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BioMed Central reports that a large number of papers were recently retracted because of fraudulent peer reviews. Unfortunately, some companies in the same industry as ThinkSCIENCE had provided these reviews, probably to unknowing authors.
As reported by Elizabeth Moylan, BioMed Central’s Senior Editor in charge of Research Integrity, “Some of the manipulations appear to have been conducted by third-party agencies offering language-editing and submission assistance to authors.” BioMed Central and other publishers are now working with the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) on addressing this issue over the long term and specifically on retracting affected papers in line with COPE guidelines.
Subverting the peer-review system harms all honest academics and researchers, and association with a dishonest company can tar the reputation of even those with no intent to deceive. Authors whose first language is not the publication language are often at a strong disadvantage in this case, because they must be able to trust that their manuscript is being handled ethically, confidentially, and competently by translators and editors.
At ThinkSCIENCE, we regularly provide workshops on publication ethics for authors, and we are clear about our responsibilities. Because of this, there are some services that we simply don’t offer, and we advise authors to watch out for these two warning signs of a less-than-honest agency.
No honest language-editing company will do this. Publication is decided by the peer-reviewed journal on the merits of each paper and the goals and standards of the journal. If a language-editing company itself says it can guarantee publication, avoid using them.
It is common practice for reputable language-editing companies to work with reputable journal publishers. All reputable companies will openly disclose any such relationships, and the language-editing companies should state that they have no influence over the decision of peer-reviewed journals to publish your work.
The goal of working with a language-editing company is for you to increase your chances of publication by having your manuscript professionally edited to identify and correct areas of linguistic ambiguity, clarify the logical flow, upgrade the language, and improve the manuscript in other ways. The goal of such improvements should be to remove obstacles to a fair decision on your manuscript—a decision based on the merits of the content.
Although at ThinkSCIENCE we know many authors, we never suggest reviewers. Not all journals allow the suggestion of reviewers, but at those that do, it is the author’s responsibility to choose appropriate people to suggest. In fact, because you, as a researcher, know your field and specialty better than anyone outside it, you are in the best position to make a suggestion. In case you are unsure who to recommend as a reviewer, we suggest that you contact a peer, a mentor, or an administrator in your department or company to help you with ideas.
Remember that you, rather than anyone outside your field, are the best person to suggest reviewers.
Although we will not suggest names of reviewers, we’re happy to assist you with writing a cover letter for your submission, and you can write in the names of the reviewers you would like to suggest (and, if you choose, those you would prefer not to be chosen as reviewers).
Our Statement on Ethics contains some additional points that you might wish to ask a prospective editing or translation company about.
As a final point on fraudulent peer review practices, it should be noted that dishonest language-editing companies are not the only ones manipulating peer review. In November 2014, Nature published a news feature on a “peer review scam” that affected many scientific publishers and resulted in large numbers of papers being retracted. The article, authored by the team at retractionwatch.com, explains how dishonest authors manipulated the peer review system so that they could, in some cases, review their own papers or have favorable reviews written by peers they colluded with. In July last year, SAGE retracted 60 articles “implicated in a peer review and citation ring at the Journal of Vibration and Control.” Fortunately, now that these and other fraudulent peer review practices are being widely publicized, better safeguards are being put in place to identify and prevent reviewer fraud.
Journals and publishers, too, have their own ethical obligations (including acting to stop fraud when possible), which you can read about in an upcoming featured article.
Some practices, such as the fraudulent peer review described here, are universally considered unethical. Beyond these, however, expectations and practices vary among journals, publishers, and specialties. At ThinkSCIENCE, we stay informed on these and other issues so that you can feel confident that your reputation will be safe when using our services. After all, it’s our reputation too. If you have any questions about the issues discussed here, we’re happy to answer them.