While the ‘March for Science’ rages on, 107 scientific research papers are found to be fraudulent . . .
Tumor Biology is retracting 107 research papers following a revelation that the authors – scientists – faked the peer review process, which is so vital when making claims about cancer. Last year, 58 papers were retracted from seven different journals, 25 of those retracted papers came from Tumor Biology.
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Fake peer reviewers often “know what a review looks like and know enough to make it look plausible,” said Elizabeth Wager, editor of the journal Research Integrity & Peer Review. But they aren’t always good at faking less obvious quirks of academia: “When a lot of the fake peer reviews first came up, one of the reasons the editors spotted them was that the reviewers responded on time,” Wager told Ars. Reviewers almost always have to be chased, so “this was the red flag. And in a few cases, both the reviews would pop up within a few minutes of each other.”
It’s not always the authors providing the reviews. “There is some evidence that so-called third-party language-editing services play a role in manipulating the reviewing process,” said a spokesperson for Springer, the company that published Tumor Biology until this year. Scientists who work in a language other than English may use editing services to polish their papers before submitting to a journal, and some of these services can be unethical and predatory, says Wager.
It might be naive, she says, but “if the authors didn’t realize that this is what the editing company was doing, then I feel the authors should have a fair chance. There’s probably nothing wrong with the research; it just hasn’t been peer reviewed.” But of course, it’s difficult to assess whether the authors knew about it. “It is unclear whether the authors of the manuscripts were aware that the agencies were proposing fabricated reviewer names/e-mail addresses,” the Springer spokesperson told Ars.
In the future, editors should not simply rely on the potential lies they’re being fed by scientists submitting their work, and instead they should attempt to validate the work through their own research.