Science Journal Publisher Retracts 64 Studies For Fake Peer-Review Information

A major publisher of medical and scientific journals has announced that it is retracting dozens of articles, after discovering that peer review information was likely faked. 

Springer Journals announced the retractions on August 18, indicating that it became suspicious about a number of research papers after discovering fake email addresses while investigating their peer-review information.

The publisher did not identify the 64 papers impacted, but says it has identified the retracted articles. It appears most of the papers, if not all, were submitted by Chinese researchers, and many appear to have involved genetic research.

The group says the retractions are part of a disturbing trend that has led publishers to retract about 1,500 scientific and medical papers since 2012, based on a lack of validity. Sage Journals, another publisher, retracted about 60 papers for fake peer reviews last year, and added 17 more papers to that list this week.

“After a thorough investigation we have strong reason to believe that the peer review process on these 64 articles was compromised,” Springer’s press release states. “The peer-review process is one of the cornerstones of quality, integrity and reproducibility in research, and we take our responsibilities as its guardians seriously. We are now reviewing our editorial processes across Springer to guard against this kind of manipulation of the peer review process in the future.”

The company is contacting the authors and the institutions affected by the retractions.

Clinical Trial Concerns

The action comes amid increased concerns about the quality of clinical trials published in support of new drugs and medical devices, as well as new medical procedures.

An analysis published in June in BMJ found that only half of the studies used by the FDA to approve high-risk heart devices had even been published in a medical journal, and many of those had disturbing discrepancies, including differences in the number of test subjects reportedly part of the trials, missing data and differences between the industry-sponsored researchers’ findings and those of FDA reviewers looking at the same data.

The integrity of industry clinical trial data has come under fire in recent years in the wake of a number of incidents regarding claims of ghost-writing and deliberate hiding or downplaying of drug risks and side effects.

In 2012, a congressional investigation determined that Medtronic paid $210 million to study authors that failed to include data on complications linked to its Infuse bone growth product in their reports. Those authors not only failed to disclose links to Medtronic, but the investigation also determined that Medtronic employees secretly edited and sometimes wrote parts of the studies before they were published, which encouraged the off-label use of Infuse.

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