“Compromised” peer review hits three papers from Nature Publishing Group


Nature Publishing Group is retracting three papers today, after an investigation found evidence the peer-review process had been compromised.

The publisher issued a statement saying they had notified corresponding authors and institutions associated with the three papers, which were all published last year in the journals Cancer Gene Therapy and Spinal Cord. 

Here’s the note that’s going on each of the papers, (they’re the same, except for the publication date):

The Publisher and Editor retract this article in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). After a thorough investigation we have strong reason to believe that the peer review process was compromised.

This article was published on [date.]

Here is the list of retracted papers:

There are many ways the peer-review process can be compromised, and we’re not sure what exactly happened here. We explored the phenomenon in a Nature feature from last year, which can include faking email addresses for peer reviewers so authors can review their own papers. We’ve currently logged more than 260 retractions due to such problems with peer review.

A statement from David Bull, the Editorial Director of NPG Academic Journals, explains that the publisher has also notified the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) about the alleged infraction:

A number of publishers have or are retracting papers as a result of identifying fake email addresses with associated fabricated peer review reports, as detailed by COPE in their December 2014 statement. Following a thorough investigation of papers published by Nature Publishing Group, we have strong reason to believe that the peer review process on these three articles was compromised. Nature Publishing Group has made COPE aware of the findings in these cases and has followed COPE’s recommendations, as outlined in their statement, for dealing with this issue. Nature Publishing Group will continue to participate and do whatever we can to support COPE’s efforts in this matter.

We have reviewed our editorial processes across Nature Publishing Group to guard against this kind of manipulation of the peer review process in future. We have also been in contact with the corresponding authors and institutions concerned, and will continue to work with them.

All of the corresponding authors are based in China, where on December 2nd, regulators released a directive that forbids researchers from hiring third parties to write or submit journal articles, among other things. In March, following the retraction of 43 articles from BioMed Central journals for compromised peer review, the publisher’s editor for research integrity wrote:

Some of the manipulations appear to have been conducted by third-party agencies offering language-editing and submission assistance to authors. It is unclear whether the authors of the manuscripts involved were aware that the agencies were proposing fabricated reviewers on their behalf or whether authors proposed fabricated names directly themselves.

We’ve contacted the corresponding authors of the papers for comment, and will update this post with anything else we learn.

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