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Good practices

Reviewing one’s own work

Daniel BuenoEditors of several scientific publications have decided to step up their attention to selecting article reviewers after detecting an unusual type of fraud:  some researchers had found a way to conduct peer review of their own papers to escape the critique that can delay or prevent publication of manuscripts.  According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, several journals have retracted nearly 40 articles whose researchers engaged in this type of fraud.  The method was ingenious:  the authors gave the editors a list of names of reviewers whose e-mail accounts were actually controlled by the authors themselves.  “I found it strange, because I sent out the article and received very enthusiastic assessments in just two days.  Reviewers never respond that quickly,” said Claudio Supuran, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Enzyme Inhibition and Medicinal Chemistry who discovered and reported the fraud perpetrated by South Korean Hyung-In Moon, assistant professor at Dong-A University in Busan.  In 2010, Moon had submitted an article for publication and suggested a list of possible reviewers.  Despite the extremely rapid response, the article ended up being published because it was endorsed by two of the magazine’s other trusted reviewers.  The following year, Moon sent another article along with another list of potential reviewers.  What drew Supuran’s attention was that while the reviewers were affiliated with universities, their emails were from Gmail and Yahoo addresses rather than from the institutions.  Once the fraud was discovered, Supuran alerted other publications.  The outcome was that 28 articles by the South Korean have now been retracted.  Another case came to light in July 2012 with the withdrawal of a scientific paper published in the journal Experimental Parasitology by Guang-Zi He, researcher at Guiyang College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in China.  He suggested several possible reviewers who really did exist, but the emails he provided were all connected to email services in China even though the names were from several different countries.  The suspicion led to an investigation, which culminated in the suspension of an article published in February 2012 in which the researcher had identified a potential target for a vaccine against a bacterial infection.  The case reveals a shortcoming on the part of the editors.  The journal Experimental Parasitology belongs to the publisher Elsevier, which also experienced a similar problem in a mathematics journal.  The company, which has a database of reviewers whom it is required to use, reported that it had discovered a vulnerability in its system and has now corrected it.  Any author may suggest names of reviewers or ask that its his or her articles not be sent to rivals.  But it is up to the editors to make use of the contact information found in its own database rather than what is provided by the authors.