Springer Publishing, one of the world’s leading publishers of Science, Technology and Medicine (STM) books and journals, issued an announcement this week that 64 different professional articles, primarily in the medical field, had been retracted. It turns out that the vaunted peer review process, designed to ensure that multiple sets of experts evaluate the quality of the work before it hits the presses, had fallen apart. The peer reviews in some cases were found to be “highly suspicious” with bogus email addresses and questionable credentials.
Springer confirms that 64 articles are being retracted from 10 Springer subscription journals, after editorial checks spotted fake email addresses, and subsequent internal investigations uncovered fabricated peer review reports. After a thorough investigation we have strong reason to believe that the peer review process on these 64 articles was compromised. We reported this to the Committee on Publishing Ethics (COPE) immediately. Attempts to manipulate peer review have affected journals across a number of publishers as detailed by COPE in their December 2014 statement. Springer has made COPE aware of the findings of its own internal investigations and has followed COPE’s recommendations, as outlined in their statement, for dealing with this issue. Springer will continue to participate and do whatever we can to support COPE’s efforts in this matter.
Retraction Watch (yes, that’s a real thing, apparently) has been covering related stories for some time now and reports that Springer is also the owner of BioMed Central Journals which retracted 43 papers earlier this year, also for fake peer reviews. That brings the total number for this one company to more than a hundred in a single year. Going further, Retraction Watch reports that there have been roughly 1,500 papers retracted across various science journals since 2012, with approximately 15% of them being for faked peer reviews.
You can see the list of the 64 recalled articles here and they are mostly from journals such as Molecular Neurobiology and Tumor Biology along with several others. Feel free to browse, but I’ll confess that I couldn’t even pronounce half the words in some of the titles. But it does beg the question of how many other science journals are quietly scotching published articles once they’ve been originally put out into the ether. And if the system was so easy to fool that people were allowed to offer their own peer reviewers and could throw the system off the trail with a devilishly clever idea like a fake email address, how solid is the rest of the data out there?
Just some food for thought.