Academia has witnessed several mass retractions in the past due to unethical publishing practices. The latest incident of mass retraction involves one of the world’s largest academic publishers, Springer.
On August 18, Springer announced that it has retracted 64 articles from 10 of its subscription-based journals after discovering that the reviews of these papers were linked to fake email addresses and fabricated peer review reports. As yet, the details about the retracted papers have not been made public. However, Springer intimated the Committee on Publishing Ethics (COPE) about this incident. Springer’s media statement conveyed that, “Springer has made COPE aware of the findings of its own internal investigations and has followed COPE’s recommendations, as outlined in their statement, for dealing with this issue. Springer will continue to participate and do whatever we can to support COPE’s efforts in this matter.” Springer also stated that it is corresponding with the concerned authors and institutions for further steps. Reportedly, to avoid such incidents in the future, Springer plans to review their editorial processes to safeguard the system against manipulation.
In a statement regarding who could be responsible for the misconduct, a spokesperson from Springer said, “Findings suggest some third party agencies, offering pre-submission editing and submission assistance services to authors, may have been involved during the submission process. In situations where institutional investigations have found that authors have been inadvertently affected by the compromised peer review process, they will be encouraged to resubmit and go through a legitimate peer review process.”
Springer was faced with a similar issue when, as the owner of BioMed Central, it had to retract 43 papers after suspicions of fake peer review. Peer review manipulation has led to many incidents of mass retractions such as the case of 120 withdrawn papers from Springer and IEEE and the retraction of 60 papers by SAGE. According to Retraction Watch, about 1,500 papers have been retracted since 2012, when the phenomenon was first reported by the site. Interestingly, Retraction Watch states that faked reviews have been responsible for about 15% of all retractions in the past three years.
The recent case of mass retraction by Springer has led to fresh discussions in academic circles about peer review rigging and whether academic publishing is falling prey to unethical practices. What factors do you think are responsible for mass retractions? Share your opinion in the comments section below.