DNA and Cell Biology has declared it will ban any authors who submit plagiarized manuscripts for three years, and will no longer accept suggestions of reviewers with non-institutional email addresses.
The move comes after a wave of hundreds of retractions stemming from fake peer reviews, often occurring when authors supply fake emails for suggested reviewers.
In an editorial published online October 23, editor Carol Shoshkes Reiss notes that the decision to ban authors who plagiarize material stems from a rash of recent submissions containing overlapping text:
Recently we began to routinely scan each submitted manuscript for original language, using high-caliber plagiarism detection software. While it is not unusual to see common language describing methodology and reagents, we have found that 10–20% of the submissions in the last 4 months have had unacceptably high levels of strings of words or even full paragraphs that are taken verbatim from other published material. The most recent submission to come across my virtual desk had a 50% overlap with published articles found in the literature.
The journal won’t just ban authors who submit overlapping text — it will notify the authors’ institutions and funding agencies, as well:
The action taken by DNA and Cell Biology is swift and final, and its policy is firm. Questionable submissions are immediately rejected for plagiarism. The Provost or Dean of Research of the home institution of the corresponding author is notified. Furthermore, if grant support was listed in the submission, the agency is notified. The authors are red-flagged in our electronic system and are barred from submitting future research communications for 3 years.
The journal routinely asks authors to recommend reviewers, but will no longer accept suggestions that come with non-institutional email addresses, which can easily be created under a fake name:
The Journal’s policy is to allow authors to suggest potential referees with names of experts in their fields. However, only suggested reviewers who have an academic and/or institutional e-mail address will be considered. E-mail addresses with generic domain names (Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL, etc.) will be disregarded.
We haven’t come across a case of fake peer review affecting DNA and Cell Biology, so we’ve asked editor Carol Shoshkes Reiss if the move is a preventative one. She said the journal has “recognized fake email addresses,” but most (not all) were flagged as such:
I have confidence that 4 of 5 section editors never used the potentially fraudulent email addresses. After a recent flurry of internal messages, I am certain that the 5th will never do it in the future.
Reiss added that the faked emails didn’t result in a paper published by the journal. The recent decision to avoid reviewers with non-institutional emails is to prevent any future incidents, she said:
…yes, this is a pre-emptive preventative decision to avoid “tame” and fake critiques.
To make sure she is contacting the correct expert, Reiss told us:
I will get the university email address for the proposed experts and use that. Now, on occasion, the literature has personal email addresses for corresponding authors. I will use those.
Reiss told us the journal hasn’t established a set cut-off for how much plagiarism is acceptable:
We don’t have a specific figure. I examine the iThenicate report. If the materials and methods is the only area of common phrases, I ignore it. If the introduction, results and discussion have long tracks of identical words, the paper is rejected. There was just a paper with a 31% score and >11% self-plagiarized.
She noted that the journal has spent four months scanning every submission, before which it only investigated papers that someone had flagged:
We only have 4 months experience where every submission is scanned. Before, if alerted by a reviewer, or in our search to select reviewers we found a concern, the submission was examined.
Hat tip: Rolf Degen
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