BMC editors update retraction after investigation clears authors of faking peer reviews


Editors at BioMed Central have taken the unusual step of updating a retraction notice after an investigation found the authors were not responsible for a peer review process gone awry. The paper is one of  dozens of other papers retracted in March for fake peer reviews.

That month, the paper “Clinical application of contrast enhanced ultrasound to diagnose benign prostatic hyperplasia” in Diagnostic Pathology was among the 43 papers retracted due to fake peer reviews. (Retractions for the phenomenon — more about it in our Nature feature here — are up to about 170.)

According to the update posted in July, an investigation into the paper by the Jiading Central Hospital in Shanghai, where the authors work, found that they “did not participate in influencing the peer review process.”

Here’s more from the update to the notice:

BioMed Central has been informed of the outcome of a thorough investigation by the institution. That investigation found that the authors of this article [1] intended to purchase language editing services for their manuscript only and did not participate in influencing the peer review process. The institution has taken further steps to educate their researchers regarding best practice in research and publication ethics.

The journal doesn’t often add updates to retraction notices, Shane Canning, the media manager at BioMed Central, told us:

While it is not common practice to update a retraction notice it is not unprecedented.

We contacted the “Research Division” of Jiading Center Hospital via an email provided to us by Canning. They declined to provide a copy of the report:

Sorry, We only have responsibility to explain the investigation to Biomed Central. So, We are afraid not to provide the report to you.

Here’s the initial retraction for the paper, which, as we reported in March, seemed to be the standard text for the 43 notices:

The Publisher and Editor regretfully retract this article [1] because the peer-review process was inappropriately influenced and compromised. As a result, the scientific integrity of the article cannot be guaranteed. A systematic and detailed investigation suggests that a third party was involved in supplying fabricated details of potential peer reviewers for a large number of manuscripts submitted to different journals. In accordance with recommendations from COPE we have retracted all affected published articles, including this one. It was not possible to determine beyond doubt that the authors of this particular article were aware of any third party attempts to manipulate peer review of their manuscript.

The authors of the paper did not respond to our request for comment. We will update if they do. 

The paper has not been cited, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

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7 thoughts on “BMC editors update retraction after investigation clears authors of faking peer reviews”

  1. So the retraction as it stands basically says, “This paper was retracted cause of suspicions of fraud. Revision 1 they actually didn’t commit any fraud. Its still retracted because of reasons”

    1. As I understand it, the fraud WAS committed, but these scientists did not take part in it. They intended to purchase language editing services – and got the peer review manipulation unwittingly thrown into the mix. Sound odd.

  2. That makes sense. The 3rd party agencies made up fake names. Though, after this ordeal, the 3rd party got their money and the author has his reputation tarnished. It doesn’t seem like retractions will help this problem.

  3. Revision 1 they actually didn’t commit any fraud.
    A little more nuanced. More like:
    “Revision 1: Fraud happened but the researchers’ institution says they weren’t responsible for it.”

    the authors of this article [1] intended to purchase language editing services for their manuscript only

    “We sent our manuscript to a popular ghost-writing company to fine-tune the English. Next thing we knew, it had been submitted to a journal, and a panel of fake reviewers had been generated with e-addresses and positive reviews to supply to the journal… so we didn’t query the bill, and our hands are clean.”
    If this was one out of 43 BMC retractions, sounds like the ghost-writing company in question earned itself a good reputation. But none of its many satisfied customers had any inkling of the whole package deal they were buying.

  4. There still seems to be a lot of information regarding the authors, the editorial practices, and the editing service which is unknown, at least to me. I’m still skeptical about who knew or didn’t know what was going on.

  5. If I had sent a paper to a company to be translated and then they submitted it to a journal (without my knowledge) and it was published I would be outraged. Not go – “oh well that’s handy”.

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