According to the retraction notices — which all appear in Elsevier journals and contain the same text — the papers were accepted due to “positive advice of at least one faked reviewer report,” which were submitted from fictitious email accounts for reviewers suggested by the author.
All five studies were solely authored by Mariusz Książek, who is based at the Wrocław University of Science and Technology in Poland, and has denied any wrongdoing.
A spokesperson from the Wrocław University of Science and Technology confirmed that the university “has taken legal actions.”
Książek told Retraction Watch why he doesn’t agree with the decision to retract his papers:
Retraction is groundless. This is the mistake! This is the mistake! I do not agree. I never delivered false addresses the e-mail. I do not agree with the retraction. I did not cheat anyone. I did not deliver false addresses the e-mail. I am innocent. I did not do bad anything. I did not cheat anyone.
A spokesperson for the Wrocław University of Science and Technology told us:
Faculty of Civil Engineering, where Dr. Mariusz Książek is currently working, is aware of the whole case. Information on the plea manipulation of the peer-review process has been transferred to the rector of our university who has taken legal actions.
When asked about the specifics of the legal actions, the spokesperson said that the institution’s rector is not currently in Poland, and more information will only be available when he is back, adding:
Currently, the case is under examination and until the conclusion [is reached] dr. Mariusz Książek will remain an employee of our university.
An Elsevier spokesperson gave us the backstory to these retractions:
In early 2016, a journal Editor became suspicious about a few reports she received from reviews suggested by this author, and rejected the submission.
She flagged the case to our ethics team who investigated all past submissions from the author to all Elsevier journals and reported their findings to the relevant Editors. Following COPE guidelines, the author was given the opportunity to respond but no satisfactory explanation was forthcoming.
The Editors therefore decided to retract the papers.
Książek said he tried to defend himself to the publisher:
Elsevier does not listen [to] my request and explanation. They claim something different.
Here’s one of the retraction notices:
This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief.
After a thorough investigation, the Editor-in-Chief and the Publisher have concluded that the acceptance of this article was based upon the positive advice of at least one faked reviewer report. The report was submitted from a fictitious email account which was provided to the journal as a reviewer suggested by the author during the submission of the paper.
This manipulation of the peer-review process represents a clear violation of the fundamentals of peer review, our publishing policies, and publishing ethics standards. Apologies are offered to the reviewers whose identities were assumed and to the readers of the journal that this deception was not detected during the submission process.
The 2014 paper in Engineering Failure Analysis, “Biological corrosion of the sandstone of the quay of the river of Odra in Wrocław,” has been cited once, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters.
The Elsevier spokesperson noted that most of the newly retracted papers were reviewed in 2013, before the industry became largely aware of the problem of fake reviews. And the publisher has taken steps to avoid the same issue in the future, the spokesperson said:
Authors are now instructed to provide only institutional email addresses for suggested reviewers.
Editor guidelines, contracts and education now emphasize the need for editors to carefully verify of identities and the need for at least one review from a reviewer who was not suggested by the author.
System development is underway to help verify suggested reviewer email address automatically.
But, he added, some technological constraints remain:
Unfortunately, verification of reviewer identities is not a trivial matter: e.g. not all researchers have been corresponding authors so they may not have ORCID or Scopus ID’s; not all universities have comprehensive details lists of researcher email address; some legitimate reviewers may have no institutional email address because they are retired, work as an independent consultant etc.
And unfortunately, even ORCID ID’s and institutional email addresses have the potential to be faked.
Here are the other four other recently pulled papers:
- “The evaluate tendencies of corrosion process for reinforcing steel when covered with special polymer sulfur coating,” published in Engineering Failure Analysis in 2014, cited five times. Its retraction notice is here.
- “The biocorrosion of city sewer collector impregnated special polymer sulfur binder – Polymerized sulfur applied as the industrial waste material,” a 2014 study in Construction and Building Materials, cited three times. Here is its retraction notice.
- “The influence of penetrating special polymer sulfur binder – Polymerized sulfur applied as the industrial waste material on concrete watertightness,” a 2014 study in Composites Part B: Engineering, cited four times.
- “The experimental investigations of propriety and applies in the building special coating – Sulfur polymer composite as the industrial waste material,” another 2014 paper in Composites Part B: Engineering, cited 10 times.
In total, we’ve counted well over 300 papers retracted for compromised, rigged, or faked peer review. Here’s our 2014 Nature feature on the topic if you need a bit more background.
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