In the effort to sell an idea or product, companies have gone so far as to submit fake research to peer reviewed journals, according to new findings.
Heavyweight international science publisher Springer has recently retracted 64 articles from its journals following the discovery of fake emails that were connected to article reviews.
The number of papers retracted for using fake reviews over the past three years totals 230 according to the blog Reaction Watch, which tracks plagiarism and other bad behavior in academic publishing.
Although the offending papers make up only a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands published each year, Reaction Watch co-founder Ivan Oransky says the practice is new to the firm, stating, “What’s not clear is, are we better at finding it? Or is it actually a new phenomenon?”
Some cases involve researchers writing their own peer reviews using fake emails, or pay-to-play schemes where fees are paid in exchange for positive reviews.
BioMed Central began an investigation into the problem in November of 2014 in collaboration with publisher Hindawi, and found that there was no independent verification of peer reviewers selected by article editors.
The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) explained the strategy of the fraudulent reviewers, “Some of these peer reviewer accounts have the names of seemingly real researchers but with email addresses that differ from those from their institutions or associated with their previous publications, others appear to be completely fictitious.”
Some publishers are beginning to implement policies that prevent access to their systems by suspect reviewers. Others have disallowed authors to suggest reviewers for their articles, which is a common practice.
However, what also became clear was that many of the retracted papers likely would have been approved by a legitimate reviewer, just not as quickly as they were with the fraudulent reviewers.
In scientific fields there is a strong motivation to get published in order to advance one’s career, and COPE suggests that changes must be made to the oversight of the rewards systems in place that are associated with article publication.
Oransky stated about the practice that “this almost seems like more of an insurance policy than making the difference between rejection and getting accepted…Publishing papers is the coin of the realm when it comes to academic advancement.”