HIV paper retracted after authors recommend a colleague as a reviewer

Nothing like a little home cooking.

Genetic Vaccines and Therapy (GVT) has retracted a paper by a group of Pakistani authors who recommended one of their colleagues as a reviewer for their manuscript.

That’s not all: According to the journal, the researchers apparently also misappropriated data from a previous study.

The article in question, “Structure based sequence analysis & epitope prediction of gp41 HIV1 envelope glycoprotein isolated in Pakistan,” was published in June 2012. The first author is  Syyada Samra Jafri, who we see as being at the University of the Punjab in Lahore. According to the retraction notice:

This article [Jafri et al, Genetic Vaccines and Therapy, 2012 10:4] is retracted by the Editor because the peer review process was compromised due to a referee’s undeclared conflict of interest. Based on post-publication peer review the Editor cannot trust the veracity of the findings. We apologize to all affected parties.

Gary Hellermann, managing editor of GVT, said Jafri’s group had recommended a reviewer (BMC calls them referees) from their own institution, a clear no-no for journal. As its author guidelines state:

You will be also asked to provide the contact details (including email addresses) of potential peer reviewers for your manuscript. These should be experts in their field, who will be able to provide an objective assessment of the manuscript. Any suggested peer reviewers should not have published with any of the authors of the manuscript within the past five years, should not be current collaborators, and should not be members of the same research institution. Suggested reviewers will be considered alongside potential reviewers recommended by Editorial Board members or other advisers.

That would have been sufficient for a retraction — although it’s a bit unclear why it wasn’t caught before publication. But Hellermann told us there’s “more to the story.”

BMC decided to conduct its own review of the paper, in the course of which it uncovered trouble with the data:

They seemed to think that the data didn’t support the conclusion of the authors.

What’s more, Hellerman said, the reviewer learned that the authors had first presented the work at a meeting — but neglected to include their collaborators on the subsequent publication.

There was some email communication from the original group of presenters saying the work was plagiarized.

Hellermann said the episode dragged on a bit, but that in the end the course was clear.

We hate to do retractions but we just didn’t see any other resolution to this.

We tried to contact Jafri by email but have yet to hear back.

Now, if you really wanted to ensure a favorable review, you’d do it yourself but pretend to be someone else — but who would be so brazen? Oh, right, Hyung-In Moon would.

0 thoughts on “HIV paper retracted after authors recommend a colleague as a reviewer”

  1. It´s an scandal!!!. But there are Editors with a heavy numbers of scientific misconduct in hand, they still keep papers on!!!!. There is nothing to do with States or Societies!!!

  2. “That would have been sufficient for a retraction — although it’s a bit unclear why it wasn’t caught before publication.”

    The use of an e-mail account/address that does not reflect affiliation with the institute of the authors could be sufficient. This could be from a previous or a parallel affiliation.

    Now, as for compromising the review process, I can’t imagine that this field is so narrow that the (associate) editor is forced to actually assign the suggested reviewers. In my admittedly limited experience, suggested reviewers tend to be excluded as potential reviewers for that specific manuscript, but end up on a list of potential reviewers for future manuscripts. So there I would figure that the editor should take a good look at the policy regarding the assignment of reviewers.

  3. The policy CH brings up is an excellent one–don’t assign suggested reviewers unless absolutely necessary–but unfortunately I don’t think it’s always followed. It’s much easier just to use the authors’ suggestions, or at least one or two of them, and presuming the suggested reviewers are friendly with the submitter, this also makes it more likely that the paper gets accepted…that means $$ for some journals.

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