The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has become aware of systematic, inappropriate attempts to manipulate the peer review processes of several journals across different publishers. These manipulations appear to have been orchestrated by a number of third party agencies offering services to authors. This statement is issued on behalf of COPE after consultation with a variety of publishers to underscore the seriousness with which we take these issues and our determination to address them.
While there are a number of well-established reputable agencies offering manuscript-preparation services to authors, investigations at several journals suggests that some agencies are selling services, ranging from authorship of pre-written manuscripts to providing fabricated contact details for peer reviewers during the submission process and then supplying reviews from these fabricated addresses. Some of these peer reviewer accounts have the names of seemingly real researchers but with email addresses that differ from those from their institutions or associated with their previous publications, others appear to be completely fictitious
We are unclear how far authors of the submitted manuscripts are aware that the reviewer names and email addresses provided by these agencies are fraudulent. However, given the seriousness and potential scale of the investigation findings, we believe that the scientific integrity of manuscripts submitted via these agencies is significantly undermined. Publishers who already know they are affected will be publishing statements on their own websites and will be taking the following immediate actions.
- Articles that have been published solely on the basis of reviews from fabricated contacts will be retracted in line with COPE guidance and authors and institutions involved will be contacted.
- Publishers are examining their own databases for the presence of fabricated reviewer accounts and contact details and will be contacting the authors of papers for which those reviewers were suggested as well as the relevant institutions, even if the papers were not accepted.
Authors with any concerns about inappropriate agency involvement in suggesting peer reviewers or any other aspect of the manuscript preparation and submission process should contact the relevant journal.
COPE is working with publishers, publishing organizations and relevant national bodies to determine how best to address this situation in the longer term. Updates will follow as more information becomes available. We encourage anyone with information on these issues to contact COPE directly.