Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

SAGE journal retracts three more papers after discovering faked reviews

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SAGE recently retracted three 2015 papers from one of its journals after the publisher found the articles were accepted with faked peer reviews. The retraction notices call out the authors responsible for submitting the reviews.

This trio of retractions is the second batch of papers withdrawn by Technology in Cancer Research & Treatment over faked reviews in the past eight months. In 2016, the journal began investigating concerns from an anonymous tipster about faked reviewer reports and subsequently retracted three papers in December over “manipulation of the peer-review process” (1, 2, 3).

Jennifer Lovick, the journal’s executive editor, told us the recent issues have prompted the journal to take steps to strengthen the peer review process:

Following the first round of retractions in December 2016, I replaced the Editor-in-Chief and am working closely with a team of Associate Editors to manage peer review. To avoid the likelihood of further peer review fraud, we have ceased using recommended reviewers and have taken measures to verify individuals who are selected to be reviewers. All reviewers are selected by either an Associate Editor or myself and are further vetted by me and monitored throughout the peer review process. For example, we use reviewers who are in the journal’s database already with verifiable accounts or those who have institutional email addresses that we identify from PubMed. In cases of volunteer reviewers, we require they supply an institutional email address as well as a CV that we keep on file.

In 2015, another SAGE journal disbanded the use of author-suggested reviewers, after discovering 21 submitted papers had relied on fake reviews.

Here’s more on the timeline from Lovick:

Last year, we were made aware of possible peer review fraud via an anonymous tip and conducted an investigation in order to identify papers with falsified reviewer comments. Initial retractions happened in December 2016, at which point, taking our role as custodians of robust peer review very seriously, we conducted further investigations and identified the three additional papers, two of which had reviewer comments that shared similar characteristics with the original fraudulent reviews. The other retraction involved suspicious emails which we confirmed were fabricated contact details for legitimate individuals.

All six papers were submitted to the journal after SAGE had dealt with a fake review scandal in another of its journals in July 2014, in which the publisher discovered a “peer review and citation ring.”

Lovick said that SAGE Publishing saw the 2014 scandal “as an opportunity to review practices for reducing our journals’ vulnerability to peer review fraud and put in place expanded recommendations for journal editors in line with COPE guidelines.” For example, Lovick said that SAGE alerted journal editors to issues that can arise from allowing authors to recommend reviewers.

For editors that still allow author-recommended reviewers, SAGE has modified its peer review process. Authors who suggest reviewers must provide additional information, including a reason why they are recommending the reviewer and an institutional email for the reviewer. Lovick also said:

We have alerted editors to the warning signs of a potentially fabricated review – such as a brief or generic response regarding the article

So how did the journal miss the six recent retractions? Lovick explained:

Unfortunately, in the case of these retracted papers, it seems that the recommended practices mentioned above were not followed (though it should be noted that the editors at the time were new to the journal and previously unfamiliar with our peer review system). But we are confident that we can avoid similar incidents in the future under our new editorial leadership.

Here’s the retraction notice for “Effects of Oxymatrine on the Proliferation and Apoptosis of Human Hepatoma Carcinoma Cells:”

The following article has been retracted as a result of our determining the likelihood of manipulation of the peer-review process:

“Effects of Oxymatrine on the Proliferation and Apoptosis of Human Hepatoma Carcinoma Cells,” by Yan Liu, MD, Tingting Bi, MD, Wei Dai, PhD, Gang Wang, PhD, Liqiang Qian, MD, Quangen Gao, MD, and Genhai Shen, MD, Technology in Cancer Research & Treatment, DOI: 10.1177/1533034615587616

After investigating the peer-review process for the article, SAGE determined that the peer-review process was likely compromised. Our review identified an unusual verbatim repetition of review comments provided from different peer-reviewer accounts provided by submitting author, Quangen Gao, MD, as recommended reviewers. SAGE apologizes to readers and regrets that the academic record has been compromised as a result of this manipulation of the peer-review process.

The paper, received by the journal in March 2015 and published in May 2015, has been cited seven times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

Here’s the similarly worded retraction notice for Lupeol Induces Apoptosis and Cell Cycle Arrest of Human Osteosarcoma Cells Through PI3K/AKT/mTOR Pathway,” which was submitted by the same group and which also calls out corresponding author, Quangen Gao:

The following article has been retracted as a result of our determining the likelihood of manipulation of the peer-review process:

“Lupeol Induces Apoptosis and Cell Cycle Arrest of Human Osteosarcoma Cells Through PI3K/AKT/mTOR Pathway,” by Yan Liu, MD, Tingting Bi, MD, Wei Dai, PhD, Gang Wang, PhD, Liqiang Qian, MD, Genhai Shen, MD, and Quangen Gao, MD, Technology in Cancer Research & Treatment, DOI: 10.1177/1533034615609014

After investigating the peer-review process for the article, SAGE determined that the peer-review process was likely compromised. Our review identified an unusual verbatim repetition of review comments provided from different peer-reviewer accounts provided by submitting author, Quangen Gao, MD, as recommended reviewers. SAGE apologizes to readers and regrets that the academic record has been compromised as a result of this manipulation of the peer-review process.

The paper, received by the journal in July 2015 and published online in October 2015, has been cited two times.

We reached out to Gao, who is based at Wujiang No. 1 People’s Hospital in Suzhou, China. Gao said he agreed with the retractions, but expressed his frustration, explaining that the two reviewers he recommended to the assess the papers had worked at the same institution and were “familiar with each other.” Gao also told us:

I think the reviewers wouldn’t  supply “fake” reviews in any way.

The third paper retracted in July 2017 is from a different group of researchers based in China. Here’s the third retraction notice for “siRNA-Mediated SBF2 Silencing May Inhibit Pancreatic Cancer Cells via Attenuation of the TGF-β Signaling Pathway,” which also cites fake peer review:

The following article has been retracted as a result of our confirming manipulation of the peer-review process by submitting author, Jin Long, MD:

“siRNA-Mediated SBF2 Silencing May Inhibit Pancreatic Cancer Cells via Attenuation of the TGF-β Signaling Pathway,” by Jin Long, MD, Zhe Liu, MD, Xingda Wu, MM, Yuanhong Xu, MD, and Chunlin Ge, MD, Technology in Cancer Research & Treatment, DOI: 10.1177/1533034615580724

After investigating the peer-review process for the article, SAGE determined that the submitting author supplied fabricated contact details for legitimate individuals named as recommended reviewers for the articles. The Editor accepted the paper based on the peer-review comments submitted from the discredited email accounts. SAGE apologizes to readers and regrets that the academic record has been compromised as a result of this manipulation of the peer-review process.

The paper, which was received in December 2014 and published in April 2015, has not yet been cited.

Late last year, Technology in Cancer Research & Treatment flagged the first three papers affected by fake reviews. The papers do not have any authors in common; they are based at various institutions in China, including The Sixth Affiliated Hospital, Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou and Guangzhou First People’s Hospital. Here are links to the three notices:

The papers have not yet been indexed by Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, though the retraction notices have been.

SAGE is no stranger to peer review issues. In January 2017, SAGE took over Tumor Biology from Springer; in April, Springer announced it was retracting 107 papers published during its tenure over fake reviews; the journal was recently delisted from Clarivate in response. In response, SAGE said it was introducing “new robust peer review practices expected from all SAGE journals.”

SAGE also faced its own fake review scandal several years ago. In July 2014, SAGE retracted 60 papers in one of its journals, Journal of Vibration and Control, after uncovering a “peer review and citation ring” involving a researcher based in Taiwan. The scandal led to the resignation of Taiwan’s education minister, Chiang Wei-ling, who was a co-author on several of the papers.

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Written by Victoria Stern

August 21st, 2017 at 11:30 am

Comments
  • Identity theft August 21, 2017 at 2:17 pm

    Now, this:

    “The other retraction involved suspicious emails which we confirmed were fabricated contact details for legitimate individuals.”

    is a criminal offence in many legislations. It is called identity theft.

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