BioMed Central is retracting 43 papers, following their investigation into 50 papers that raised suspicions of fake peer review, possibly involving third-party companies selling the service.
In November 2014 we wrote about fake peer reviews for Nature; at that point there had been about 110 retractions across several journals. The addition of 16 retractions by Elsevier for the same reason, and today’s 43 from BMC, brings retractions resulting from the phenomenon up to about 170.
BMC has also contacted institutions regarding 60 additional papers that were rejected for publication, but seem to be part of the same kind of scam. Regarding the third-party agents, BMC senior editor of scientific integrity Elizabeth Moylan writes:
Some of the manipulations appear to have been conducted by third-party agencies offering language-editing and submission assistance to authors. 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.
When we asked for more information on these third parties, a representative for the journal told us:
We’ve been told some things in confidence that we’re not reporting on our blog, and the reason we’re not is we don’t have enough evidence to point fingers. What we’ve done all along is point out the patterns that we have noticed, and we’ve talked to other publishers and we’ve talked to [the Committee on Publishing Ethics] to make sure that people know how we’re stopping them.
In an attempt to limit submission of fake peer reviewers, BMC has turned off the automated system that let authors provide contact information for potential reviewers, which we tapped in our Nature story as a major contributor to the problem. Authors will still be able to suggest reviewers in their cover letters.
BMC has also sent an email to editors of BMC journals that addresses the retractions and how peer review suggestions will function without an automated option:
We appreciate that this functionality is useful and timesaving, but we believe it is the ease with which author suggested reviewer suggestions can be ‘clicked’ through that made it possible for authors or third party agencies to manipulate our systems. It would not be appropriate to switch the facility back on for some journals and not for others, so with this in mind and in the absence of any secure means of protecting against such manipulation across all of our 250+ journals we have made the decision to leave this functionality switched off.
Authors will still be able to suggest potential peer reviewers in their cover letter on submission. We are updating the submission system to inform authors on how they can suggest reviewers and also updating our Information for Authors pages to tell authors that they may use their cover letter to suggest reviewers, but that they should provide institutional email addresses where possible, or information which will help the editor to verify the identity of the reviewer. Editors who find author suggestions useful and are happy to implement some simple checks on the validity of the suggestions are welcome to ask authors to suggest potential peer reviewers in their cover letter.
Here’s the text BMC is using for the notices, most of which have gone live:
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. A systematic and detailed investigation suggests that a third party was involved in supplying fabricated details of potential peer reviewers for a large number of manuscripts submitted to different journals. In accordance with recommendations from COPE we have retracted all affected published articles, including this one. It was not possible to determine beyond doubt that the authors of this particular article were aware of any third party attempts to manipulate peer review of their manuscript.
We are waiting on the full list of retracted papers, but in the meantime, here’s what comes up from a Google search of the retraction notice. We found at least seven in the Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research.
Update 10/31/16 2:02 p.m. eastern: Here is a complete list of the retracted papers.
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Not to be confused with PubMed Central or BMJ.
BioMed Central (BMC) is a United Kingdom-based, for-profit scientific open access publisher. BioMed Central publishes over 250 scientific journals. All BioMed Central journals are only published online. BioMed Central describes itself as the first and largest open access science publisher. It is owned by Springer Nature.
BioMed Central was founded in 2000 as part of the Current Science Group (now Science Navigation Group, SNG), a nursery of scientific publishing companies. SNG chairman Vitek Tracz developed the concept for the company after NIH director Harold Varmus's PubMed Central concept for open-access publishing was scaled back. The first director of the company was Jan Velterop. In 2002, the company's business model evolved to include article processing charges, and these have since been the primary source of revenue.
In October 2008, it was announced that BioMed Central (along with Chemistry Central and PhysMath Central) had been acquired by Springer Science+Business Media, the second largest STM publisher.
In 2007 Yale University Libraries stopped subsidizing page charges for affiliates of Yale who are using BioMed Central as the publisher of their works.
In November 2008, BioMed Central became an official supporting organisation of Healthcare Information For All.
Main category: BioMed Central academic journals
The flagship journals produced by BioMed Central include Genome Biology (impact factor 10.8), BMC Medicine, and BMC Biology. It also produces the BMC journal series of 68 journals covering the fields of biology and medicine. Chemistry Central and the PhysMath Central series of journals are also produced by the company. Most of the other journals published by BioMed Central are owned and produced independently by societies and academic editorial boards, with BioMed Central providing the hosting, publishing platform and marketing.
All journals are published online; some of the flagship journals have in the past also been available as print subscriptions, such as Arthritis Research & Therapy. Publications in BioMed Central journals are, immediately upon publication, released under the Creative Commons "Attribution" license which grants permission to reuse publications and produce derivative work. The only exceptions to this (as of 2010) were the flagship journals, which reserved rights on review and commentary content; those articles were available to purchase on a subscription or on a pay-per-view basis, becoming freely available (but not fully open access) to all after six months; however, as of January 2015, "no subscription fees apply to these journals or to any articles published in them."
BMC journal series
The BMC-series of journals is a collection of 67 online research journals published by BioMed Central. Like all other BioMed Central journals, they have a policy of open access to the research articles they publish. Between them, they cover all major subject areas within biology and medicine. Two of the journals, BMC Biology and BMC Medicine, have a broad scope, and aim to publish particularly significant research. A third journal, BMC Research Notes, publishes research from all areas of biology and medicine without making impact or interest criteria for publication, while BMC Proceedings publishes conference proceedings. The other 64 journals specialise on a particular subject area. Due to their free licensing, images from BMC journals can be reused in other places.
Most BMC series journals have an impact factor. For the 53 journals with impact factors, BMC Biology had the highest at 7.98.
The company also has hosted biomedical databases, including Current Controlled Trials, a database of clinical trials. The Biology Image Library and the Cases Database, a database of medical case reports, were closed in 2014. The company also provided hosting for institutional repositories of publications based on the DSpace platform under the brand Open Repository. The Open Repository activity was sold to Atmire in 2016.