Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Fake peer review, forged authors, fake funding: Everything’s wrong with brain cancer paper

with 14 comments

The paper had everything: Fake peer review, forged authors, even a fake funder.

In other words, it had nothing.

A 2015 paper is the latest retraction stemming from an investigation into fake peer review by Springer, which has now netted more than a hundred papers.

According to a spokesperson at Springer:

Dr. Chengjun Yao and Dr. Dongxiao Zhuang were added as co-authors without their knowledge by one of the other authors of this article.

The notice also explains that “the peer review process was compromised” and that the National Natural Science Foundation of China, which provides grant funding, “was not involved in the research reported in this article.”

The spokesperson confirmed that this paper, published in the Journal of Molecular Neuroscience, is related to the more than 100 papers retracted from Tumor Biology over fake peer review, and handful of others from other journals.

Here’s the latest retraction notice:

This article has been retracted at the request of Dr. Chengjun Yao, Dr. Dongxiao Zhuang, The Editor-in-Chief and the Publisher per the Committee on Publication Ethics guidelines for the following reasons:

-There is strong reason to believe that the peer review process was compromised.

-The article shows evidence of irregularities in authorship during the submission process.

-Dr. Chengjun Yao has confirmed that he was not involved in the submission process and does not support its publication.

-Dr. Dongxiao Zhuang has confirmed that he was not involved in the research nor in the writing of this article.

-The National Natural Science Foundation of China mentioned in this paper was not involved in the research reported in this article.

Nucleolin Promotes TGF-β Signaling Initiation via TGF-β Receptor I in Glioblastoma” was received and accepted by the journal over two days in March 2014 and first appeared online in April 2014, before widespread discussion of fake peer review first took place that fall. The paper has been cited five times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

We reached out to Yao and Zhuang, both based at Shanghai Medical College, Fudan University in China, and will update the post if we hear back.

The spokesperson also explained that this paper “is an isolated retraction, but it is related to the retractions from Tumor Biology in that there is overlap with some of the authors.”

In April, Springer retracted 107 papers from Tumor Biology, citing evidence of fake peer review. Over the past year, the publisher retracted a dozen more papers in Molecular Neurobiology over “compromised” peer review, which it also discovered during the Tumor Biology investigation. More than 500 papers have been retracted over fake reviews.

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Comments
  • John H Noble Jr July 6, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    It’s good that Retraction Watch keeps track of repeat offenders by name of author(s), research organization, journal, and publisher. Hopefully, Retraction Watch, if it doesn’t already do so, will publish annual or more frequent listings of untrustworthy sources of research findings for use of potential users–especially meta-analysts and “expert” committees that produce diagnostic and treatment guidelines. With documentation of rampant COIs at every level, it hard to accept anything at face value that is published or promulgated as authoritative. I spend more time these days reading Retraction Watch than I do any of the journals!

    • Ivan Oransky July 6, 2017 at 4:38 pm

      Thanks, Jack. Not sure if it’s what you mean, but we’ve been working on a database of retractions, searchable by many different categories. It’s not done yet, but we’re making a lot of progress: retractiondatabase.org.

      • Gene Nelson, Ph.D. July 8, 2017 at 9:58 am

        I’m gratified to see the progress that you are making with this relevant database. How many entries to date?

        • Ivan Oransky July 8, 2017 at 12:44 pm

          Thanks. More than 6,000. You can check by doing an empty search; ie just hitting the “search button” with blank fields.

  • herr doktor bimler July 6, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    The contact e-address provided for Dr. Chengjun Yao (ostensibly the corresponding author) is at 163.com, a service provider which most people know from the amount of spam routed through it. Shouldn’t the editor and reviewers have wondered why the author wasn’t contactable through Shanghai Medical College?

    “Nucleolin Promotes TGF-β Signaling Initiation via TGF-β Receptor I in Glioblastoma” was received and accepted by the journal over two days in March 2014
    … Ah, I see. It wasn’t reviewed. Predatory publication.

    • Klaus July 7, 2017 at 5:20 am

      In Shanghai (and I guess everywhere in China) not everyone has an email address of the host institution; this is also the case for Post Docs. Professors have one, of course. Thus, 163.com, qq, etc. email addresses are used by lot of people in Science. I know that because I had a Post Doc position in Shanghai. If restricting to official Department email addresses you would exclude (almost) all graduating students and Post Docs. And at least Chinese medical students need a (good) publication to be able/allowed to graduate.

      • TL July 7, 2017 at 6:49 am

        In such cases, the corresponding author should be the senior PI and their official e-mail address should be given. Throwaway e-mail addresses are not appropriate for correspondence that may occur years after publication.

      • Donald Osborne July 11, 2017 at 5:03 am

        I’ve talked to many grad students and postdocs at my institution from China. They told me they all had institutional email addresses. They were surprised I even asked because they said their systems are very sophisticated. Of course, this might not be true at lesser institutions. Besides, grad students and postdocs should never be directly approached to be peer reviewers. They can participate under the guidance of their advisor but never be the primary reviewer. I would be beyond irate if one of my manuscripts was sent out to peer review by postdocs or students, even those at top institutions.

  • Donald Osborne July 9, 2017 at 6:26 am

    Quite frankly, fake peer reviews wouldn’t happen if editors simply did their jobs and sent manuscripts out according to their own expertise instead of being lazy by pushing the button to send to authors’ suggested referees. At least if you do use the authors’ suggestion, look up the email address at the professor’s official institutional web page. A non-institutional address is the first clue that the authors have set up fake peer reviews. BTW, there is no reason for authors to be using gmail, yahoo, hotmail type email addresses. If they are, that’s another clue of potential fraud.

    • herr doktor bimler July 9, 2017 at 9:12 pm

      there is no reason for authors to be using gmail, yahoo, hotmail type email addresses. If they are, that’s another clue of potential fraud.
      As Klaus pointed out in a reply to my own comment, it is not as easy as that, if the suggested referees are based at an institute in China. Unless peer-reviewing is restricted to people with enough seniority to qualify for an institutional address.

      • Donald Osborne July 11, 2017 at 5:09 am

        Postdocs and students should never be approached by editors to be peer reviewers. Even among independent investigators, it should only be performed by experts in the field of the manuscript.

  • Klaus July 9, 2017 at 11:38 pm

    TL
    In such cases, the corresponding author should be the senior PI and their official e-mail address should be given. Throwaway e-mail addresses are not appropriate for correspondence that may occur years after publication.

    That is definitely true.

  • Klaus July 9, 2017 at 11:39 pm

    herr doktor bimler
    there is no reason for authors to be using gmail, yahoo, hotmail type email addresses. If they are, that’s another clue of potential fraud.
    As Klaus pointed out in a reply to my own comment, it is not as easy as that, if the suggested referees are based at an institute in China. Unless peer-reviewing is restricted to people with enough seniority to qualify for an institutional address.

    I agree to that, too.

  • Klaus July 11, 2017 at 11:32 pm

    Donald Osborne
    I’ve talked to many grad students and postdocs at my institution from China. They told me they all had institutional email addresses. They were surprised I even asked because they said their systems are very sophisticated. Of course, this might not be true at lesser institutions. Besides, grad students and postdocs should never be directly approached to be peer reviewers. They can participate under the guidance of their advisor but never be the primary reviewer. I would be beyond irate if one of my manuscripts was sent out to peer review by postdocs or students, even those at top institutions.

    Obviously, there can be some differences then.

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