (which wasn’t thought about much, either).

    Is Editorial Manager “secure”? Dingemanse notes that Aries told him that sending credentials in E-mail was a configurable setting. At this late point in the article, he’s left only with the complaint that the software hasn’t been idiot-proofed to his satisfaction. None of it really has anything to do with the issue of gaming peer-review systems.

    On an amusing note, though, the International Journal of Information Security uses EM.

    • mark November 30, 2014 at 5:34 am

      Packet sniffers are the least of EM’s problems; several others are mentioned. Basically EM is software in which security is an afterthought, not a design goal. That opens up the system for gaming.

      • Narad November 30, 2014 at 9:28 pm

        Packet sniffers are the least of EM’s problems; several others are mentioned.

        I’ve already agreed with the first part, although in stronger terms. I’m not really seeing the latter; the whole password-reuse thing is just a highly speculative extension of the straw-grasping that is the “reversible encryption” theme.

        Basically EM is software in which security is an afterthought, not a design goal. That opens up the system for gaming.

        As I’ve stated, I don’t see how any of Dingemanse’s piece has the slightest bearing on gaming editorial systems. If one goes back to the Elsevier “hacking” item, which he cites, it ultimately leads to the Reller post, which lends no credence whatever to the notion that EES was “hacked” — “someone had been able to retrieve the EES username and password information for this editor.” That’s it, and the “solution” is to consolidate accounts.

        If there were an actual intrusion, consolidation wouldn’t do anything. This is however about the level of technical sophistication that, to be honest, I have a nearly universal expectation of from all quarters of the publishing business. Everything points to a failure on the user side.

        The story isn’t even internally consistent. On the one hand, the retractions state, “Because of the submission of a fake, but well-written and positive referee’s report, the Editor was misled into accepting the paper based upon the positive advice of what he assumed was a well-known expert in the field.” On the other, the EIC portion of the story says

        The reviews by these fake reviewers, not surprisingly, were done incorrectly, and were not up to the journal’s standards of quality. But the authors, Cusano said, were “innocent victims of this hacking problem,” so the journal retracted the papers, and decided to allow them to resubmit the manuscripts for new peer review.

    • herr doktor bimler December 1, 2014 at 4:02 am

      None of it really has anything to do with the issue of gaming peer-review systems.

      Dingemanse seems to have seized on the debacle as an excuse to push his own concerns about security. Obviously all the encrypted passwords in the world make no difference if an encrypted password is being sent out to a sockpupper ‘reviewer’ nominated by the author.

      Because people often use the same or similar passwords for many of their online activities — including banking and shopping — e-mailing out the password presents an opportunity for hackers to do more than damage the research record.

      That is another odd concern. If an editor asks me to review a manuscript, and sends me a password to log into the account created for receiving that review, I’m going to start using the same password to manage my bank account? Yeah right.

      ORCID identifiers, unique numbers assigned to individual researchers, are designed to track researchers through all of their publications, even if they move institutions.

      I already have an identifier like that. My parents gave it to me.

      to try to steal someone’s identity

      I am not well-pleased with this talk of “stealing identities” or “identity theft”. In the most speculative situation, where a felonious author pretends to be me and fools some numpty of an editor into accepting a positive review in the belief that I was its source, that’s a case of “Deceived editor” rather than “identity theft”, because I still have my identity. It’s the editor’s problem, not mine.

      • herr doktor bimler December 1, 2014 at 3:12 pm

        An afterthought: whenever you hear the words “identity theft”, you know that some institution has been defrauded (originally a bank, in this context an academic journal), and people are trying to re-frame the problem so that it — and the burden of ensuring that it doesn’t happen again — falls on some other person.

  • Mitch McGill November 30, 2014 at 8:05 am

    I agree that peer review is becoming too demanding. I often find myself with as many as 10 review requests at once and it becomes difficult to remember when each review is due until I get angry reminders from the editors. On the other hand, I don’t think that foregoing pre-pub review for some papers is the solution. I could see a lot of people padding their CVs with those types of submissions. Moreover, post-pub review, in general, is problematic because some research fields are small. Of course, a paper on cancer cures will be thoroughly reviewed post-pub, while one on the subject of tinnitus may recieve no comments simply because there aren’t many tinnitus researchers around. Though I don’t study hearing myself, I know this is a real problem for many people. Unchecked publication could lead more people to waste money on dubious remedies like lipoflavanoid if some papers claim to show benefits. Just something to consider.

  • Nils November 30, 2014 at 9:45 am

    Mitch McGill
    I often find myself with as many as 10 review requests at once and it becomes difficult to remember when each review is due until I get angry reminders from the editors.

    Due to similar problems, I introduced a “First In – First Out” policy for my referee reports. In addition, I allot a minimum time to each review (which in my field is comparatively long, because the papers are long and reviewing them takes time). If I accept to review a paper, I inform the editor at once when he may expect a report. Often this is beyond the proposed deadline, depending on how many papers I already have accepted to review. Then it’s up to the editor to accept this deadline or find another reviewer.

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