A Frontiers research-integrity investigation has led to the retraction of 13 articles. The investigation has exposed a pattern of gross misconduct by a ring of researchers (of whom several cannot be unambiguously identified) who submitted papers under false identities, created false accounts on our researcher network, assigned editors and reviewers of either fake or stolen identity to review the articles, and manipulated the list of references. There is strong evidence that the same ring has been active at other publishers; we have, therefore, brought the case to the attention of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).
Two articles of this cluster included fake identities as co-authors in addition to two fake reviewers and are retracted.
The further 11 retracted articles were assigned to at least one fake peer reviewer within the same ring. Because the peer-review had been compromised, the investigation included a post-publication review of the articles, which concluded that these 11 articles should have been rejected because they do not meet the standards for publication in Frontiers.
The multiple and conflicting statements received from the editors and authors involved offer no satisfactory explanation of the course of events. But it remains certain that the peer-review process has been compromised.
Protecting the scientific record is our absolute priority. We are unable to resolve this complex web of misconduct, but in order to ensure that the truth comes to light, all the details of the case have been shared with the institutions for further investigation.
The investigation was conducted in accordance with Frontiers’ policies and the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) guidelines.
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