30+ papers flagged because editors may have “subverted the peer review process” with fake accounts

HindawiIn what has become a familiar story, another publisher has found more than 30 papers that appear to have been accepted and published based on fake peer reviews.

Hindawi, publisher of more than 400 journals, is having 32 papers re-reviewed after an investigation

…identified three Editors who appear to have subverted the peer review process by creating fraudulent reviewer accounts and using these accounts to submit favorable review reports.

The publisher launched its investigation following BioMed Central’s November announcement that they had found at least 50 papers accepted because of fake reviews. That announcement came days after we published a feature in Nature on the phenomenon. BMC eventually retracted 43 articles.

As Hindawi notes in a statement posted to its site today:

In contrast with many other publishers, Hindawi does not enable authors to suggest potential reviewers for their submitted manuscripts, which seems to have been the primary vulnerability that enabled fraudulent review reports to be submitted in many of the other cases that have been uncovered so far. Nevertheless, Hindawi decided to analyze the peer review records as well as the log files from its Manuscript Tracking System for each of the 180,000+ manuscripts that were submitted during 2013 and 2014, which includes roughly 57,000 accepted articles, in order to uncover any cases of peer review fraud.

They give some details on how editors may have carried out the scheme, and how it was uncovered:

Prior to the investigation that Hindawi initiated in late 2014, Editors were free to solicit review reports from any reviewer that they felt would be appropriate based solely on their own discretion. As a result of Hindawi’s investigation into its peer review process, it became clear that one potential vulnerability was the lack of any independent verification of the peer reviewers who were selected by an Editor to review a submitted manuscript. If an Editor decided to subvert the journal’s peer review process they could do so by creating fake reviewer identities and then use these fake identities to submit the positive review reports that are required before the article can be accepted for publication.

In order to identify any cases where Editors may have created fake reviewer accounts, Hindawi conducted a systematic analysis of the log files from its Manuscript Tracking System in order to identify any potentially concerning cases. Any manuscripts that were identified as potentially concerning were then individually reviewed by Hindawi’s staff in order to verify the identities of the external peer reviewers who took part in the review process. In cases where review reports were submitted from personal (rather than institutional) email accounts, Hindawi’s staff actively verified these email accounts to ensure that they did in fact belong to the intended reviewer.

Their findings:

As a result of this verification process, Hindawi’s staff identified three Editors who appear to have subverted the peer review process by creating fraudulent reviewer accounts and using these accounts to submit favorable review reports. Hindawi’s staff then investigated all previous manuscripts handled by these Editors in order to look for similar cases of abuse in the past. In total, Hindawi identified 32 articles that were recommended for publication on the basis of review reports from these fraudulent reviewer accounts. Hindawi has not uncovered the motivations for this abuse, and it is not clear whether the authors of these manuscripts took part in, or were even aware of, these fraudulent review practices.

Hindawi tells us that the three editors — all of whom we’ve contacted for comment — are:

  • Yuxin Mao, Zhejiang Gongshang University, China
  • Amir Kajbafvala, North Carolina State University USA, and University of Wisconsin Eau Claire USA
  • Jason J. Jung, Yeungnam University South Korea, and Chung-Ang University South Korea

Kajbafvala, who is now a postdoc at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Clairewon an IEEE fellowship as a graduate student in 2012.

The publisher says that it consulted with the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), which recommended that independent members of journal editorial boards

…re-review these 32 published articles, and if the Editors determine that any of these articles are unsuitable for publication they should be retracted. Hindawi is now moving ahead with this re-review process, and will be working with COPE to ensure that any articles that need to be retracted are handled in accordance with COPE guidelines. Moreover, Hindawi will be providing a detailed report about its investigation to the institutions of the three Editors who created these fraudulent reviewer accounts so that they may conduct their own investigations.

The publisher has enacted

…a number of additional procedures designed to prevent similar cases of abuse from happening in the future. Most importantly, Hindawi’s editorial staff now actively verify the identity of every reviewer who takes part in the peer review process for any of Hindawi’s journals.

If all 32 papers are retracted, that would push the number of papers retracted for fake peer reviews since 2012 above 200. The total is about 170 now. Sixty of those came from one journal whose editor was at the head of helped publisher SAGE uncover a “peer review ring.”

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