Guest post: A look behind the scenes of bulk retractions from Sage

Adya Misra

When I began my graduate work almost 15 years ago, retractions of papers in academic journals were rare, reserved mainly for clear misconduct or serious errors. Today, rarity has given way to routine, with retractions coming more often and increasingly in bulk. 

Sage is not immune to large-scale retractions, nor are we passive observers of their growth. As Retraction Watch wrote, we were “one of the first publishers to recognize large-scale peer review manipulation and begin retracting papers in bulk nine years ago.” Recently, we issued some major retractions; just in the last few months, we put out 37 from Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and 21 from Concurrent Engineering. And there are more to come. 

While we don’t celebrate this type of action, the news is not all bad. The high numbers of retractions at times reflect a problem of industrialized cheating, but also, as in our case, a belief that rigorous scholarship – robustly reviewed by researchers who are experts in their fields – can and should improve the world. Sage was founded on this principle, and it guides everything we do. 

We take our role of vigorously correcting the academic record very seriously because we believe in the scholarly process. We also know that every part of the process is managed by humans with biases (conscious or unconscious), agendas, heavy workloads, and – at times – dubious incentives.  

As research integrity manager at Sage, I work to safeguard the credibility of the research published in more than 60,000 articles every year across more than 1,100 journals. In my role, I see a lot of unethical practices: peer review rings, where researchers unfairly influence the review process; paper mills that produce mass-fabricated research papers, and the brazen trend of selling authorship or entire papers on private or public forums. When it comes to preventing and correcting this type of action,  much goes on behind the scenes.

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