Fake peer reviews: They’re all the rage.
Sixteen papers are being retracted across three Elsevier journals after the publisher discovered that one of the authors, Khalid Zaman, orchestrated fake peer reviews by submitting false contact information for his suggested reviewers.
This particular kind of scam has been haunting online peer review for a few years now, as loyal Retraction Watch readers know. This one is a classic of the genre: According to Elsevier’s director of publishing services, Catriona Fennell, an editor first became suspicious after noticing that Zaman’s suggested reviewers, all with non-institutional addresses, were unusually kind to the economist’s work.
Elsevier has actually hired a full-time staff member with a PhD in physics and history as a managing editor to do the grunt work on cases like this. Flags were first raised in August, at which point the ethics watchdog went to town digging through all of Zaman’s other publications looking for suspicious reviews coming from non-institutional addresses provided by the scientist, an economist at COMSATS Information Technology Center in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Here’s the main notice:
This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor and the Publisher.
After a thorough investigation, the Publisher has concluded that the Editor was misled into accepting this article based upon the positive advice of at least one faked reviewer report. The report was submitted from a fictitious email account which was provided to the Editor by the corresponding author during the submission of the article. The corresponding author, Dr Zaman, wishes to admit sole responsibility and to state that his co-authors were not aware of his actions.
This manipulation of the peer-review process represents a clear violation of the fundamentals of peer review, our publishing policies, and publishing ethics standards. Apologies are offered to the reviewers whose identities were assumed and to the readers of the journal that this deception was not detected during the submission process.
The papers appear in Economic Modelling, Renewable Energy, and Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. One paper will also have the additional line thanking a co-author, Jamshed Uppal, for raising his own alarm.
We got in touch with Fennell, who told us what Elsevier is doing in the wake of these scams, and what editors and authors should do:
In the last couple of years, unfortunately, editors have learned to be more skeptical of reviewer details provided by authors, especially contact details not connected to institutions. Traditionally in this whole field there has been a sense that you work on the basis of trust. The starting point is, the vast majority of people are honest.
It’s a bit like plagiarism detection software – you might be looking for one in a thousand, but it comes clear you need to start looking for it…About a year or two ago it became clear these cases are not isolated….If someone recommends a reviewer, we suggest [editors] verify the email address against SCOPUS.
Our message for editors is, be alert but not alarmed. This is a small minority but we do need to start watching out for it.
From our perspective, there are two areas that we consider ourselves to have very strong responsibilities in.
First, we provide our editors with the best support, tools, and guidelines…editors may never have come across this before, it’s very rare, so we can provide them with really good support.
Second, we really feel we have a role in educating authors…the entire community has a vested interest in upholding ethics…We hold 200 workshops at universities every year to talk to authors about how to get your papers published. There are always ethics talks, and those are very popular. We come across a lot of confusion, especially with younger researchers…Yes there are clear cut cases, but there are also a lot of grey areas.
We consider ourselves to have an important role in prevention. We try to put a positive tone to our education material, so it’s not a draconian “we will catch you” – it’s also about the importance of research integrity for science, the perception of science with taxpayers…there are a lot of rewards for doing this the right way.
None of the papers has been cited more than seven times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge, although one of the Renewable Energy studies earned a “highly cited” designation from the database.
We’ve reached out to Zaman and Uppal, and will update with anything we learn.
Here’s a complete list of the papers to be retracted:
- The relationship between foreign direct investment and pro-poor growth policies in Pakistan: The new interface
- The relationship between financial indicators and human development in Pakistan
- The relationship between agricultural technologies and carbon emissions in Pakistan: Peril and promise
- Distributional effects of rising food prices in Pakistan: Evidence from HIES 2001–02 and 2005–06 survey
- Effect of oil prices on trade balance: New insights into the cointegration relationship from Pakistan
- Exchange rate pass-through in to inflation: New insights in to the cointegration relationship from Pakistan
- The consequences of revenue gap in Pakistan: Unveiling the reality
- The relationship between growth–inequality–poverty triangle and pro-poor growth policies in Pakistan: The twin disappointments
- The relationship between growth and poverty in forecasting framework: Pakistan’s future in the year 2035
- The relationship between audit committees, compensation incentives and corporate audit fees in Pakistan
- Foreign exchange risk in a managed float regime: A case study of Pakistani rupee
- Impact of foreign political instability on Chinese exports
- Modeling the causal relationship between energy and growth factors: Journey towards sustainable development
- Questing the three key growth determinants: Energy consumption, foreign direct investment and financial development in South Asia
Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews