A publisher just retracted ten papers whose peer review was “engineered” — despite knowing about the problem of fake reviews for years

Many publishers have been duped by fake peer reviews, which have brought down more than 600 papers to date. But some continue to get fooled.

Recently, SAGE retracted 10 papers published as part of two special collections in Advances in Mechanical Engineering after discovering the peer review process that had been managed by the guest editors “did not meet the journal’s usual rigorous standards.” After a new set of reviewers looked over the collections, they determined 10 papers included “technical errors,” and the content “did not meet the journal’s required standard of scientific validity.”

Yeah, we’re not exactly sure what happened here, either. SAGE gave us a little extra clarity — but not much.

SAGE is no stranger to the damage caused by fake reviews. In 2014, one of its journals busted a “peer review and citation ring” that took down 60 papers, and prompted the resignation of Taiwan’s education minister. The following year, it retracted 17 more papers from five different journals, all affected by faked reviews.

So how did the latest papers escape the editors’ notice?

According to a SAGE spokesperson:

SAGE raised queries over the peer review for the special collections in May 2017 after similarities in some peer-review reports were detected.  Supported by data from Clarivate and ScholarOne, SAGE launched its own investigation and on the basis of this sent all papers out for a second round of independent reviews.  

She said, “two reviews for a paper in the special collection recommended including the exact same set of citations.” (In 2012, we reported that Elsevier’s peer review system had been hacked, resulting in some faked reviews; we obtained two reviewer reports that suggested citing papers by the same author.) After the second set of reviews, ten of the articles were retracted.

No author misconduct was detected.

She added:

SAGE is firmly committed to carrying out robust peer review and reacting thoroughly investigating any cases of irregularity.

We asked whether the original reviewers were known to SAGE (were they in their reviewer database?), and if the publisher was taking any action in response. The spokesperson didn’t answer all of our questions directly, but told us:

we are working in consultation with the journal’s editors and authors to ensure that SAGE’s expected rigorous standards of peer review are met across the board and in line with industry guidelines. This means, as with all of our journals, a continuous review of practices and conversations with our academic partners to support them through peer review and any necessary changes to peer review practice.

The guest editors of one of the special issues — “Advanced control and analysis of mechatronics systems with modelling uncertainty,” published November 2016 — are Jianyong Yao, Nasim Ullah, Zheng Chen, and Weichao Sun, based at Dalhousie University in Canada, Nanjing University of Science and Technology in China, Harbin Institute of Technology in China, and City University of Science and Technology in Pakistan. We contacted them but haven’t heard back.

In an editorial accompanying the issue, the editors state the articles went through “strict review processes.”

The 10 retracted articles — which have each been cited between one and five times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science — are:

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One thought on “A publisher just retracted ten papers whose peer review was “engineered” — despite knowing about the problem of fake reviews for years”

  1. The peer review process at this journal is anything but rigorous. I wrote to SAGE and the editorial board of AME in October 2017 about a case of blatant copy&paste duplication. I’ve reminded them regularly since then. I have yet to receive a substantive reply.

    Here is the message, as it is easy for anyone with a set of eyes and some college-level math to verify my allegations independently:


    The article with DOI: 10.1177/1687814017724702 represents plagiarism and serial/duplicate publication. It must be retracted forthwith, in accordance to the journal’s membership in COPE.

    iThenticate shows extensive overlap in content and language with DOI 10.1007/s11012-011-9467-4

    Next, the problem is physical nonsense. The authors add random fractional derivatives and modify a boundary condition from the textbook version of this problem. Is Advances in Mechanical Engineering a journal that specialized in publishing homework problems?

    Even worse, this problem/solution is identical to previously published results:
    1) DOI 10.1007/s11012-011-9467-4 changing one BC to be proportional to t.
    2) DOI 10.1007/s00033-009-0038-7 changing a fraction on the derivative, one of the BCs, and from annulus to cylinder.
    3) DOI 10.1016/j.camwa.2008.07.003 again, change one of the BCs.
    4) DOI 10.1063/1.3694982, same as 2).
    5) DOI 10.2202/1542-6580.2620 same as 3).

    So it goes.

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