October 19, 2022 | Jerry Bergman

Peer Review Flaws Revealed by Massive Number of Retractions

Does peer review help ensure validity? A major scientific
publisher
is retracting over 500 peer-reviewed papers

 

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

Peer review is one of the primary means of ensuring quality in academic publishing. Until recently, the fields of biology, anatomy, and history were relatively general. But now, most all disciplines specialize in narrow aspects of biology, anatomy, and history. A biologist could specialize in mitochondrial research, or in one type of nerve cell, and publish in similar narrow areas. This has made it difficult for journal editors to find scientists with expertise in the narrow area that a paper discusses.

For example, if a paper on mitochondria is not within the editor’s specialty, the editor will need to send it to mitochondria experts who can be considered “peers” of the author. This means that the editor will not be able to review most papers sent to the journals himself. The hope is that, if fellow specialists approve a paper (i.e., if it has passed peer review), an acceptable level of quality control has been achieved. Some of the qualities reviewers look for include: the paper should be well-written, accurate, original, and supported by replicable evidence. Or, it should replicate an existing study.

Unfortunately, as will be shown, this ideal is not always reached.

Misuse of Peer Review

In the  Kitzmiller v. Dover Intelligent Design (ID) case in 2005, ruled on by Judge Jones, the evidence for evolution and against ID was constantly claimed to be based on “peer-reviewed science.” Thus (the evolutionists implied) one could be confident that papers attacking intelligent design were correct. Conversely, papers not peer-reviewed were, at the least, considered suspect. This implication was felt throughout the trial. Consequently, Judge Jones rejected ID as valid science partly based on the claim that Intelligent Design “has not generated peer-reviewed publications.”[1] This was not a minor point in his ruling. This was to him an “obvious” claim. To him, peer review was a primary criterion of scientific validity. Concluding that ID was not valid science, he ruled:

A final indicator of how ID has failed to demonstrate scientific warrant is the complete absence of peer-reviewed publications supporting the theory…. The evidence presented in this case demonstrates that ID is not supported by any peer-reviewed research, data or publications.… In addition to failing to produce papers in peer-reviewed journals…. It has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals.[2], (bold added).

This is not, as we will show, a criterion of science. Nor was it true; hundreds of peer-reviewed publications have been published by ID supporters. In defense of this point, ID supporters have reproduced photocopies of the cover pages of a few examples which disprove Judge Jones’ false claim.[3] I myself have personally published over 820 articles in peer-reviewed journals to date. Although an out-of-the-closet ID supporter now has trouble publishing articles that openly support ID, some papers do manage to break through the censorship walls erected by Darwinists.[4]

Problems in the Peer Review World      

The fallacy of trusting peer review as a criterion of scientific validity was recently exposed by a story in the Epoch Times on October 1, 2022. Reporter Zachary Stieber revealed that “One of the world’s largest open-access journal publishers is retracting over 500 papers, based on the discovery of unethical actions.”[5]

The report concerned a London-based consortium which publishes over 200 peer-reviewed journals across multiple disciplines. The journals they publish include Advances in Agriculture, the Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases and Medical Microbiology, and the Journal of Nanotechnology. A team of investigators identified “irregularities” in the peer-review process.

Following thorough investigation, we identified that these irregularities in the peer-review process were the result of suspicious and unethical activities. Since identifying this unethical activity and breach of our processes, we began proactively adding further checks and improving our processes and continue to do so.…. As a result of the investigation, 511 papers will be retracted. The papers were all published since August 2020…. Further retractions are expected as the investigation proceeds…. Some of the authors and editors who contributed to the articles may have been “unwitting participants” in the unethical scheme…. [T]he scheme involved “manipulation of the peer-review process and the infrastructure that supports it.”[6]

How was the process manipulated? The investigators found evidence that:

1. Some reviewers’ comments contained cut-and-paste text (the same comments by different reviews in different papers).

2. A few individuals did an abnormally large number of reviews.

3. Some reviewers turned in their reviews so quickly that they could not have spent the time on the review that is required

4. There had been misuse of databases that publishers use to vet potential reviewers.

Peer Review Fraud

Other problems included outright fraud. The investigators uncovered “coordinated peer review rings” consisting of both reviewers and editors working in cahoots to advance manuscripts to publication.

Some of the manuscripts even appeared to come from “paper mills” which involve people who are paid by others to write papers.[7]

The problem is not restricted to this one consortium. Other publishers have also recently announced large numbers of retractions. IOP Publishing, the publishing arm of the Institute of Physics, planned to retract nearly 500 articles that were most likely from paper mills. Public Library of Science (PLoS) also announced it would retract over 100 papers from its flagship journal due to evidence of unethical peer review.

Retraction Watch, a website that keeps track of retracted papers, has now documented over 30,000 retractions in the peer-reviewed literature.[8]

Peer Review Censorship

This scandalous record of retractions shows that peer review is not a reliable guarantee of reliability. Look how many papers got through the filter that allegedly makes science a “self-correcting process.”

Also found was philosophical bias by journal editors and the “peers” who do the reviewing. Reviewers and editors might reject papers for not conforming to their political views or for presenting ideas outside the box of the current consensus, even if the evidence and writing is sound.

Some of the retractions concerned a few papers written by creationists. They got past the censorship, were published, and then were retracted only because they were authored by creationists or intelligent design supporters. There were some cases where evolutionists demanded that a published paper in support of intelligent design be retracted, but the journal editor refused. Here was one example:

An Elsevier journal has disavowed, but not yet retracted, a paper creationists are calling “a big deal for the mainstreaming” of intelligent design. The article, “Using statistical methods to model the fine-tuning of molecular machines and systems,” appeared in the September issue of the Journal of Theoretical Biology, but has been online since June. Authors Steinar Thorvaldsen, of the University of Tromsø, Norway, and Ola Hössjer, a mathematician at Stockholm University in Sweden, write [in the paper]: “Fine-tuning has received much attention in physics, and it states that the fundamental constants of physics are finely tuned to precise values for a rich chemistry and life permittance.”[9]

Scams and Corruption in Peer-Reviewed Journals

Money is another root of evil in the peer review system. Many journals charge a fee per page which can be very expensive. Depending on the journal, it can be as much as 100 dollars a page. As a result, one 20-page article could cost the author 2,000 dollars. This cost is often paid by the author’s employer, usually a university or research laboratory. When I was publishing in secular journals, I was teaching at a large state university, and they paid the fee. There are currently over 30,000 academic journals, and the number increases by about 5 to7 percent a year.[10] As a result, scientific journal publishing is now a billion dollar business! Retraction Watch investigated one case, asking the following:

Hindawi journals suddenly soared in publication since 2020, why is this problem only discovered now? Why wasn’t the integrity team organized until more papers were published? Shouldn’t Hindawi be responsible for this?

The answer was, “They are just responsible for making money.”[11] Their investigation concluded that

Corruption has become the biggest growth business in the US. The latest example is the subversion of peer-reviewed research in top scientific journals. … it appears that Chinese services are offering a whole menu of scholarly paper placement services. That does not mean helping you get your paper placed, but letting you buy a completed and not necessarily valid paper and charging you for getting it published with you as an author, with the price depending on the impact factor of the publication. The article also describes other scams, such as bogus peer reviews. The Chinese services are so large-scale that it enabled them to be found out. But that raised the uncomfortable question of how many other vendors there are who operate with more finesse and on a smaller scale and have yet to be exposed?[12]

Publication Pressure Motivates Fraud

In academia, science research, and other areas, academic publication is the main means of determining hiring, tenure, promotion, and even the salary of academics. Publication is also a major means of awards, from local awards to the most prestigious prize of all, the Nobel Prize. As has often been said, “Publish or perish” is an aphorism describing pressure to publish in order to succeed in academic and scientific careers. This pressure is generally the greatest at research universities.

My Experience After Publishing 820 Articles in Peer-Reviewed Journals

Many of my articles were published in creation journals, but some of the same problems occur with them as with any other journals. My 820 articles in both secular and creation journals were peer-reviewed by an average of three reviewers each, meaning that my articles were read by as many as 2,460 persons.  One advantage of creation journals is that no creation journal requires a page cost, and creation journals are rarely used to determine tenure, salary, or promotion. Thus these distractions are rarely an issue with these journals.

There are other problems, though, in the reviewing sphere for all scientific authors. Some peer reviewers are clearly unqualified to serve in this role. It is not rare that the paper’s author has more experience and knowledge about the subject he wrote about than the peer reviewers. One major way of determining the reviewer’s qualifications is that, if they find next to nothing that needs to be improved, they are not very effective. When I reread my own papers after they have been peer reviewed, it is not rare for me to note minor mistakes or areas that need to be clarified.

For example, I submitted a paper to a creation journal on the influence of evolution in Southeast Asia. Of the three reviewers, two concluded that it was a good paper in need of only minor changes. The third reviewer found a number of minor and a few major things that needed to be changed. He was also able to strengthen the goal of my paper considerably. He was also fluent in Korean and the literature in the area I wrote about, which helped. In the end, I felt far more confident about my paper after having this person included as a reviewer.

Even papers written by well-known leading science authorities can be improved by a good reviewer. When I taught at one university, a colleague was assigned to review the writing of such heavyweights as Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov. He mentioned to me that he discerned a number of concerns that these enormously popular writers and scientists had missed.

Other Sources of Corruption in Peer Review

Collusion. In scientific fields that have a small number of specialists, such as those intimately acquainted with the inner workings of mitochondria, an author can email his peers to inform them about a paper he has written that will likely be sent to them to review. He could then ask for the favor of a favorable review for which he would be glad to reciprocate in the future. The result is a favorable peer review. Sometimes, the editor will even ask an author for names of potential reviewers. This opens the door to collusion.

Pre-censorship. The current pro-evolutionary political bias in peer-review almost guarantees that papers in support of intelligent design or creation will be rejected. Most often they will not even be sent to reviewers no matter how good the paper. Conversely, papers hostile to intelligent design will often be accepted even if they are filled with errors.

I read almost every paper critical of ID and creation that I can find. This is the main source of ideas that I write about. In my experience, they are often loaded with errors and misinformation. This has cautioned me to read all of the material that I come across, even peer-reviewed material, with a critical eye. This problem is mostly evident in papers that involve worldview positions. It is far less of a problem in papers that do not touch on the origins issue.

One of the best critiques on consensus science was by the Harvard trained MD and best-selling author Michael Crichton. He wrote about the rise of  “what has been called consensus science” which he regards

as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other …  you’re being had. … the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. …  the claim of consensus is invoked. …  only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away.[13]

Summary

To conclude that a paper that was peer reviewed gives it infallibility status is naïve. Judge Jones was misled by much that the Darwinists claimed in the trial. Unfortunately, as a result of Judge Jones’ decision, teachers are now even more free to indoctrinate students in an evolutionary worldview based on false and refuted information. The censorship approved by Judge Jones and his flawed criterion of scientific validity is a major reason why the scientific consensus is in favor of evolution. Because of censorship, few scientists have been exposed to the evidence opposed to evolution and in favor of creation.

 

 

References

[1] Judge John E. Jones, Kitzmiller v. Dover, 400 F. Supp., pp. 707, 735 (M.D. Pa. 2005).

[2] Judge John E. Jones, Kitzmiller v. Dover, 400 F. Supp., pp. 744-745.

[3] https://uncommondescent.com/documentation/Judge_Jones_Peer_Rev_Reb.pdf.

[4] Bergman, Jerry. 2018. Censoring the Darwin Skeptics: How Belief in Evolution is Enforced by Eliminating Dissidents. Southworth, WA: Leafcutter Press, 566 pages.

[5] Stieber, Zachary. 2022. Major scientific publisher retracting over 500 papers. The Epoch Times, October 1.

https://www.theepochtimes.com/major-scientific-publisher-retracting-over-500-papers_4768649.html?

[6] Stieber, 2022.

[7] Hindawi and Wiley to Retract Over 500 Papers Linked to Peer Review Rings. Retraction Watch:

[8] https://retractionwatch.com. See also https://retractionwatch.com/retraction-watch-database-user-guide/

[9] Elsevier journal disavows, but does not retract, paper on intelligent design. 2020. Retraction Watch, October.  .

[10] Zul, M. 2021. How many academic journals are there in the world? PublishingState.com, October 23..

[11] Alexander, Paul. 2022. Exclusive: Hindawi and Wiley to retract over 500 papers linked to peer review rings. Informed Choice Australia, September 30. Retraction Watch.

[12] Smith, Yves. 2014. Science journal fraud: Paying for placement. Naked Capitalism, December 24.

[13] Crichton, Michael. 2003. Aliens Cause Global Warming. Posted by Stephen Schneider at Stanford.edu.


Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

(Visited 515 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply