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Andrew Alden

Hackers Hit the Journal Review Process (Updated)

By December 11, 2012

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Last month the peer-review system at scientific publishing giant Elsevier was hacked, and fake email addresses for real scientists were inserted. Journal editors had learned, polite exchanges with the people behind the fake addresses and accepted their fake reviews of submitted papers. Today the Retraction Watch blog reports that "eleven papers by authors in China, India, Iran, and Turkey have been retracted from three journals." Elsevier has tightened its procedures and offered the retracted papers, whose authors appear to be innocent victims, a quick re-review.

It seems really stupid now that the misdeed has been revealed. It also seems inevitable. Academic scientists live and die by the amount of research they publish. Volume matters, and when English is the world standard many authors are handicapped. And when a publisher like Elsevier handles more than 2500 journals, there is a criminal incentive to cheat the gatekeeping system. Oddly, it isn't clear that the authors of the mishandled papers knew about it. I suspect that the hackers were still working on their setup before attempting to find crooked or desperate authors who would pay for easy publication.

UPDATE: Elsevier has issued a clarification of the incident and its response at elsevierconnect.com/faking-peer-reviews/.


December 12, 2012 at 4:47 pm
(1) Angelina Ward says:

Andrew –

We have responded to this story on Elsevier Connect for further clarification. “Faking peer reviews. Someone found a way to infiltrate the Elsevier Editorial System; here’s what happened and what we’ve done”: http://elsevierconnect.com/faking-peer-reviews/

Angelina Ward, Elsevier

December 12, 2012 at 10:18 pm
(2) Geology Guide says:

Thank you for reaching out here, Angelina. I’ll add an update to the post.

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