Academic journal retracts articles over ‘peer review ring’ with bogus scholars

Jul 15, 2014

By Jon Swaine

 

An academic journal has retracted dozens of articles and apologised to readers after falling victim to what it described as a “peer review ring” that appears to have involved more than 100 bogus scholars.

The Journal of Vibration and Control (JVC), a leading publication in the field of acoustics, said it was withdrawing 60 papers published in print and online over the past four years, after discovering that articles were being approved and cited by academics with “assumed and fabricated identities”.

The journal’s publisher, Sage, said in a statement that the ring appeared to centre around Peter Chen, a researcher formerly of National Pingtung University of Education, in Taiwan. Chen provided an “unsatisfactory response” when confronted, and has since resigned from his post. Chen could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

“We regret that individual authors have compromised the academic record by perverting the peer review process and apologise to readers,” the publisher said in a statement. “On uncovering problems with peer review and citation Sage immediately put steps in place to avoid similar vulnerability of the Journal to exploitation in the future.”

Ali Nayfeh, the journal’s editor-in-chief since its establishment in 1995 and a professor emeritus in the college of engineering at Virginia Tech, resigned in May following the findings, the publisher said. Nayfeh did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Sage said that a “complex investigation” was carried out after evidence emerged last year that the online submission system used for papers published in the journal was being manipulated.

29 comments on “Academic journal retracts articles over ‘peer review ring’ with bogus scholars

  • Does this surprise me? Not in the least!

    The peer review process is extremely flawed, and as shown here open to abuse. I made reference to this a few months ago on another thread and was taken to task for expressing such sentiments, despite having experienced the pits falls and short comings first hand and at great expense. Unfortunately my pleadings for a complete overhaul and better policing of the system fell on deaf ears on this forum. The current “status-quo” was defended with vigour, and I was left quite disappointed that correspondents in an oasis of rationality didn’t even recognize there was a real problem.

    Some might argue this is just one bad apple, but from my personal experience and evidence from other disciplines, the argument doesn’t wash, since the preponderance of the evidence suggests otherwise. Its a real stain on the Sciences, many Academics are just as fallible to human short comings they so deplore in the business world- for whatever reason! and feel justified to cheat and lie.

    It’s time for honest Academics and Scientists to recognize the problem and do something about it before the population at large looses even more trust in Academia.jcw



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  • I agree peer review is imperfect. What alternative procedure would you advocate? Unless you or anyone else can prove otherwise, I’ll contend that peer review, like democracy, is the worst system apart from all the other ones we’ve ever tried.



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  • 6
    Outrider says:

    I suspect that KaiserKriss’ point is not that we need an alternative to Peer Review, but rather that peer review needs to be formalised and better controlled than it currently is – Peer review is as esteemed as it is because it’s supposed to be about your peers, but if no-one is making any effort to ensure that this is the case it becomes a veneer for deceit.

    O.



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  • 9
    inquisador says:

    Do you have a link to that other thread, KaiserKriss?

    Peer review may be the best available system and the fakes may be found out eventually, but four years is quite a long time for that to happen.

    Maybe the publishers could collaborate on a scheme to oversee implementation of peer review with just a small committee of trusty scientists, motivated by love of truth of course; maybe together with a small fee.



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  • I don’t think we can do without peer review – there seems to be no other option if we consider who is best placed to study the validity and applicability of scientific research than a Scientist’s peers. By definition the Scientist is exploring and extending boundaries and the only people, therefore, capable of saying if they are accurately mapping out the new territory (or not) is another Scientist with expertise in the same, or a similar, subject.

    In addition, we must recognise that any system in which judgement is passed – and therefore value created – is likely to attract fraud. Some of the stories written around the facts are suggesting that the motivation was academic promotion – greed and envy.

    That does not mean that the peer review process is currently in its ideal state. Scientists need to take a hard look and see if the peer review process can be strengthened. It certainly isn’t a ‘steady-as-she-goes’ situation.

    The Publisher, SAGE, is taking a robust P.R. Stance. So polished, indeed, that it makes me question their position. In essence my immediate reaction was that SAGE, as publisher, should have been policing the contributor list before this problem arose – it is crystal clear that they and the Editor failed to check contributors bona fides.

    In addition, the Editor and Publisher – combined – are traditionally responsible for casting the net to find the best possible reviewers, an exercise which should include looking out for unconnected reviewers. Without, perhaps, all the facts before me it seems probable that SAGE have failed in their central role as a scientific journal publisher.

    I am not in the least surprised by this. Publishers generally are focussed on profit – not accuracy, not truth, not sagacity. The Times of London and the Daily Mail (two newspapers) have both been caught out straight lying in the last month alone. Goodness only knows what they get up to without being discovered.

    If there is anything wrong with scientific peer review it is to be found in the idea that a traditional print publisher has a role to play. This case is stark evidence that journal publishers have far more in common with other print publishers than they do with the scientific method.

    This is extraordinary given that we have the Net. Here we have a medium where publishing is of such low cost that it practically begs to be used for peer review.

    If print publishers were doing the real legwork – screening contributors and reviewers, keeping comments to accredited academics and professionals, seeking out neutral review panels, seeking their own sources of corroboration (rather than relying solely on paper-referenced sources), and checking up on Editors’ quality of administration then they have a role to play.

    If, as appears to be sadly true in this case, publishers merely add cost, get in the way and then spend extra resources back-peddling … then they’re a waste of space.

    Peace.



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  • Agree

    imperfect has to be good enough. Every case I’ve encountered of peer review abuse comes down to two things; someone decides to fiddle the system, and humans overlook things. The system works better than any alternative but when publishers aren’t vigilant this can happen.

    sadly i feel it’s not enough to demand “something must be done!” without suggesting what. better policing is one thing but who sets the standard?

    ultimately the best solution will still come down to peer-review, and the publishers who care about stopping the system being abused will be the ones who’s reputation for quality content will be improved.

    Someone has to filter articles. until we reach that glorious day when machines can do the work of reviewing (I’m not joking, plagarism is already weeded out with clever technology). Even then we’ll need a machine to replace the humans looking after the reviewer-bot.. but if human falibility is what you see as an insurmountable problem you need to be the one to define a non-human replacement



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  • 13
    continuousfraudanddeception says:

    For improvement:
    1. The professoriat should be comprised of people who have already made a name for themselves or built their careers outside of academia;
    2. The reviewers should not know the name of the paper author; and, the paper author should not know the name of the reviewers;
    3. The professoriat should be past a certain age, let’s say arbitrarily, past the age of 50 years.

    The motivation for evil (or fraud) here is perception benefits which leads to whatever else: money, building a name, building a career, promotion, tenure, etc..



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  • For some reason, I can’t reply directly to ContinuousFraud&Deception.

    I’m not enough of an expert on peer review to know how far 1 or 2 are followed, or how far 3 should be followed, but I know that whether 2 is followed or not varies by journal. (Funnily enough, the tiny minority of published peer-reviewed science antithetical to the consensus on anthropogenic climate change seems to mainly appear in journals violating rile 2.) I’d be surprised if 1 was often violated. How much does anyone here know about this?

    It’s one thing to point out ways some peer review is done better than others. For example, I think 2 is a good idea. It’s another to come up with something more original, something that peer review as we know it basically doesn’t do. That’s the really hard question for those who want to see any reform.



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  • One only needs to read the IPCC reports to understand the perils of “peer review” or should that be “tax-payer funded group think”. ………… SHEESH



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  • ContinuousFraud&Deception Jul 16, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    For improvement:
    1. The professoriat should be comprised of people who have already made a name for themselves or built their careers outside of academia;
    2. The reviewers should not know the name of the paper author; and, the paper author should not know the name of the reviewers;
    3. The professoriat should be past a certain age, let’s say arbitrarily, past the age of 50 years.

    The motivation for evil (or fraud) here is perception benefits which leads to whatever else: money, building a name, building a career, promotion, tenure, etc..

    If you had a celebrity elite system like that operating in secret, how long do you think it would last before the big-moneyed corrupt took it over.

    The essence of peer review, is that publications are open to scrutiny by named specialist members, whose reputations are affected by their contributions, and while initial selection is done by people chosen by editors or boards, THEY will be held accountable by the membership of a learned body if they do a poor job. That is what separates respected journals from magazines and comic books.

    This incident is as it should be – a great embarrassment to the The Journal of Vibration and Control (JVC), and to the universities involved, if they have allowed their names to be use fraudulently. Academic misconduct by university staff or students, is punished, whereas cowboy business spokes-persons, consultants, and PR agencies, often get bonuses for successful deceptions.
    The most blatant example is TV celebrities doing commercials and recommending products for large payments – and of course sponsored lying politicians.



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  • I can’t seem to reply to ContinuousFraud&Deception. My guess is the new site only allows nesting of comments to three levels. That’s good because we wouldn’t want to encourage any actual serious discussion or anything would we? One more example of how this new site totally sucks compared to the old.



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  • The fact that it has come out, and is being corrected, illustrates why peer review is the best system, because it is self correcting, eventually.

    The Australian case of Dr William McBride who discovered the link between thalidomide and birth defects and was much lauded for said discovery. Justly deserved. He then went on to claim debendox had adverse issues, but was found out to have manipulated the data resulting in…

    Eventually, the case was investigated and, as a result, McBride was struck off the Australian medical register in 1993 for deliberately falsifying data.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_McBride_%28doctor%29

    So the scientific methods works. Peer review, like democracy, is not very good, but it is far better than anything else going around.



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  • Errors discovered in the peer review process, as with errors made when conducting trials, shouldn’t discredit the whole process. I don’t know how often this is happening; the experience of KaiserKriss points to the fact that it’s widespread and needs to be fixed. We need an incorruptible watchdog!

    I’d hate to see this element undermine confidence in the sciences. The wider population is out there looking for flaws and it doesn’t take much to cast doubt on every finding, as opposed to superstitious beliefs, which are given a wide scope for failure before a loss of confidence occurs.



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  • 22
    ContinuousFraud&Deception says:

    I’ll repost my comment since folks are unable to respond.

    To Alan4discussion: My response would be that Higher Education is “big-moneyed” and corrupt already; that is exactly why you’ll see in most conference papers and journals more submitted by (public) university professors than by a private company. DOD and DOE are a huge waste of tax payer dollars – much of this money is going to university research. I am writing qualitatively based on the author affiliations.

    The conference or journal needs to determine the following if the author or authors are university professors:
    • Have you made a name for yourself outside of academia? Please provide a resume and substantive examples,
    • Are you over the age of 50 years (arbitrarily chosen age; but helps to determine the first bullet),
    • And finally, apparently some reviewers have vendettas against authors, likewise some reviewers are endeared to authors, therefore the review must be double blind. It should not be biased.
    • If the author is a single author and is a student, then there would need to be another screening test.

    My original post in response to Jos Gibbons was:

    For improvement:
    1. The professoriat should be comprised of people who have already made a name for themselves or built their careers outside of academia;
    2. The reviewers should not know the name of the paper author; and, the paper author should not know the name of the reviewers;
    3. The professoriat should be past a certain age, let’s say arbitrarily, past the age of 50 years.

    The motivation for evil (or fraud) here is perception benefits which leads to whatever else: money, building a name, building a career, promotion, tenure, etc..



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  • I’m actually looking to publish a paper right now. I forgot how difficult it is to even get editors to look at you if you come in cold and aren’t currently at a prestigious university or lab. The paper is on cognitive science and ethics. I wanted to send it to Trends in Cognitive Science, they had a paper a few years ago on a very similar topic as the approach I took but as I look over their requirements and the various boxes a paper has to be in (opinion, review, etc.) my paper doesn’t really fall into any of them and also they require a shitload of crap work (man I miss having an assistant) just to get it into the format they will look at. If anyone has other suggestions about places to publish please let me know.



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  • ContinuousFraud&Deception Jul 16, 2014 at 9:17 pm

    To Alan4discussion: My response would be that Higher Education is “big-moneyed” and corrupt already; that is exactly why you’ll see in most conference papers and journals more submitted by (public) university professors than by a private company.

    I would agree that sponsorship can bias university work, but private company employees can be even more biased and pressurised.
    In reviewing papers, there needs to be some experience and expertise in evaluating the research work, and here, those academics with long experience of evaluating methodology in student work, will have skills which may be lacking in those who have been focussed on personal research work. A mixture of pre-publication reviewers probably give the best coverage. Publications should also have good facilities for follow-ups in subsequent publications where shoddy work can be criticised by a body of expert readers.

    DOD and DOE are a huge waste of tax payer dollars – much of this money is going to university research. I am writing qualitatively based on the author affiliations.

    I think we are talking about different systems. You mention dollars. I live in the UK. There are establishments in the US which claim university status, (Liberty?) which would not be regarded as such elsewhere.

    • And finally, apparently some reviewers have vendettas against authors, likewise some reviewers are endeared to authors, therefore the review must be double blind. It should not be biased.

    I think that would be very hard to enforce where people are known to each other in specialist areas. Scientists exchange ideas at conferences etc. and often know what topics others are working on. They announce when they are presenting papers for publication, so particularly, reviewers in touch with new developments are likely to know who is working on them.

    • Have you made a name for yourself outside of academia? Please provide a resume and substantive examples,

    I would think a declaration of any sponsorship, financial, business, or political affiliations, would help with checks, but examining the reputation and background of authors is likely to conflict with attempts at anonymity.

    Universities use anonymous marking systems for student examinations, but the anonymity depends on numbers. It would be difficult to operate with single papers on single topics, where people in specialist fields know each other.



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  • In reply to Continuous Fraud and deception:

    ” 1. The professoriat should be comprised of people who have already made a name for themselves or built their careers outside of academia;”

    That is pretty much the case already for any journal or conference I’ve ever had any interaction with. Of course some times you can’t always get the absolute best people because people like Dawkins and Trivers are kind of busy and can’t spend all their time reviewing papers.

    “2. The reviewers should not know the name of the paper author; and, the paper author should not know the name of the reviewers;”

    Again, that’s the way it’s done now. I just submitted a paper actually and you have to break out all your contact info into a separate document so they can review something without your contact info.

    “3. The professoriat should be past a certain age, let’s say arbitrarily, past the age of 50 years.”

    As an old fart I’m all for reverse age discrimination but putting self interest aside I think that’s a terrible idea. For one thing you often get situations where you have two camps in an academic area, the established (mostly older) people and the iconoclastic “young turks”. Restricting anything based on how old you are is IMO as rational as restricting things based on gender, race, etc. The whole idea is it’s what you know and your track record. There should be objective criteria, so many years of experience, relevant degrees or equivalent, etc. but age itself, no.



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  • Red Dog Jul 18, 2014 at 11:30 am

    Again, that’s the way it’s done now. I just submitted a paper actually and you have to break out all your contact info into a separate document so they can review something without your contact info.

    The argument about the 3 points is irrelevant to the OP. It is the failure to properly check-out the separate contact info and CVs, which allowed the fraud-ring to operate.



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  • sigh

    I just got an e-mail from my fundamentalist/creationist sister-in-law linking to an article on a Creationist web site that shall remain unnamed. The article talked about how for years “Darwinists” have been claiming they have the truth on their side because Evolutionary science is supported by plenty of peer reviewed articles in respectable journals. Now that we know that peer review means absolutely nothing, however (as evidenced by this particular scandal), it is clear that the Darwinists have absolutely nothing to support their beliefs after all. Therefore, er…. God did it!

    If there ever were a baby Jesus, I bet he’d be crying right now…



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