Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

17 retractions from SAGE journals bring total fake peer review count to 250

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sage-journals-logoOn Monday, we reported on 64 new retractions from Springer journals resulting from fake peer reviews. Yesterday, SAGE — which retracted 60 papers for the same reason just over a year ago — added 17 additional retractions to their list.

The articles were published in five different journals, and one retraction involved authorship fraud in addition to peer review fraud, according to a SAGE spokesperson:

In all 17 cases, our investigation found the peer review processes had been severely compromised by fake reviewer details that were supplied to manipulate the peer review process.

The investigations and subsequent retractions are a reflection of improved processes and guidance provided by SAGE to editors and peer review assistants that SAGE further enhanced following a group of retractions in 2014. Today’s retractions are historical in nature and reflect SAGE’s efforts to uncover instances of fraud that predate the new process.

Here are the five journals, with retraction totals:

The retraction notices are in the process of going live. Twelve of the papers were submitted by one author, Alireza Karimi, of Tehran’s Iran University of Science and Technology, according to notices appearing in the Journal of Thermoplastic Composite Materials. Two of Karimi’s retracted Perfusion papers — “A comparative study on plaque vulnerability using constitutive equations” and “Fabrication and mechanical characterization of a polyvinyl alcohol sponge for tissue engineering applications” — were cited 26 and 18 times, respectively, earning a “highly cited” designation from Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

We’ve contacted Karimi, who declined to provide comment other than asking us not to post about the case because it has “already affected my academic records in my University badly.”

Last year, SAGE retracted 60 papers from the Journal of Vibration and Control. The number of papers retracted by all publishers for fake peer reviews since 2012 is now approximately 250, with another 32 flagged for peer review fraud by Hindawi but not yet retracted.

The publisher explained that the new retractions resulted from three separate investigations:

  • “In December 2014, one of the JVC’s newly appointed associate editors discovered a paper in peer review which appeared to have a fake recommended reviewer email account. The email address for the suggested reviewer provided by the submitting author was not an institutional one. Following guidance from SAGE, the associate editor tracked down the institutional email address of the supposed reviewer to verify the person’s identity; the reply confirmed that the individual had not submitted a review for the JVC paper. The paper in question was rejected in peer review, the associate editor alerted SAGE and an investigation was launched to look at all the articles submitted by the authors of the suspicious paper, cross referencing the associated fake reviewer email accounts across all SAGE journals.
  • As part of this investigation, SAGE contacted all of the authors of the suspicious paper, using the email addresses submitted on ScholarOne/SAGE Track as well as institutional ones found on the internet. One of the co-authors replying from his institutional email claimed not to have written one of the papers published. This led to a second investigation, which later determined that this was a case of authorship fraud in addition to peer review fraud for this particular paper.
  • In January 2015, a third investigation was launched when a peer review assistant spotted a paper that had been reviewed by two recommended reviewers with no independent review, and without associated institutional email addresses. Emails were sent to institutional accounts of the supposed recommended reviewers, who replied via their institutional accounts confirming that they did not review the papers in question, nor were they the owners of the non-institutional email addresses provided by the author. This investigation covered two journals; the editor for each title was alerted immediately upon discovery of suspicious activity.”

Unlike in a few recent fake peer review cases, which seem to have involved companies that provide editing services, SAGE tells Retraction Watch that

There is no indication or evidence that third party agencies were involved in these retractions because the submitting authors for 16 papers and a co-author for the 17thpaper acknowledged responsibility for the misconduct.

According to SAGE:

This investigation is now complete, and we are confident that we have uncovered the full extent of the problems concerning these papers.

The publisher said it is taking steps to “heighten awareness of best publishing practices among authors,” including the introduction of

clear guidance about what constitutes potential conflicts of interest when nominating reviewers during the submission process and [we] have indicated that authors should submit institutional email addresses when recommended reviewers are permitted. We have also updated the text of email invitations to potential reviewers asking them to consider the COPE guidelines for reviewers before accepting the invitation to review a paper and to refer to them throughout the review process.

SAGE has also created an Ethics and Quality Committee. In May, they announced a partnership with Publons, “a new company aiming to make peer review faster, more efficient and more effective.”

SAGE’s statement concludes:

The process of peer review is not infallible and is based on trust in our editors, authors and reviewers, who, for the most part, do an incredibly diligent job thoroughly assessing the merits of scientific output. While abuse of the peer review system and author misconduct is incredibly rare, it does happen. It is our hope that by confronting acts of misconduct through retractions and alerting publications like Retraction Watch of our efforts to expose the manipulative few, we will help to uphold the true spirit of peer review for the many.

Update 8/20/15 2:00 p.m. eastern: We’ve received the final retraction notices from the publisher. They can be accessed here:

Multiple retractions:

Single retractions:

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