Faked peer reviews — a subject about which we’ve been writing more and more recently — are concerning enough to a number of publishers that they’ve approached the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) to work together on a solution.
In the past, we have reported on a number of cases in which authors were able to submit their own peer reviews, using fake email addresses for recommended reviewers. But what seems to be happening now is that companies are offering manuscript preparation services that go as far as submitting fake peer reviews. And that, no surprise, worries publishers.
Here’s COPE’s statement out today:
The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has become aware of systematic, inappropriate attempts to manipulate the peer review processes of several journals across different publishers. These manipulations appear to have been orchestrated by a number of third party agencies offering services to authors. This statement is issued on behalf of COPE after consultation with a variety of publishers to underscore the seriousness with which we take these issues and our determination to address them.
While there are a number of well-established reputable agencies offering manuscript-preparation services to authors, investigations at several journals suggests that some agencies are selling services, ranging from authorship of pre-written manuscripts to providing fabricated contact details for peer reviewers during the submission process and then supplying reviews from these fabricated addresses. Some of these peer reviewer accounts have the names of seemingly real researchers but with email addresses that differ from those from their institutions or associated with their previous publications, others appear to be completely fictitious.
We are unclear how far authors of the submitted manuscripts are aware that the reviewer names and email addresses provided by these agencies are fraudulent. However, given the seriousness and potential scale of the investigation findings, we believe that the scientific integrity of manuscripts submitted via these agencies is significantly undermined. Publishers who already know they are affected will be publishing statements on their own websites and will be taking the following immediate actions.
· Articles that have been published solely on the basis of reviews from fabricated contacts will be retracted in line with COPE guidance and authors and institutions involved will be contacted.
· Publishers are examining their own databases for the presence of fabricated reviewer accounts and contact details and will be contacting the authors of papers for which those reviewers were suggested as well as the relevant institutions, even if the papers were not accepted.
Authors with any concerns about inappropriate agency involvement in suggesting peer reviewers or any other aspect of the manuscript preparation and submission process should contact the relevant journal.
COPE is working with publishers, publishing organizations and relevant national bodies to determine how best to address this situation in the longer term. Updates will follow as more information becomes available. We encourage anyone with information on these issues to contact COPE directly on cope_administrator@
BioMed Central, which was hit with a case involving at least 50 submitted manuscripts last month, also put out a statement:
Following the discovery amongst a handful of BioMed Central journals that some author-suggested reviewers appeared to be fabricated, we have undertaken a systematic and thorough investigation together with other publishers and the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).
What we have found suggests that some third party agencies may be providing services to authors which include fabricated contact details for peer reviewers during the submission process and then supplying reviews from these fabricated addresses.
COPE has issued a statement. We will be working with COPE and other publishers to find ways to address this situation and will now proceed with the retraction of the affected articles that were published and rejection of those that are currently held in our systems.
We are contacting all institutions where researchers suggested fabricated peer reviewers on submission to a BioMed Central journal, and are working with all of our external editors, particularly those whose journals were affected, to ensure we aren’t affected in the future. We are in the process of reviewing our policy on author suggested reviewers.
It turns out there’s another problem brewing, according to a fascinating piece out this week by Charles Seife: Authorships for sale. The BMC statement continues:
A separate issue also possibly involving third-party agencies is reported here in Scientific American. These articles will be dealt with at the same time as those compromised by fabricated peer reviewers and will be included in our guidance going forward.