Confusion reigns: Are these four retractions for compromised peer review, or not?

Open Automation Journal CoverThe Open Automation and Control Systems Journal has published five items this calendar year — and all of those are retraction notices.

That’s what we’re sure about. Now to what we’re not clear on in this story, which is one of a growing number of cases we’ve seen in which so-called “predatory” publishers are starting to retract papers, perhaps because they hope the practice suggests they are rigorous. Four of the papers have been pulled for “compromised” peer review, some of which are due to the actions of an “external agent,” according to the journal. A co-author of one of these manuscripts, however, claims the paper has been pulled for using material from another researcher’s paper without acknowledgement but the journal has retracted it for issues with peer review.

The remaining paper has been pulled for plagiarizing from another published paper.

Let’s take a look at the retraction notice for the four papers felled by rigged peer review, which are all similar. They read:

The Publisher and Editor have retracted this article in accordance with good ethical practices. After a thorough investigations we believe that the peer review process was compromised.

And here’s the retraction notice for the paper the journal has retracted for plagiarism:

The Publisher and Editor have retracted this article in accordance with good ethical practices. It was found plagiarised and similar article was published in other journal. 

The journal is not indexed by Thomson Reuters Web of Science. Its publisher, Bentham Open, is on librarian Jeffrey Beall’s list of “potential, possible, or probable predatory” scholarly publishers. In one blog post, Beall presented evidence of “article brokers at work” in some Bentham Open journals, and listed the journals he finds “suspicious,” which included The Open Automation and Control Systems Journal.

Jiang Bo of the Dalian Maritime University in China, who co-authored one of the papers retracted for issues with peer review — “A New Algorithm for the Shortest Path of Touring Disjoint Convex Polygons” — told us his manuscript contained material that was lifted from another scientist, who is not listed among the co-authors:

This paper has been retracted by a request from the authors, as its main result was originally given by Prof. Xuehou Tan, in an unpublished manuscript. Prof. Tan shared his research work with the authors, and the authors did some work on it, but unfortunately didn’t change the result.

Bo explained how the authors learned of the situation:

When Prof. Tan submitted his manuscript to a conference, the reviewers of the conference found that the result has been published and reject it.

He went on:

If possible, we would like to give/publish a withdrawing announcement…to make a public apology to Prof. Xuehou Tan, Tokai University, Japan.

We’re not clear on the discrepancy between Bo’s rationale for retraction, and the one stated in the notice. Adding to that confusion is that it’s not clear when the paper was retracted.

Mahmood Alam, director of publications at Bentham Open, said the journal had already retracted Bo’s paper in December 2015 before one of Bo’s co-authors contacted the journal to request the retraction on March 26th of this year because of the lack of acknowledgement and consent. According to the journal’s website, however, the retraction notice to Bo’s paper was published electronically on 29th March 2016. Our attempts to clarify what happened have been unsuccessful.

Chen Hai-ting from Zhejiang Yuexiu University of Foreign Languages in Shaoxin, China, who authored the paper retracted for plagiarizing another paper) — CS-1-SVM: Improved One-class SVM for Detecting API Abuse on Open Network Service” — told us:

It is my own decision to withdraw the paper. The main reason is that the idea of my paper is the same as others. We do the same experiment. After careful consideration, I decide to withdraw this paper and it has already been permitted from the magazine.

Alam added that for the remaining papers

…it was discovered that the integrity of the peer review process was compromised through the involvement of an external agent and therefore the peer review of the paper was carried out again and after receiving negative reports and in consultation with the Editor-in-Chief, we retracted these papers.

When questioned about the identity of the “external agent,” Alam said:

We are not at liberty at this stage to reveal the name…

Alam added that the journal is currently conducting a “thorough investigation” of recently published papers to ensure that “proper” independent peer review has taken place for all papers. As a result, there have been some delays in publishing newly accepted articles, he noted, which is why no new research papers have so far been published by the journal in 2016. The journal may also retract more papers if “any discrepancies are found,” Alam said.

Here are the other three papers the journal retracted, all for compromised peer review:

We’ve recently reported on another instance of the peer review process being compromised as a result of involvement of third parties, such as manuscript editing companies.

In total, that’s well north of 300 papers that have been pulled from academic literature for faked or rigged peer review; we describe the phenomenon in more depth in a 2014 Nature article.

We’ve contacted the authors of the last three papers Chunhui Zhang from the Inner Mongolia Agricultural University in Hohhot, China; Wang Haiyan of the Binzhou University in Shandong, China; and Fan Yongkai from the China University of Petroleum in Beijing, China, respectively for comments. We’ll update the post with anything else we learn. 

Hat Tip: Tansu Kucukoncu

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One thought on “Confusion reigns: Are these four retractions for compromised peer review, or not?”

  1. ‘…perhaps because they hope the practice suggests they are rigorous.’
    This is trying to guess what may happen in people’s heads, assigning motives for actions. As an editorial comment it does not seem appropriate.

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