The publisher BioMed Central has retracted 43 scientific papers as part of a wider investigation into fraudulent peer review.
The UK based publisher had identified a number of cases last year where authors had submitted fake names or real names with fake email addresses as suggested peer reviewers.
“Some of the manipulations appear to have been conducted by third-party agencies offering language-editing and submission assistance to authors,” said the publisher’s senior editor (research integrity) Elizabeth Moylan in a blog post.
“It is unclear whether the authors of the manuscripts involved were aware that the agencies were proposing fabricated reviewers on their behalf or whether authors proposed fabricated names directly themselves.”
“We are aware that many researchers entrust their manuscripts to reputable third-party agencies for ‘language polishing’ or assistance with submission.
It is possible that some researchers may have innocently become implicated in attempts to manipulate the peer review process by disreputable services.”
The total number of papers retracted worldwide to date appears to be around 170, with many, but not all, originating from China.
The statement issued alongside the string of retraction notices says: “The Publisher and Editor regretfully retract this article  because the peer-review process was inappropriately influenced and compromised. As a result, the scientific integrity of the article cannot be guaranteed.”
BioMed Central and PLOS have turned off the facility for authors to directly enter the names of potential peer reviewers in its submission system.
BioMed Central is working with the international Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) to tackle the broader problem of “perverse incentives that reward scientists for ‘impact’ and ‘productivity’ rather than for the quality of their research or the ability to replicate studies,” said Moylan.
For more details on the retracted papers visit the Biomed Central homepage and search under the term ‘retraction’.