This summer, a scientist exploited basic security flaws in how the system accepts author suggestions for peer reviewers to review a whole pile of his own manuscripts, ultimately resulting in the retraction of 60 papers and the resignation of the Taiwan minister of education.
Now, another journal that uses the system, Wiley’s International Journal of Chemical Kinetics, has retracted a paper because the authors provided their own peer reviewers and “the identity of the peer reviewers could subsequently not be verified.”
We asked editor Craig A. Taatjes if he was concerned the authors had conducted their own peer review. His response is reflective of many of the breaches we’ve seen so far for these online systems:
We cannot rule out that possibility.
Here’s the notice for “Acid-Catalyzed Aquation of Ni(II)-Hydrazone Complexes: Kinetics and Solvent Effect” (paywalled), a paper originally published in August:
This article has been retracted by agreement between the journal editors and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. as the identity of the peer reviewers could subsequently not be verified.
We got more details from Taatjes:
The manuscript was accepted for publication based on two referee reports from peer reviewers. After the article was published we found that the email addresses used for the peer reviewers did not correspond to addresses normally used by these individuals as contact information in their publications. When I contacted the reviewers, through their institutional, publicly available email addresses, it became clear that neither of them had reviewed, nor had knowledge of, the manuscript. The article was therefore retracted due to the fact that the identity of the peer reviewers could not be verified.
The corresponding author was not able to explain the source of the incorrect referee contact information he had provided to the editorial office. We believe that this is a single episode and have found no evidence, after scrutinizing our records, that other cases of a similar nature have occurred in the journal. In response to this incident we have reinforced our procedures for independent verification of reviewer contact information.
Various publishers have had to retract more than 100 papers by a range of authors for similar reasons.
Hat tip: Stuart Cantrill