When a journal retracts 107 papers for fake reviews, it pays a price

A company that indexes journals — thereby assigning them impact factors — has chosen to delist a cancer journal after it retracted 107 papers earlier this year for faked peer reviews.

Starting July 19, anything published by Tumor Biology will not be indexed in Web of Science, part of Clarivate Analytics (formerly part of Thomson Reuters). Clarivate told us the decision was based on the fake reviews that took down more than 100 papers earlier this year. The problematic papers were released while the journal was published by Springer, not its current publisher, SAGE.

Without being indexed by Web of Science, Tumor Biology will lack an impact factor — which can be the kiss of death for many journals, since researchers (and institutions) often count on such metrics when applying for grants and promotions, so many will not submit work to a journal without one.

Here’s the statement from a Clarivate spokesperson [their emphasis]:

After a thorough review, Clarivate Analytics has deselected Tumor Biology from continued coverage in Web of Science. This journal no longer meets the high standards required for inclusion due to the severity of peer review malpractice. Any papers missing from Web of Science that were published in Tumor Biology from January 1 to July 18, 2017 will be processed and loaded to Web of Science in the coming weeks.  All content published in this journal on or after July 19, 2017 will not be indexed.

To clarify, this journal was removed from the Web of Science last month but it is in the 2017 release of the [Journal Citation Reports, or JCR] (announced back in June).  We do not remove a journal’s content from the Web of Science after it’s been de-selected.  The coverage change (of removal from Web of Science indexing) is prospective – no future content is indexed and it will not appear in the following year’s JCR.

In April, Springer announced it was retracting 107 papers from Tumor Biology after an investigation uncovered evidence they were accepted with faked reviews. The investigation has since prompted additional retractions from another Springer journal, and an investigation by the Chinese government that concluded nearly 500 authors had committed misconduct.

The homepage for Tumor Biology lists its 2016 impact factor (3.650) and includes this note:

With effect from July 2017, Tumor Biology has for the time-being been deselected for coverage in the Web of Science.

A spokesperson for SAGE, the new publisher, told us:

Clarivate have confirmed that the journal’s 2016 Impact Factor will remain and the journal will continue to be listed in the 2016 edition of the JCR; it will not receive a 2017 impact factor. All articles from Tumor Biology up until 18th July 2017 will be listed in the Web of Science. Following Clarivate’s decision, as would be expected, SAGE has seen a drop in submissions to the journal since July.

SAGE are aware that peer review fraud is an evolving problem affecting the industry as a whole. SAGE is firmly committed to carrying out robust peer review, reacting quickly and thoroughly investigating any cases of misconduct. SAGE continues to work with the journal and the [journal’s] society owner, the [International Society of Oncology and Biomarkers], to provide full guidance around peer review and ensure that robust policies are carried out effectively and consistently.

Following Clarivate’s decision SAGE has been, and will continue to work closely with Clarivate and the journal to support any transitional changes and to strengthen the [journal’s] position so that it can be re-indexed as soon as possible.

The spokesperson told us in April it learned about Springer’s investigation into the papers one month before entering into a contract with the International Society of Oncology and Biomarkers to publish the journal in December 2016; it learned of the scope of the retractions, however, in February 2017. She added:

SAGE entered into a contract with the society in December 2016 with an agreement that the editorial board would be re-structured and there would be a complete overhaul of the peer review processes of the journal to bring it in line with SAGE practices…As part of their transition to a new publisher, the Tumor Biology editorial team have already introduced new robust peer review practices expected from all SAGE journals.

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10 thoughts on “When a journal retracts 107 papers for fake reviews, it pays a price”

  1. A shame about the papers of ethical authors getting hit because of the action of the others. A very big stick that hits many, many others sadly.

  2. What’s even worse (you won’t believe it): In WoS retraction notices count as a citation for the whole bunch – the articles, the authors and the journals – and thus for metrics.
    IMHO, discontinuing to reference a journal is not enough.

  3. “Without being indexed by Web of Science, Tumor Biology will lack an impact factor — which can be the kiss of death for many journals, since researchers (and institutions) often count on such metrics when applying for grants and promotions, ….. “. That is the bigger problem. Researchers should be evaluated based on impact of each of their publications, not based on the journals where the articles are published.

  4. I can see the value in punishment, but this (a) will punish innocent researchers (assuming the journal isn’t a total scam), and perhaps more importantly, (b) it incentivizes journals *not* to retract papers (at least openly) in the future. Neither of these two are good.

  5. I could understand Clarivate unlisting a journal that did NOT do the right thing (i.e., retracting all those papers). This journal did the right thing, though painful (who wants to go on record as having published 107 papers with fake reviews…) and now gets punished anyway. The message being sent is absolutely wrong: “Do the right thing and we’ll unlist you. Cover it up and you’ll stay.”

  6. While the journal was de-listed because of sub-standard peer review process, would it discourage other journals from admitting to a problem with their review process? Also the fact that authors might stop submitting to this journal because it no will no longer have an impact factor makes one wonder would they have submitted to the journal despite its quality had it continued to have an impact factor?

  7. My question to all scientists on earth – Why do we have to provide reviewers’ names when we submit a manuscript for peer reviewing? If you stop that practice, there won’t be anymore fake reviewing.

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