Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Researcher denies faking reviews for 5 newly retracted papers

with 5 comments

engineering-failure-analysisJournals have retracted five papers by a materials researcher based in Poland after concluding the peer-review process had been faked. 

According to the retraction notices — which all appear in Elsevier journals and contain the same text — the papers were accepted due to “positive advice of at least one faked reviewer report,” which were submitted from fictitious email accounts for reviewers suggested by the author.

All five studies were solely authored by Mariusz Książek, who is based at the Wrocław University of Science and Technology in Poland, and has denied any wrongdoing.

A spokesperson from the Wrocław University of Science and Technology confirmed that the university “has taken legal actions.” 

Książek told Retraction Watch why he doesn’t agree with the decision to retract his papers:

Retraction is groundless. This is the mistake! This is the mistake! I do not agree. I never delivered false addresses the e-mail. I do not agree with the retraction. I did not cheat anyone. I did not deliver false addresses the e-mail. I am innocent. I did not do bad anything. I did not cheat anyone.

A spokesperson for the Wrocław University of Science and Technology told us:

Faculty of Civil Engineering, where Dr. Mariusz Książek is currently working, is aware of the whole case. Information on the plea manipulation of the peer-review process has been transferred to the rector of our university who has taken legal actions.

When asked about the specifics of the legal actions, the spokesperson said that the institution’s rector is not currently in Poland, and more information will only be available when he is back, adding: 

Currently, the case is under examination and until the conclusion [is reached] dr. Mariusz Książek will remain an employee of our university.

An Elsevier spokesperson gave us the backstory to these retractions:

In early 2016, a journal Editor became suspicious about a few reports she received from reviews suggested by this author, and rejected the submission.

She flagged the case to our ethics team who investigated all past submissions from the author to all Elsevier journals and reported their findings to the relevant Editors. Following COPE guidelines, the author was given the opportunity to respond but no satisfactory explanation was forthcoming.

The Editors therefore decided to retract the papers.

Książek said he tried to defend himself to the publisher:

Elsevier does not listen [to] my request and explanation. They claim something different.

Here’s one of the retraction notices:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief.

After a thorough investigation, the Editor-in-Chief and the Publisher have concluded that the acceptance of this article was 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 journal as a reviewer suggested by the author during the submission of the paper.

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 2014 paper in Engineering Failure Analysis, “Biological corrosion of the sandstone of the quay of the river of Odra in Wrocław,” has been cited once, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters

The Elsevier spokesperson noted that most of the newly retracted papers were reviewed in 2013, before the industry became largely aware of the problem of fake reviews. And the publisher has taken steps to avoid the same issue in the future, the spokesperson said:

Authors are now instructed to provide only institutional email addresses for suggested reviewers.

Editor guidelines, contracts and education now emphasize the need for editors to carefully verify of identities and the need for at least one review from a reviewer who was not suggested by the author.

System development is underway to help verify suggested reviewer email address automatically.

But, he added, some technological constraints remain:

Unfortunately, verification of reviewer identities is not a trivial matter: e.g. not all researchers have been corresponding authors so they may not have ORCID or Scopus ID’s; not all universities have comprehensive details lists of researcher email address; some legitimate reviewers may have no institutional email address because they are retired, work as an independent consultant etc.

And unfortunately, even ORCID ID’s and institutional email addresses have the potential to be faked.

Here are the other four other recently pulled papers:

In total, we’ve counted well over 300 papers retracted for compromised, rigged, or faked peer review. Here’s our 2014 Nature feature on the topic if you need a bit more background.

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Comments
  • Dean November 10, 2016 at 9:52 am

    If journals want to solve this problem, they should stop asking the authors for reviewer suggestions and find their own.

  • PJTV November 10, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    It is suggested that reviewers have an institutional address. This can be faked and there are also scientists (eg retirees) who operate from personal addresses. However, is there nowhere the suggestion to verify that a reviewer has a publication history? Then it will also be clear that somebody has the right experience in the right field.

    • Juan November 14, 2016 at 1:47 am

      “Apologies are offered to the reviewers whose identities were assumed ”
      It sounds like he was putting the names of actual scientists in the field, but providing fictitious email addresses (e.g. stephenhawking@hotmail.com) and responding pretending to be those people.

  • Chris Mebane November 12, 2016 at 9:25 am

    Just the titles of these articles suggests less than thorough editorial vetting in the first place. “The experimental investigations of propriety and applies in the building special coating…” Huh? Editorial review by Google Translate? Perhaps he meant “The experimental properties and applications of a building special coating…” Granted, having the language of science being English presents challenges for non-native speakers, and good English is not a requisite for good science. (Picture Copernicus or Galileo submitting an article to a journal). Still….

  • John Doe November 13, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    “Authors are now instructed to provide only institutional email addresses for suggested reviewers.”

    This is wrong: it cannot be authors’ responsibility to play a detective for determining a proper email address of a person. Elsevier, are you really saying that authors can be held generally accountable for the email addresses they supply? If so, please indicate this in bold letters in all your submission systems.

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