‘Peer review ring’ – busted

From the Washington Post:

Every now and then a scholarly journal retracts an article because of errors or outright fraud. In academic circles, and sometimes beyond, each retraction is a big deal.

Now comes word of a journal retracting 60 articles at once.

The reason for the mass retraction is mind-blowing: A “peer review and citation ring” was apparently rigging the review process to get articles published.

You’ve heard of prostitution rings, gambling rings and extortion rings. Now there’s a “peer review ring.”

After a 14-month investigation, JVC determined the ring involved “aliases” and fake e-mail addresses of reviewers — up to 130 of them — in an apparently successful effort to get friendly reviews of submissions and as many articles published as possible by Chen and his friends. “On at least one occasion, the author Peter Chen reviewed his own paper under one of the aliases he created,” according to the SAGE announcement.

The statement does not explain how something like this happens. Did the ring invent names and say they were scholars? Did they use real names and pretend to be other scholars? Doesn’t anyone check on these things by, say, picking up the phone and calling the reviewer?

More: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/07/10/scholarly-journal-retracts-60-articles-smashes-peer-review-ring/

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More also at retraction watch, the source of the WaPo story:

SAGE Publications busts “peer review and citation ring,” 60 papers retracted

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84 thoughts on “‘Peer review ring’ – busted

  1. I was wondering if you’d pick up this news story. While there is a peer review ring of sorts in climate science or maybe ‘pal’ review is the better term, it does not be of the sort of fraud as this ‘ring’ was doing.

    Very interesting correlation in any case. Certainly there is corruption of the peer review process in climate science as many of the papers I see published are mind-boggling non-scientific in any strict sense.

  2. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Didn’t the world get a good idea of what was going on in Climategate? I hope the editorial staff have got good top cover. There is every possibility that certain habitual peer reviewers will attempt to make their lives a misery for blowing the whistle on established practice.

  3. Evidently in the Information Age the concept of even the most cursory background checks represents too much of an inconvenience to bother with. That is how the Nobel Peace Prize came to be awarded a few years ago to a man with no remarkable accomplishments, but high expectations.

  4. It’s all done by email and web form submissions. I have only ever had one phone call by an editor, which was to apologize for some misunderstanding. So, yes, it would be quite easy to game the system as seems to have been done here.

  5. It’s the ‘Journal of Vibration and Control’,
    you could be on shaky ground linking it to Global Warming

  6. You’ve heard of prostitution rings, gambling rings and extortion rings. Now there’s a “peer review ring.”

    The “peer review ring.” = extortion ring and prostitution ring so there’s not much difference.

  7. We’re just a small step away from clandestine Peer Review sweatshops: Thousands of papers per day rubberstamped by low-paid workers on an assembly line in a third world country. ;)

  8. Welcome to the murky world of peer review. I can’t think of a single field where there isn’t some form of de facto peer review ring where the key opinion leaders are the gate keepers for the entire field…..

  9. I’ve lost track of the number of warmistas who have declared that if an article has been “peer reviewed” than it can’t be questioned.

  10. Peter Chen
    Computer Scientist
    Peter Pin-Shan Chen is an American computer scientist. He is a Distinguished Career Scientist and faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University, who is known for the development of the entity-relationship model in 1976. Wik

    “Carnegie Mellon University’s Drew Davidson is among the players heading the Higher Education Video Game Alliance announced earlier this month. The Alliance will provide a platform for leading academics to showcase the critical role video game programs are playing in educating and preparing students for the 21st century workforce.”

    One possibility is that he is linked to support for Common Core nationalized education standards, which we knew was working on using video games in learning.

  11. I do not understand how the editors could allow this to happen.

    In a narrow field like this, everyone knows everyone else, at least by reputation. And if you don’t know a reviewer, you would check their publication record to gauge their expertise. The only thing I can imagine here is that an editor was in on the scam.

  12. Heh. Just last week I was responding to a story in the Toronto Star concerning a stem cell paper being retracted. I merely said “but I thought the science was settled. Or is that just for climate science?”.

    I won’t bore you with the replies, most people here are familiar with the “thousands of scientists’ and “oil interests”, etc. The standard reply was basically, yes, all the science that has ever been invented, or will be invented, will continue to evolve through even a flawed and deteriorating peer review process (that’s how science works), but we know all we’ll ever know about climate change is carved in stone and perfect.

    The clamour did die down though when I pointed them to a retraction watch website. I guess they are still reading…

  13. The world needs to demand serious punishment for science fraud, especially when it results in costly policy changes. Firing is not enough — I’m talking about prosecution and/or suit under the same laws that cover financial fraud.

    It would be a real silver lining if this case led to a strong precedent that can be brought to bear against Dr. Mann and his friends. There is no statute of limitations on financial fraud in the US.

  14. elmer said at 11:37 am
    I wonder if any of them were about Global Warming?

    Mark and two Cats said at 11:47 am
    If there were, we wouldn’t be reading about it.

    B I N G O !

  15. The journal in question is the “Journal of Vibration and Control”

    Sounds like they cover R&D for sex toys.

  16. The financial rewards offered to South African universities by government to encourage their researchers to publish peer-reviewed papers in international journals are substantial. The universities take a cut while the researcher gets a handsome payment that can be accessed for equipment, field work or attending overseas conferences. This is good for everyone, including collaborators from other institutions, who are listed in the published papers as ‘associates’ of a particular South African institution. This is not to say it is a bad thing to get your researchers to publish their work and be rewarded for that, BUT whenever substantial financial incentives are there for the taking, the loopholes in the peer-review process become equally substantial. The auditing and policing of this process is usually beyond the capacity of the responsible authorities.

  17. as long a we’re on the subject……climate science is a very small group….just how many people are qualified to review climate science papers?

  18. ‘A “peer review and citation ring” was apparently rigging the review process to get articles published.’

    Sadly given this is normal pratice in climate ‘science’ this news is unlikely to have have any impact, and to be fair to the team its amazing they have any time at all to do their own ‘research ‘ given how much of of their time is given over to ‘pal reviewing ‘ other team members work .

  19. jdgalt says:
    July 10, 2014 at 12:23 pm
    “The world needs to demand serious punishment for science fr**d, especially when it results in costly policy changes. Firing is not enough — I’m talking about prosecution and/or suit under the same laws that cover financial fr**d.”

    That reminds me – Free Jeff Corzine!

  20. MattS says:
    July 10, 2014 at 12:38 pm
    “The journal in question is the “Journal of Vibration and Control”
    Sounds like they cover R&D for s3x toys.”

    Obviously a more honest journal (and business) than Nature Climate Change et al…

  21. It is good that the general public gets to see this & see that “science” is not uncorruptable & scientists are people with motives, just like everyone else, and then they may be able to see that climate science might not be as settled as the CAGW would have the general public believe.

  22. The issue here is that the peer-review process is widely considered to be red tape and that, unsurprisingly, it makes no difference whatsoever if it is being ignored (does the “science” stand?). Those of us in the academia are well aware of the problem and, while most of us deal with it “legitimately”, we all nonetheless develop a set of strategies to get our papers published. In fact, the development of those strategies is one of the crucial differences between an experienced and an inexperienced researcher. And, no, the quality of a manuscript is hardly ever the reason for acceptance/rejection. I speak here as a journal editor too.

  23. Q. What’s the difference between a peer review ring and a consensus?

    A. With a consensus, the editors and publishers are in on it too.

  24. knr says:
    ” July 10, 2014 at 1:04 pm
    ‘A “peer review and citation ring” was apparently rigging the review process to get articles published.’

    Sadly given this is normal pratice in climate ‘science’ this news is unlikely to have have any impact, and to be fair to the team its amazing they have any time at all to do their own ‘research ‘ given how much of of their time is given over to ‘pal reviewing ‘ other team members work . ”

    Excuse me? When you are only “rubber stamping” a paper to start with, just exactly how much time do think it takes to review a paper? I doubt you have to quote anything in it to give it a thumbs up. If you are going to knock it down, of course, then you have to do a bit of a review, but to review your “pal’s” work, all you need is to call him and say “Can you give me a two minute synopsis of what this says?” Then he gives you 2 minutes and you hang up and now you can even write a word or two about it if you like. followed by a hardy “I recommend this for publication.”

    A bit like a politician that’s also a lawyer. Goes in Saturday morning and sits down with his legal assistant and a pile of folders. Picks up the top folder, opens it, looks to the assistant who then tells him a 2 minute run down of what has happened on the case, nods his head and initials the document. In under 3 minutes he just billed for an hour of his time. They do this throughout the next hour, working on his “case load” of 20 cases, gets up and goes home, having just billed for 20 hours of his work. Only difference, of course, is the reviewer doesn’t make $200 or more an hour for his work and can’t plan on billing an hour for the small service that he needs to do. I suppose, though, he could have a “class member” who is doing extra work assignments to pad his or her grade do the reading and synopsizing instead of calling the author.

  25. Spence_UK says:
    July 10, 2014 at 1:41 pm
    Q. What’s the difference between a peer review ring and a consensus?
    A. With a consensus, the editors and publishers are in on it too.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    LOL

  26. The guy was publishing 1 to 5 articles a month in the Journal, with maybe one month missing. One wonders what sort of peer review could be expected at that pace. How many papers were in the pipeline at one time?

  27. Hmmm…the NCAA can issue a “death penalty” and completely eliminate certain athletic programs at certain schools if they wish. Maybe we need a similar review body with similar powers for the scientific community. The rules could start with (A) if you make a prediction and (B) government bases its policy and spends taxpayer money based on the prediction and (C) the prediction is proven false, then you’re out.

    In certain circles, if a prophet’s prophecies don’t come to pass, then the prophet gets terminated.

  28. One could make a case that the NAS (National Academies of Science) is like a big Peer Review Ring..

    Membership is by invitation of existing members (PALs). While this process does allow dissenters to slip through the cracks, and even present arguments contrary to the party line, the end result, so I’m told, is that only a Majority Report is ever written and published or given to the President, or Congress, as a recommendation. While contrary arguments to the majority view are part of deliberations, they evidently are not reported, as part of the process.

    Now, I don’t have a problem with there being a report that makes the majority view case.

    But I believe there should always be a formal Minority Report, written by a member from the dissenters, that argues the dissenters position.

    This allows decision makers to at least be cognizant of the counter evidence.

    A report with no negatives, sounds like a scam at the outset.

  29. rabbit says:
    July 10, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    I do not understand how the editors could allow this to happen.

    In a narrow field like this, everyone knows everyone else, at least by reputation. And if you don’t know a reviewer, you would check their publication record to gauge their expertise. The only thing I can imagine here is that an editor was in on the scam.

    The field could even narrower, but it is highly possible the editor is not a member. In that case, he depends upon the review “process” such as it is. In fact it was an editor that caught the “ring.” The real problem is the “blind” or anonymous review process. The advantage of this, except to sociopaths, is hidden from me. I have reviewed articles, but never anonymously, and have had some lively exchanges with authors who were quite upset with my comments. Most of the time things were worked out. There are still a few folks who simply think I have it in form them rather than their logic.

    The anonymous review process is the problem. It is a system that encourages abuse, including collusion, exclusion and outright theft and plagiarism. There are schools where essentially stealing you grad students’ ideas is simply considered one of the perks. Minimally a professor may “aid” a newcomer to get published by placing his or her name as lead author. It may take a while before the student realizes the professor is padding his or her citation index by adding their name to your work, and that the professor is also being credited for the work.

  30. Duster:

    I too have peer reviewed papers anonymously, but anonymous only to the authors. The editors knew full well who I was as they’re the ones who asked me to do the review. I don’t see any problem with it.

  31. Mushroom George on July 10, 2014 at 12:09 pm
    “But it was peer reviewed” will be the new “I was only following orders”.

    Copied because this is one of the most profound posts I’ve seen on here. And there is stiff competition! Well done Anthony on the site and keep fighting the good fight.

  32. If you like the title ‘Journal of Vibration and Control’ then you’ll love the ‘Journal of Controlled Release’ (owned by the Elsevier group).

  33. Peer review is is simply enshrining the logical fallacy of argument from authority.

    Good science stands on its own merits. It does not need anyone’s approval.

  34. It is also amazing how many of these one-off vanity journals are used to satisfy the “peer reviewed” claim.

  35. “This is not the first time we have seen retractions because a researcher managed to do his own peer review. We’ll update this case as we learn more. Update, 2:50 Eastern, 7/8/14: SAGE tells us that there may have been 130 fake email accounts involved.”

    Open publishing via blogs is the only way forward imo. Take the power away and you take the corruption away. Honest results with honest critiques = good science.


  36. Mushroom George on July 10, 2014 at 12:09 pm
    “But it was peer reviewed” will be the new “I was only following orders”.

    I also second this. :-)

    BTW if corruption like this happens is science, where reality has at least some sway, imagine how bad it is in medicine and psychiatry where cures and diseases are invented wholesale. There’s also the fallacy of the excluded middle at play: “We reject homeopathy, therefore pharmaceuticals are effective.”

    Whenever I hear the term ‘science based medicine’ I reach for my revolver.

  37. The science industry including all facets of academia and the universities are now no more than another mega multinational business that is totally reliant for it’s existence on the tax paying public.
    As they are usually quite lavishly tax payer funded in their entirety, the whole scientific, academic and university level collective should be brought under the auspices of the relevant government business controlling authorities and the universities and their administrators should be held fully accountable for all the actions of the people, the scientists and the researchers in their employ and operating under their auspices, just as any other corporation or family run company is required to do under our laws and regulations.
    And like corporations and companies the chief executive , the executives and the boards of all of these publicly funded academic and scientific organisations should be held both fully accountable for all the normal regulatory requirements and any failure to meet these requirements by the regulatory authorities.

    The days of scientists, universities and an academia being able to do what they like at the total expense of the ordinary citizen tax payer and then treat the standards expected from them by that same tax paying public with outright condescension and contempt are over.

    The scientific industry, academia and university level corporations themselves in their arrogance and contempt and failure to meet the standards required of other organisations and corporations in our society and the apparent and ever more revealing contempt for ethical and morally high research and performance standards particularly those that are totally reliant upon the public purse, are destroying the tax paying public’s trust in these scientific and academic organisations and the people within them by their blatant and often open contempt for any responsibility and standards that reflect the public’s nearly 100% contribution to their continued existence and their ongoing funding.

  38. Chen CY, Chen T-H, Chen Y-H, Yu S-E and Chung P-Y (2013) Information technology system modeling an integrated C-TAM-TPB model to the validation of ocean tidal analyses Journal of Vibration and Control Epub ahead of print 7 May 2013. doi: 10.1177/1077546312472924

    Lin M-L and Chen C-W (2013) Stability analysis of fuzzy-based NN modeling for ecosystems using fuzzy Lyapunov methods Journal of Vibration and Control Epub ahead of print 6 February 2013. doi: 10.1177/1077546312466687

  39. This all just reinforces my opinion that “climate science” is a new oxymoron – up there with “army intelligence” and “helpful government”!

  40. The idea of peer review assumes ‘peers’ are above reproach, that they are only interested in objective facts and science, and that they know what they are talking about in the first place. That they are above crass competition for places and social mobility, and have unlimited financial stability. Oh, and self interest doesn’t exist.

    Whoever set it up has a lot to answer for. Straight out of Plato’s idea of a community of unelected philosophers who decide how to run things for everyone else. Ever heard of the corrupting influence of money and power? “What would such a social system do to the minds of those within it?”

    University internal regulation doesn’t work too well, but I’ve yet to hear an alternate model which works very well either. Making them more accountable and forcing academia to follow its own rules is a start.

  41. Fraud can occur anywhere even in science. tyrannical politicians use this kind of so-called “science” as an excuse to implement laws and regulations without any due diligence or democratic process; they must be stopped if a new dark age is to be avoided.

    As long as 41 lawyers graduate for every engineer in the USA, the probsbility of a new dark age in the USA is quite high.

  42. “Peter Chen
    Computer Scientist
    Peter Pin-Shan Chen is an American computer scientist. He is a Distinguished Career Scientist and faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University, who is known for the development of the entity-relationship model in 1976. Wik”

    Wrong Chen. This Chen is from a Taiwanese university (where there are probably another 167 researchers named Chen)

  43. AIG says
    july 10, 2014 8:38pm
    =============================================================================There are about 150 Chens or people who claim to be named Chen just in the 60 retracted articles .

  44. I think that the first article about modeling vibration in the ocean, might touch on a subject that relates to global warming, but really it hard to see how any other of these really have anything to do with it.

  45. If anybody wants to get up to speed with the history of peer review [ Einstein who wrote some 300 or more journal papers only ever had one paper peer reviewed and he kicked up a fuss about that when he found out ] and the quite disturbing failures of peer review and it’s impact in preventing quite possibly very major advances in science to be publicised then a look at the quantum computer researcher Michael Nielsen’s “Three Myths about Peer Review” will provide a background to the rising of the peer review process over the last 40 or 50 years.

    http://michaelnielsen.org/blog/three-myths-about-scientific-peer-review/

  46. In certain circles, if a prophet’s prophecies don’t come to pass, then the prophet gets terminated.

    What is the impedance of the termination?

  47. AIG says:
    July 10, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    “Peter Chen
    Computer Scientist
    Peter Pin-Shan Chen is an American computer scientist. He is a Distinguished Career Scientist and faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University, who is known for the development of the entity-relationship model in 1976. Wik”

    Wrong Chen. This Chen is from a Taiwanese university (where there are probably another 167 researchers named Chen)”

    I see. The Chen that was reviewing his own papers is basically named “John Smith” and is in computer science. Thank you, I simply read it to mean that he was from Taiwan but that the current employer had not been disclosed. Thank you for the correction.

    Interesting topics:
    Shih BY, Lin MC and Chen CY (2012) Autonomous navigation system for radiofrequency identification mobile robot e-book reader Journal of Vibration and Control Epub ahead of print 13 December 2012. doi: 10.1177/1077546312466578

    Chang RF, Chen CY, Su FP, Lin HC and Lu C-K (2012) Multiphase SUMO robot based on an agile modeling-driven process for a small mobile robot Journal of Vibration and Control Epub ahead of print 13 December 2012. doi: 10.1177/1077546312464993

    Shih B-Y, Lin Y-K, Cheng M-H, Chen C-Y and Chiu C-P (2012) The development of an application program interactive game-based information system Journal of Vibration and Control Epub ahead of print 12 December 2012. doi: 10.1177/1077546312464682

    Chen C-Y, Chang C-J and Lin C-H (2012) On dynamic access control in web 2.0 and cloud interactive information hub: technologies Journal of Vibration and Control Epub ahead of print 12 December 2012. doi: 10.1177/1077546312464992

    Shin BY, Chen CY and Hsu KH (2012) Robot cross platform system using innovative interactive theory and selection algorithms for Android application Journal of Vibration and Control Epub ahead of print 13 November 2012. doi: 10.1177/1077546312463757

  48. It was going to happen some time. But it happened sooner than I thought, the malefactors became too oververconfident. I suppose there are not enough carpets at the beer-pal reviewing academia, there is too much dirt to brush under.

  49. MarkW says:
    I’ve lost track of the number of warmistas who have declared that if an article has been “peer reviewed” than it can’t be questioned.
    ===

    There is widespread public misconception of what a published study represents.

  50. Sounds like Tony’s trying to jump-start one of Sir Christopher’s ‘Fallacies of Logic’ here. Number 8 – Argumentum a dicto simpliciter ad dictum secundum quid. “The argument of assuming something inappropriately by arguing from the general to the particular.” Heartland 2012:

    Fallacy of Logic: Some abuse peer review (allegedly), therefore peer-reviewed global warming papers are worthless, therefore there is no AGW.

    Sigh!

  51. Village Idiot,

    Once again I complement you on your appropriate screen name. You say:

    Some abuse peer review (allegedly), therefore peer-reviewed global warming papers are worthless, therefore there is no AGW.

    Very few skeptics would take the position that ‘there is no AGW’. That would assume proving a negative. As I have stated many times: AGW may well exist. But if it does, it is too minuscule to measure, since there are no testable, verifiable measurements of AGW.

    That is different from the alarmist crowd, which treats AGW as fact, when it is no more than a conjecture. That is the ‘fallacy of logic’ of the alarmist cult.

    Finally, the abuse of climate peer review is richly deserved, as the Climategate emails make clear. The climate peer review process has been thoroughly corrupted. We can have that discussion if you like, but I suspect that despite being an idiot, you will wisely decline. There is overwhelming evidence of corruption available. Climate peer review is suspect from the get-go, which is why many of us demand that empirical evidence and raw data must be the gold standard. That standard thoroughly debunks the alarmist position, which relies on untestable, unmeasurable assertions.

  52. Anyone who’s read Retraction Watch for a while (and I encourage everyone to do so) knows that peer-review, which is necessary in theory, is broken in practice. Too much money’s involved for the system not to be corrupted. Rent-seekers and craven charlatans have existed always, but once the process discouraged them. Then it looked the other way. Now it’s enabling them.

  53. Tom O says:
    July 10, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    followed by a hardy “I recommend this for publication.”

    hearty. Being tough has nothing to do with it.

    (Sorry, blew the tags. )

  54. Vincent Nunes says:
    July 10, 2014 at 12:22 pm
    Once again, this isn’t “peer review”; it’s “PAL review”.

    Actually, according to the news, here we are even talking about some cases of SELF-review.

  55. Where fame, money, and power are at stake, instituttional corruption always follows. There is no reason to believe science is an exception. There is every reason to believe it is not.

  56. The only peer-review that should have any credibility is when the editors independently select the reviewers. Sure, doesn’t address the issue of publisher complicity, but that the submitting author’s can provide the reviews on their own is absurd…

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