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Hacked Review System Leads To Fake Reviews and Retraction of Scientific Papers 67

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the too-good-to-review dept.
dstates writes "Retraction Watch reports that fake reviewer information was placed in Elsevier's peer review database allowing unethical authors to review their own or colleagues manuscripts. As a result, 11 scientific publications have been retracted. The hack is particularly embarrassing for Elsevier because the commercial publisher has been arguing that the quality of its review process justifies its restrictive access policies and high costs of the journals it publishes."
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Hacked Review System Leads To Fake Reviews and Retraction of Scientific Papers

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  • Publish or Perish (Score:5, Insightful)

    by crazyjj (2598719) * on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @09:41AM (#42260321)

    I actually went to grad school with a woman who later got caught doing something similar. There is a lot of pressure to publish in academia, even at the grad level these days (especially with so much competition now for the few tenure-track positions available).

    When I was in academia, there were all these promises of baby boomers retiring and the fields opening up to new blood, but all I saw was a profession getting more and more cutthroat, with fewer and fewer opportunities for any future. Ended up seeing some pretty questionable activities going on. One of the most prominent was the proliferation of smaller academic "journals" that were little more than conglomerations of local grad students and profs looking to publish their own papers under the guise of a supposedly peer-reviewed journal (with the "peers" being themselves and their friends). I wanted no part of it myself, but the temptation was there for a lot of my fellow academics.

    There is also the temptation to publish a lot of really conventional stuff that basically just takes someone else's work and modifies it slightly, or applies it to a slightly different framework. This is the academic equivalent of shovelware. Professor Hot Shit publishes some groundbreaking work, and for the next 20 years you get hundreds of knockoff articles from ass-kissing, unoriginal grad students and nontenured profs basically just parroting Hot Shit's work. Tends to produce a LOT of groupthink in academia (at least until the next Hot Shit comes along). At least 99% of the articles and papers coming out in my field fell into this category. You could actually be seriously be penalized for coming up with original arguments if you didn't have the established cred (and tenure) to challenge the reigning Prof. Hot Shit. Saw another fellow grad student basically drumheaded out of the field for challenging the ideas of a prominent professor in the department. Big mistake.

  • by damn_registrars (1103043) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @09:46AM (#42260361) Homepage Journal
    Elsevier does not help science, and an argument can be made that they actually hinder it instead. Their journal subscription costs go up all the time, which means that universities have to spend more to keep their subscriptions and get access to new articles. They charge as much to publish as higher-impact journals, and they add an additional fee to make an article open access.

    We should be spending research money on research, instead thanks to Elsevier we are spending research money on publication fees. They may have provided a useful service a decade (or more) ago when research universities were not as well interconnected and literature searches were more time consuming, but their current model does not fit with the modern state of scientific research. They need to adapt, or die. Keeping their current MO does not help anyone.
  • by Lonewolf666 (259450) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @09:50AM (#42260435)

    See this article: http://science.slashdot.org/story/09/05/09/1514235/more-fake-journals-from-elsevier [slashdot.org]. Those guys have not much credibility left ;-)

  • by ledow (319597) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @10:08AM (#42260663) Homepage

    I'd say:

    Because, from what I've seen, in certain field, publishing on arXiv is like handing a note "from your mother" written in your own scrawly handwriting and signed "Mom" to your teacher.

    It tends to get a bad rap and it's almost impossible to sort the wheat from the chaff precisely BECAUSE it's an open-access site. And absolute tripe can get there and get positive feedback without any rigorous verification at all.

    From what I see, if you want to stay reputable and not just "pass", you have to publish properly or not at all. And even that's not a guarantee.

    Think of the publishing industry. A self-published ebook is highly unlikely to sell millions of copies and be on the bookshelves for Christmas. It can happen. It has happened. But if you go to a literary agent and tell them you're self-published, or have previously published your book under an open-source license, they'll laugh you out of the room and not want to touch you. In some cases, people who have self-published 20 copies of their own "book" without any editing and failing every submission they've ever done and being rejected by every agent in the land will tell you they are a "published author" while everyone else snickers behind their back. Academic reputation is dealt in pretty much the same way.

    Science is open. Research is open. Publishing is open. But your reputation (and thus talks, jobs, further research, etc.) is predicated on being in properly peer-reviewed journals.

  • by call -151 (230520) * on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @10:44AM (#42261029) Homepage

    Elsevier's financial interests have repeatedly caused conflicts before with the overall interest of good quality scientific publishing at a good value. There is a reason that many scientists have organized an Elsevier boycott, see this earlier slashdot story [slashdot.org] as very little has changed since then, aside from some superficial Elsevier posturing.

    There are good quality affordable journals, run by professional societies or universities, which are an excellent alternative to Elsevier and other expensive for-profit journals. For the health of science, it is important that people choose to submit there. For untenured people who are under a great deal of pressure to submit to "top journals" it poses a difficult quandary, but for those of us for whom that isn't a concern, I don't see a reason to continue to support journals and publishers which have repeatedly done poorly.

  • by jellomizer (103300) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @10:52AM (#42261127)

    It really comes down to a basic problem.
    We are trying to quantify peoples status in life/figure out if their funding is worth it. This makes sense because we live in a world of scarcity we cannot fully fund every idea.
    However we come up with measurements to quantify these things. Shortly after once people figure out the measurements will then change their behavior to put the measurements into their favor.

    If the measurement for a good scientist is the number of published papers, you are going to see a lot of crappy published papers, because they need to publish crap to get more resources.

  • by ntropia (939502) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @11:59AM (#42262043)
    At least for Medicine and Biology, there is PLOS ONE [plosone.org], an open source journal, online-only, with peer review and Creative Commons license.
    Despite being fairly new, it has already gained a more than respectable impact factor of 4.092 (2011) and it's getting more and more momentum (although it aims to go against the "obsession of the impact factor").
    As expected, initial reactions were pretty cold, especially from traditional publishers, but after its successful approach, several similar OpenAccess initiatives followed (yes, even from those traditional publishers like Nature Publishing Group they were 'teasing' directly with their launch campaign a-la-Apple VS IBM [wikipedia.org]).
    Being an electronic-only journal, they don't impose any limits to the length of an article, nor the number of figures and (as silly as it sounds) you don't have to pay any extra money for having your figures in color, as with many other journals.

    In my opinion, their main achievement was to proof that their business model works and that traditional publishers are not the only viable option.

    Source:Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]
  • by timeOday (582209) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @11:59AM (#42262051)

    There is also the temptation to publish a lot of really conventional stuff that basically just takes someone else's work and modifies it slightly, or applies it to a slightly different framework. This is the academic equivalent of shovelware... At least 99% of the articles and papers coming out in my field fell into this category.

    Don't worry, lower-tier conferences and "journals" aren't confused with top journals. And the lower-tier venues play an important role. You can't have major leagues without minor leagues feeding into them, and their pipeline is in turn filled by colleges, then highschools, all the way down to little league. It takes years to work up to publishing in top-tier journals, and lower-tier venues are where you develop the chops. Most never make it to the summit after all, but still do useful applied work during their careers.

    You see conspiracy in some people at your school setting up a student workshop or conference as a venue for their work. To me that sounds like an enriching activity for those involved. Are you afraid they will somehow use this to leapfrog you into professorships at Stanford? Don't be. At most, this is the first of many steps towards such a goal.

    Of course, the fraud this story is about is a whole different matter.

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