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Peer Review Ring Broken - 60 Articles Retracted 178

Posted by samzenpus
from the I-scratch-your-back-you-publish-my-paper dept.
blackbeak (1227080) writes The Washington Post reports that the Journal of Vibration and Control's review system was hijacked by a ring of reviewers. 60 articles have been retracted as a result. "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."
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Peer Review Ring Broken - 60 Articles Retracted

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  • by Crashmarik (635988) on Friday July 11, 2014 @12:29AM (#47429261)

    We live in a day and age where you can make a pretty decent living as a scientist without actually advancing science, or doing very much technologically related labor, only natural people would game the system. While science should be immune to this sort of thing, just how many unimportant not particularly interesting results do people actually try to reproduce ?

  • Chen-Yuan Chen (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 11, 2014 @02:16AM (#47429529)

    There's a lot of weirdness about this story. Firstly, guy's name is Chen-Yuan Chen, not "Peter". Secondly, he works at a teachers' college. Thirdly, he's supposed to be a researcher in methods for using electronics to help people learn, so why would he suddenly start writing a bunch of papers about mechanical systems? In addition to spamming 60 fraudulent papers in a few years, he also had each of the 60 papers cite all the other papers!

    And the weirdest thing is that a bunch of right-wing crackpots are coming out of the woodwork to argue that this has some implication for climate change research. The fuck are these people smoking?

  • Web of Trust (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dr_Barnowl (709838) on Friday July 11, 2014 @05:14AM (#47429863)

    People should cryptographically sign peer reviews (and their papers). And journals should only trust signing keys that themselves have been signed by respected experts. The more respected you get, the more signatures your keys and papers get.

  • by Rich0 (548339) on Friday July 11, 2014 @05:42AM (#47429921) Homepage

    And this is part of why all the drug development work ends up happening in private industry.

    A scientist will come up with a molecule that inhibits some enzyme and get some publishable result. At that point they issue the typical "possible cure for cancer" press release and move on to the next thing. 5 years and $10M later a pharma company figures out that it causes heart valve degeneration or that inhibiting the enzyme isn't the magic bullet everybody hoped for. They don't bother publishing it, but none of their scientists get paid by the publication anyway. The companies interest is that if it eventually works out they make billions.

    So, in that sense you actually have an example of a way in which industrial research is actually less risk-averse than academia, which should be shocking.

    That said, when it comes to the basic research side of things pharma companies do tend to let the academics do the work for them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 11, 2014 @08:34AM (#47430375)

    I think what the poster you quoted wanted to say is that often to make major contributions you have to do something that has never been done before, and not just follow up on previous research. Pushing on current trends is not difficult, at all, and is basically guaranteed to get you a publication in a decent journal. A lab head can do several dozens of these papers a year if he has a few handfuls of people in his group and decides to have his focus on this. Now doing this more than guarantees a comfortable living as an academic. Quite often this research can even be wrong: It's middling at best, and nobody really cares, so nobody will notice (and yes, the STAP scandal with Obokata et al. is really a special case and not what usually happens; their claims were "too" interesting to the general public and in any case outright fraudulent). Many fields are saturated by this type of managers (rather than scientists), and they have been rewarded for their noninnovative research for so long I doubt they would even recognize a basic flaw in a paper when they saw one.

    This means that peer review has become useless (when your peers are managers rather than scientists) and in fact every month I spot papers from my field in some of the top journals that have zero scientific contribution: their methods are only borderline correct, and the conclusions known for decades. But they have nice pictures and peer reviewers are probably their manager-friends or manager-somebodyelses who did not have a clue what was done and well-known 50 years ago (and indeed, why care, if by ignoring old research you can accidentally redo them and get more papers!). Try publishing a paper showing that their experiment must be wrong as it violates the second law of thermodynamics and you will be shot down and now they know your name. Good luck with grants and peer reviews.

    I got a bit derailed above, but no, I am not bitter nor is the above a completely accurate presentation of my personal experience. This said, it is obvious that many scientists are afraid of speaking their mind and criticizing others even when others are wrong, and that this is corrupting the entire system where one is supposed to be able to trust one's peers.

    Back to the topic: Coming up with a totally new idea, trying it, and failing at it will never get written up. You say that this is the right thing to do, if you don't publish, you ought to perish. Now is failed research "wrong"? Should you have known beforehand that your idea is stupid and not even test it? Not being able to publish this failed idea and only regarding publications as a measure of your success would certainly imply this.

    Hack a Day [hackaday.com] publishes fails of the week. They are not meant as articles where we laugh at someone's stupidity or bad luck, but are informative writeups about new ideas where something in the implementation went wrong, or serve as examples of how even experienced people can fail to consider some basic (or advanced) principles. Related to this, perhaps my favourite TED talk is that by Eddie Obeng [youtube.com]. He talks about business, not research. And I remind you that the only reason university research exists is that otherwise fundamental or high risk projects would not get funded as you might not have a direct way to make money off of them, or you might lose a lot, which makes them unattractive for business. Surely Obeng will then tell you that as a business manager, do the safe projects, punish those whose ideas don't work. Well this is what he says: "You're doing something new that nobody's done before, you get it completely wrong. How should you be treated? Well, free pizzas! You should be treated better than the people who succeed. It's called smart failure. Why? Because you can't put it on your CV." Companies can treat their employees with pizzas when they fail at something new, but academia is not a structured system where you could get different kinds of rewards: it is only about publish or perish. This is why it is a horrible system.

  • Not surprising (Score:5, Interesting)

    by teakillsnoopy (516514) on Friday July 11, 2014 @10:54AM (#47431279)
    I've been proofreading engineering/medical papers for universities in Taiwan for over 7 years and this is not surprising in the least. There is almost no stigma regarding plagiarism in this region (I've done work for Malaysian, Vietnamese, Indonesian, etc. authors). When I alert an author about copy/pasted text, their reaction is one you would get if you told someone that their reference format needs to be change. "Oh, ok. I guess I'll change it.". The universities here never seriously investigate plagiarism because all the big fish at the top did it themselves to get to the top.

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