Friday, December 28, 2012

Scientists Who Fake Reviews of Their Papers

The pressure to publish is being blamed for the latest uptick in cases of scientific fraud and the appearance of new and devious means of getting one's work in print. An ongoing case involves a South Korean scientist who submitted glowing reviews of his own submitted papers (The Chronicle of Higher Education).

Hyung-In Moon submitted a manuscript to the Journal of Enzyme Inhibition and Medicinal Chemistry along with the names and email addresses of potential reviewers. So far, so good....many journals allow, or even require, such a list of reviewers by authors. The associate editor who handled the paper sent it out for review but became suspicious when they came back within 48 hours (those of us who have served as associate editors will recognize that the odds of two reviewers responding so quickly to be about the same as winning the recent Mega-Powerball lottery). The editor then sent the paper to two reviewers of his choosing; however, they recommended publication with some revisions, so the paper was published in 2010.

Apparently flush with success, Moon continued to submit manuscripts to JEIMC over the next year. According to an interview by the Chronicle, the associate editor who handled Moon's initial paper was still suspicious and took a closer look at the recommendations for reviewers. Although the referees appeared to be real scientists, the email addresses provided by Moon were commercial (g-mail, yahoo) rather than institutional. The editor finally wised up and contacted the reviewers directly. Not surprisingly, the email addresses provided were not theirs, and they had never heard of Moon.

Turns out, Moon had set up fake email addresses so that he could receive the journal's request for a review, and then it was a simple matter to send in a glowing review of his own work. When questioned, he apparently admitted this chicanery to the editor as well as to fabricating some of his data (!). The ensuing investigation has resulted in the retraction of his papers from various journals. According to Retraction Watch, 35 papers authored by Moon have been retracted.

Here is part of the retraction notice for the papers that were published in JEIMC:

"The peer-review process for all of the above articles was found to have been compromised and inappropriately influenced by the corresponding author, Professor HI Moon. As a result the findings and conclusions of these articles cannot be relied upon.

The corresponding author and the publisher wish to retract these papers to preserve the integrity of material published in the journal. The publisher acknowledges that the integrity of the peer review process should have been subject to more rigorous verification to ensure the reviews provided were genuine and impartial. The publisher apologizes for any inconvenience rendered to the readers of the journal and wishes to assure the reader that measures have been taken to ensure that the peer review process is comprehensively checked to avoid a similar error occurring."

Another journal editor-in-chief (Immunopharmacology and Immunotoxicology) has stepped down after 20 papers he handled by Moon were retracted.

To add insult to injury, Moon has suggested ways to avoid such problems in the future:

"There is nothing wrong with soliciting reviewers from authors, as long as there are some checks. Of course, authors will ask for their friends, but Editors are supposed to check they are not from the same institution or coauthors on previous papers. I know so many journals ask for *potential* reviewers, which they then add to a database of reviewers for the field the submission was made in. They then send the paper for review to other people on that database."  

He points out that it's the responsibility of the editor and the journal to check the feasibility of potential reviewers. It seems that he saw a loophole and took advantage of we shouldn't be so hard on him. 

When I was an associate editor, I never used the reviewers suggested by the corresponding author unless I was pretty certain that the suggested reviewer had no conflict with the author (and in those cases always solicited another review from someone of my choosing). I could not imagine being comfortable accepting two reviews by people suggested by any author. It may take a bit more effort, but it's relatively easy to identify appropriate reviewers from the paper's list of citations, the journal's database, and an internet search of the paper's topic.

And accepting without question the names and addresses of suggested reviewers from an author is just plain foolish.

Friday, December 21, 2012

New Year's Resolution: Be More Productive

Looking for advice on how to be more productive in the coming year? Check out this entertaining video about "The Science of Productivity", created by ASAPScience. In it, the creators discuss something called "deliberate practice", which we've discussed here previously.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Single-Space Me

Do you type one or two spaces after a period in a sentence? What were you taught?

I was taught to use two spaces, but I never realized that type setters are adamant about the use of one space between sentences. After forty years of writing, I find it extremely difficult not to double-space after a period. As I write this post, I am having difficulty not putting two spaces after typing that period.  See? I did it again.

Anyway, check out this article for a history of the two vs. one space rule and the rationale for the latter.