Peer Review Ring is identified
SAGE a leading international publisher of journals, books, and digital media for academics, educational and professional markets has retracted sixty articles which were implicated in a peer review and citation ring at the Journal of Vibration and Control and the Minister of Education in Taiwan who was one of the authors in some of these papers has resigned. This is a latest in the series of stories making headlines in the world medical press involving scientific misconduct. At a time when the academicians are under pressure to publish for their academic advancement and promotion, the editors of Biomedical Journals have to be extremely cautious while processing and publishing the manuscripts. Apart from plagiarism, the other scientific misconduct in which the authors who are also known as the most dangerous pressure group the editors have to face, include Gift authorship, Salami Slicing etc.
According to a report published in the latest issue of Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)1 Digest, it was in 2013 that the then Editor-in-Chief of JVC, Prof. Ali H. Nayfeh and SAGE became aware of a potential peer review ring involving assumed and fabricated identities used to manipulate the online submission system SAGE Track powered by ScholarOne Manuscripts. They acted fast and immediate action was taken to prevent JVC from being exploited further. An investigation was ordered which continued in 2013 and 2014. As a result of this investigation, as many as sixty articles published in JVC have been retracted by SAGE after the evidence led to at least one author or reviewer being implicated in this peer review ring. After the investigations were completed, the authors concerned have been notified of the findings.
The investigations revealed that in case of papers submitted by Peter Chen, the author had created various aliases on SAGE Track, providing different e mail addresses to set up more than one account. SAGE scrutinized further the co-authors and reviewers selected for Petere Chen’s papers, these names appeared to form part of a peer review ring. Sometimes the author reviewed his own paper under one of the aliases he had created. Now SAGE has notified Thomson Reuters about the citation ring and both parities have worked together to index the retractions in full. SAGE regretted that individual authors had perverted the JVC peer review process, misleads readers and compromised the academic record of this Journal. JVC, it may be mentioned here is a peer reviewed journal in the field of acoustics, publishing quality research since 1995. This unfortunate episode has also highlighted the fact that despite automation in publication business, editors and publishers have to be extremely careful to check such unethical practices and be aware of such manipulations.
It may also be mentioned here that one of the presentations from COPE UK at the last peer review congress in United States had also highlighted the fact that peer review environment has been polluted by some people with vested interests. The editors were asked to be more careful and vigilant while processing the manuscripts.
More recently a Serbian journal has also landed into hot waters after challenge on 24-hour peer review which cost the author 1785 Euros.1 This journal, Archives of Biological Sciences is the official publication of the Serbian Biological Society, co-published by ten organizations in Serbia and Bosnia. The paper was accepted on June 12th in twenty four hours with no peer review and demanded 1785 Euros from the author for publishing it. Refusing to pay, the author later withdrew his paper from the journal. After preliminary findings the entire Editorial Board and the Editor have been sacked. Serbian Ministry of Science has been asked to suspend the publication of the Journal and deny it funding for the next two years. The Management Board of Serbian Biological Society has also resigned after this incident. During the investigations it also became known that the Editor published in ABS an unacceptably large number of articles of his own besides articles of two members of his immediate family, a son and a daughter. They are reported to have published three to five papers in each issue during the Year 2013 and 2014 jointly or in collaboration with other authors.
The above incidents should be an eye opener for editors of the biomedical journals every where and it is their duty to safeguard their professional integrity and credibility which is only possible if they are not only aware of but also uphold professional ethics at each and every step of handling the manuscripts from internal review to external peer review, screening for plagiarism, insisting on Letter of Undertaking confirming exclusive submission to their journal and refusing to process any manuscript unless it is accompanied by Ethics Committee/Institutional Review Board approval. Some journals published from Pakistan also advertise offering quick acceptance and publication demanding huge publication charges. They certainly do not have any sort of peer review system nor they practice it, hence they are not only bringing bad name to the country but also to the fraternity of medical journal editors. As such we all have to be extremely careful and make sure that business interests does not come in the way and we uphold professional ethics at all cost and at all times.
1. COPE Digest: Publication Ethics in Practice, August 2014, Volume 2, and Issue 8. Assessed on September 15, 2014.