This is officially becoming a trend: Springer is pulling another 64 articles from 10 journals after finding evidence of faked peer reviews, bringing the total number of retractions from the phenomenon north of 230.
Given that there have been about 1,500 papers retracted overall since 2012, when we first reported on the phenomenon, faked reviews have been responsible for about 15% of all retractions in the past three years.
This isn’t the first time Springer has faced the issue. As owner of the BioMed Central journals, it issued 43 retractions for faked reviews earlier this year.
In a statement, the publisher explains how the latest round of retractions came to light:
Springer confirms that 64 articles are being retracted from 10 Springer subscription journals, after editorial checks spotted fake email addresses, and subsequent internal investigations uncovered fabricated peer review reports. After a thorough investigation we have strong reason to believe that the peer review process on these 64 articles was compromised. We reported this to the Committee on Publishing Ethics (COPE) immediately. Attempts to manipulate peer review have affected journals across a number of publishers as detailed by COPE in their December 2014 statement. Springer has made COPE aware of the findings of its own internal investigations and has followed COPE’s recommendations, as outlined in their statement, for dealing with this issue. Springer will continue to participate and do whatever we can to support COPE’s efforts in this matter.
The publisher is also corresponding with the individual authors and institutions affected by the retractions:
We have been in contact with the corresponding authors and institutions concerned, and will continue to work with them.
Springer added it’s taking steps to avoid future incidents:
The peer-review process is one of the cornerstones of quality, integrity and reproducibility in research, and we take our responsibilities as its guardians seriously. We are now reviewing our editorial processes across Springer to guard against this kind of manipulation of the peer review process in future.
We’re still not sure which papers have been retracted, but will keep checking the Springer site for new notices and will update the post when we know more. [Update, 7:30 a.m. Eastern, 8/18: Here are the 64 papers.]
You can read more about our dive into the problem, which has affected several major publishers, in Nature.
A Springer spokesperson provided us with more details about how they’re trying to stop this from happening again:
We have further strengthened our the checks in our editorial offices as a result of this. We are working to support our external editors to make them aware of the issues and ensure that thorough checks of peer reviewers are completed. Credentials from peer reviewers will be increasingly checked by our editorial office, which support our editors-in-chief, and some journals may request more information in the form of an institutional e-mail address and/or SCOPUS ID of the suggested reviewer.
The authors are not always to blame for faked emails. Recently, BMC cleared the authors of a retracted paper of responsibility for faking the emails that compromised the peer review of their paper. Last month, we learned that it was the editors at Hindawi journals who faked emails in more than 30 papers.
In the 64 papers retracted today, too, the authors may not always have been involved, said the Springer spokesperson:
Findings suggest some third party agencies, offering pre-submission editing and submission assistance services to authors, may have been involved during the submission process. In situations where institutional investigations have found that authors have been inadvertently affected by the compromised peer review process, they will be encouraged to resubmit and go through a legitimate peer review process.
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