Earlier this month, BioMed Central and Springer announced that they were retracting nearly 60 papers for a host of related issues, including manipulating the peer-review process. Recently, we were contacted by one of the reviewers who was impersonated by some of the authors of the retracted papers.
The scientist wants to remain anonymous, but provided us with emails that supported his version of events.
In case you need a refresher on the “events” that took place: The two publishers recently pulled 58 papers from authors mostly based in Iran, citing evidence of plagiarism, and manipulating the peer-review process and allocating authorship positions inappropriately.
It all started with a seemingly simple question, the scientist told us:
Approximately 10 months ago I was contacted by one of the publishers concerned with a question whether I had reviewed three of the offending papers, using a gmail e-mail address with a variation of my name. I had never seen any of those papers before, and they are not in my field of expertise.
Surprised to learn that his name had been co-opted without his knowledge, the researcher decided to check if any other similar instances could be found:
A google search with my name then revealed a reviewer acknowledgements page of a journal belonging to the other publisher, where a reviewer with my name but listed with another nationality was thanked for reviewing in at least two separate years. Since my name is not a common one (there is no other scientist currently listed in the literature with the same combination of first and last names) I contacted the second publisher to raise the concern that their journal had also accepted papers after fake reviewing.
It wasn’t just two papers, the researcher told us:
The results of the investigations suggest that at least five of these nearly 60 retracted papers received at least one fake review each, using the fake identity based on my name.
Indeed, he supplied emails from one of the publishers corroborating that their investigation was connected to his correspondence over his name being used as a fake reviewer.
The journals concerned could have easily prevented what happened, he told us:
While the publishers should be commended for taking appropriate action to investigate and then retract the offending publications, the editors of these journals are not entirely free of blame in this case. Some minimal due diligence in reviewer selection would have revealed that none of those five manuscript submissions were in my field of expertise, and that my home institution is not located in the country apparently indicated in the fake affiliation. Which raises the question what consequences (if any) such events have for the editors concerned?
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