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Tips for Combatting Peer Review Manipulation and Deception

By Connor Sodak on Jan 28, 2020

The peer review process is an integral part of the publishing process for every publication claiming to contain authoritative research. Selecting trustworthy reviewers who will provide a thorough and expert evaluation of the content is vital to the acceptance of manuscripts and the overall credibility and continued success of a journal or book. While transparency and integrity are expected of everyone involved in the process, peer reviewing, like many other aspects of scholarly publishing, has become prone to manipulative practices.

Peer review manipulation can occur in multiple instances. The hacking of the submission system of a journal is one possibility while another could be a case in which the reviewer conducts a hurried, sloppy review in order to review as many papers as they can in order to quickly increase reviewer reputation; however, it can also take place when authors submit contact email addresses for peer reviewers they suggest into the submission system. Where the manipulation occurs is these suggested “reviewers” may be fabricated names or names of real experts, although the contact email addresses are falsified so that all communication with the peer reviewers is directed back to the authors. The authors then submit positive peer review reports to guarantee the acceptance of a manuscript for publication.

This manipulation may be executed by connected individuals who agree to act as fake peer reviewers for each other’s manuscripts, thus assuring favorable peer review reports and improving the publication records of the overall group. Another culprit of this manipulation process is third-party editing organizations who suggest peer reviewers on the authors’ behalf, for a fee, but supply false email addresses that they input in the submission system of the journal. In some cases, this can be done without the authors’ knowledge as well. They then also supply favorable reviews, which secures manuscript acceptance for which they charge a fee.

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has become aware of this prevalent issue, and in response has supplied authors and editors with supplemental material on how to recognize peer review manipulation and what to do if it’s suspected. COPE’s identified patterns of suspicious activity include:

• Non-institutional email address (i.e., Yahoo, Gmail) and/or suspicious email address

• Fictional name

• Expertise in an unrelated subject to the manuscript

• Atypical features of the IP address

• Quick to agree to peer review and quick to return the review

• Offers to review many manuscripts

• Never recommends a rejection

• Points out minor technical issues with a favorable review

• Positive review that strongly conflicts with the reviews of other reviewers

• Vague review

• Very similar to other peer review reports (2018, Committee on Publication Ethics)


Editors should, to the best of their ability, ensure that they verify any reviewers seeking acceptance on their board by checking for institutional emails and/or an institutionally verified ORCID iD, as well as continuously monitor their review boards for suspicious activity. Additionally, editors should always be wary of reviewers suggested by the author of the article and should be sure to check their authenticity before deciding to seek them out. This information can greatly assist editors in preserving a healthy relationship between a journal and its reviewers, as well as maintaining a level of trust and integrity in the academic community.

For more information on specific features of manipulated peer reviewers and how to respond to manipulated material during the peer review process please see the following flyers presented by COPE:

What to Do if You Suspect Peer Review Manipulation

Systematic Manipulation of the Publication Process

How to Recognize Potential Manipulation of the Peer Review Process


References

Committee on Publication Ethics. How to Recognise Potential Manipulation of the Peer Review Process. (2018). Retrieved January 24, 2020, from https://publicationethics.org/files/COPE PR_Manipulation_Process.pdf


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