5 Tips to Help Prevent Reviewer Fraud

May 2, 2017 Alexandra Cury

As a journal manager at Wiley, I work closely with Academic Journal Editors who are responsible for managing the peer review process for the manuscripts submitted to their respective journals.shutterstock_280298972_385791136_385791141_256224451.jpg Based on my numerous discussions with them, it is clear they have one common challenge: finding qualified and available peer reviewers. To facilitate the process of finding suitable reviewers, many journals allow authors the possibility to nominate reviewers at the submission stage.  This makes it easier for our Editors to identify experts in a particular subject area which can lead to a faster editorial decision for our authors.

We are keen to support Editors in the effective use of what can be a valuable tool. This is especially important as we hear of increasing numbers of authors trying to manipulate the peer review process by nominating “fake” reviewers. With notifications of mass retractions due to reviewer fraud becoming more common, it is important for Publishers to work with Editors on preventative measures they can take to prevent reviewer fraud.

For those unfamiliar with peer review manipulation, the author typically nominates as a reviewer the name of a real, qualified scientist but provides a fabricated email address, which sometimes belong to the author himself/herself or a close collaborator. The ways in which this is being done are manifold. For instance, The Committee of Publishing Ethics has recently recorded numerous incidents where third party agencies which offer manuscript editing services provide authors with the names of the suggested reviewers with the fictitious email address as part of their publishing services. The author then naively provides these recommended reviewers with a falsified email address to the Editors at the submission stage. In these cases, the employees of the third party agencies have access to the fraudulent email account and can provide positive reviews of the paper they edited, facilitating the acceptance of the manuscript and the
satisfaction of the author with their service.

Although these instances can make it difficult for our Editors to decipher the real reviewers from the fraudulent ones, there are best practices Editors should follow to help minimize the likelihood of using a fraudulent account. The most obvious indicator of a possible falsified reviewer is the use of a personal Gmail, Yahoo, or other free webmail service account. Anyone who has set up a personal email account knows how easy it is to create a new profile under any name. Using recommended reviewers linked to an institutional email address will increase the chances that the account is valid (I note here that such institutional email accounts are unfortunately still not commonplace in some countries with emerging or developing economies).

However, although an institutional email is harder to fabricate, Editors should still perform a web search to check that the email address as well as the reviewer’s qualifications, are accurate. Some electronic submission systems are set up to help facilitate this. For instance, an external search function is available in the editorial platform ScholarOne, which links out to Web of Science, PubMed, and Google, allowing Editors to check previous articles published by a reviewer and the email address associated with those publications, as explained in a related post by Taylor & Francis.

When in doubt, Editors should also consider requiring an ORCiD for recommended reviewers. ORCiD is an online digital identifier that distinguishes researchers from one another and can be a great way to verify a reviewer’s identity. Wiley, and many other major publishers, have already committed to requiring an ORCiD for corresponding authors upon submission.

While introducing the best practices detailed above and in the checklist below should significantly decrease the possibility for Editors falling prey to reviewer fraud, there are signs to look for in the instance that a  fraudulent reviewer has “slipped through the cracks”. It is also understood that many genuine reviewers use personal email accounts for convenience. Therefore, Editors should look out for the following signs when assessing reviews, especially those via personal email addresses from a previously unverified reviewer. Nature relates one instance where an Editor became suspicious after reviews for the same author were being completed within 24 hours. Of course, returning a review quickly could simply be the sign of a dedicated reviewer, but coupled with a favorable
review -especially if a recommendation of acceptance is given for the first draft - a quick turnaround should raise a red flag. More recently, we have also seen cases where fraudulent reviewers may occasionally offer a minor revision recommendation, so as not to alert suspicion. The suggested revisions tend to be very superficial, detailing small grammatical changes or text additions. If
in doubt about an author’s suggested reviewers, Editors should opt to use a verified reviewer and flag suspicious reviewer accounts to the Editorial Office/Publisher in the first instance.

It is important for Editors to stay vigilant and diligent with respect to how they select their reviewer and following these guidelines should be a step in the right direction. I hope this post will help continue this important conversation and I look forward to hearing about your experiences and receiving further suggestions in the comments below. Here’s a helpful checklist you can keep
on hand when selecting recommended reviewers which we will keep updated based on further suggestions.

5 Things to Consider When Using Recommended Reviewers: A Checklist

  1. Use recommended reviewers with institutional email addresses
  2. Perform a web search to verify reviewer names, emails, and qualifications
  3. Request, or consider requiring, an ORCiD from reviewers
  4. Check the turnaround time of the review. Was it returned unusually fast?
  5. Consider if the reviews are superficial and overly favorable

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