Springer and BioMed Central are retracting 58 articles published across seven journals this week, after a thorough investigation which revealed evidence of plagiarism, peer review and authorship manipulation, suggestive of attempts to subvert the peer review and publication system to inappropriately obtain or allocate authorship.
After receiving allegations of plagiarism confined to two journals, we immediately commenced an extensive investigation across our entire portfolio. In doing so, two teams dedicated to investigating issues around research integrity, the Research Integrity Group at BioMed Central and the Springer Ethics Team, identified a group of papers across seven journals that raised concerns relating to a variety of issues.
BioMed Central has identified 28 articles that will be retracted and is investigating 40 more articles. Springer has identified 30 articles that will be retracted, with a further 9 articles that need further investigation.
We have notified the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), and this week we are publishing the retraction notices. Not all of the articles showed evidence of all of these issues (plagiarism, peer review and authorship manipulation) but each of them demonstrated at least one.
The decision to retract these articles is solely to correct the scientific record. We do not have any evidence to be able to determine the involvement of each of the individual authors.
Alongside investigation into the identified papers, we have taken action to ensure that no further compromised papers from this group can continue through to publication. In addition, we have revised our policies on changes to the authorship list.
As a matter of course, early this year we began an audit of BioMed Central journals to track adherence to editorial policy. This has now been updated to look for potential hallmarks of abuse, such as non-specific or shared email addresses, assess peer review quality and look for changes in manuscript titles, authorship and content.
In addition, Springer has initiated a task force to better understand current patterns in abuse cases based on these experiences, with the aim to further develop our checks and balances.
Furthermore, we will continue to raise awareness about these issues amongst our authors and editors as well as the wider research community, and we are exploring new ways to check manuscripts on submission.
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. It is a system which is based on trust, and we are seeing more concerted and practiced efforts by some groups to subvert it. We are vigilant in identifying when this happens and correcting the scientific record, and we are proactively working with COPE to prevent future instances like this.
The list of articles can be found here.