Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 293–321 | Cite as

Is Biomedical Research Protected from Predatory Reviewers?

  • Aceil Al-KhatibEmail author
  • Jaime A. Teixeira da SilvaEmail author


Authors endure considerable hardship carrying out biomedical research, from generating ideas to completing their manuscripts and submitting their findings and data (as is increasingly required) to a journal. When researchers submit to journals, they entrust their findings and ideas to editors and peer reviewers who are expected to respect the confidentiality of peer review. Inherent trust in peer review is built on the ethical conduct of authors, editors and reviewers, and on the respect of this confidentiality. If such confidentiality is breached by unethical reviewers who might steal or plagiarize the authors’ ideas, researchers will lose trust in peer review and may resist submitting their findings to that journal. Science loses as a result, scientific and medical advances slow down, knowledge may become scarce, and it is unlikely that increasing bias in the literature will be detected or eliminated. In such a climate, society will ultimately be deprived from scientific and medical advances. Despite a rise in documented cases of abused peer review, there is still a relative lack of qualitative and quantitative studies on reviewer-related misconduct, most likely because evidence is difficult to come by. Our paper presents an assessment of editors’ and reviewers’ responsibilities in preserving the confidentiality of manuscripts during the peer review process, in response to a 2016 case of intellectual property theft by a reviewer. Our main objectives are to propose additional measures that would offer protection of authors’ intellectual ideas from predatory reviewers, and increase researchers’ awareness of the responsible reviewing of journal articles and reporting of biomedical research.


Trust Confidentiality Ethics Peer review thieves Plagiarism 



Al-Khatib is a participant in the Research Ethics Education Program in Jordan supported by Grant #5R25TW010026-02 from the Fogarty International Center of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The content and opinions are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Fogarty International Center or the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflicts of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


  1. Al-Khatib, A., & Teixeira da Silva, J. A. (2017a). What rights do authors have? Science and Engineering Ethics, 23(3), 947–949. doi: 10.1007/s11948-016-9808-8.Google Scholar
  2. Al-Khatib, A., & Teixeira da Silva, J. A. (2017b). Threats to the survival of the author-pays-journal to publish model. Publishing Research Quarterly, 33(1), 64–70. doi: 10.1007/s12109-016-9486-z.Google Scholar
  3. Ambrose, C. T. (2014). Plagiarism of ideas. Benjamin Rush and Charles Caldwell—a student-mentor dispute. The Pharos of Alpha Omega Alpha-Honor Medical Society, 77(1), 14.
  4. Anderson, M. S., & Steneck, N. H. (2011). The problem of plagiarism. Urologic Oncology, 29(1), 90–94. doi: 10.1016/j.urolonc.2010.09.013.Google Scholar
  5. Bouville, M. (2008). Plagiarism: Words and ideas. Science and Engineering Ethics, 14(3), 311–322. doi: 10.1007/s11948-008-9057-6.Google Scholar
  6. Cawley, V. (2011). An analysis of the ethics of peer review and other traditional academic publishing practices. International Journal of Social Science and Humanity, 1(3), 205–213.Google Scholar
  7. Clark, A., Singleton-Jackson, J., & Newsom, R. (2000). Journal editing: Managing the peer review process for timely publication of articles. Publishing Research Quarterly, 16(3), 62. doi: 10.1007/s12109-000-0017-5.Google Scholar
  8. Committee on Publication Ethics. (2013). COPE ethical guidelines for peer reviewers. Last Accessed 13 Aug 2017.
  9. Committee on Publication Ethics. (2016). A short guide to ethical editing for new editors (version 2). Last Accessed 13 Aug 2017.
  10. Commons, J. R. (1924). Legal foundations of capitalism. Transaction Publishers. Last Accessed 13 Aug 2017.
  11. Council of Science Editors (CSE). (2012). White paper on publication ethics. CSE’s white paper on promoting integrity in scientific journal publications, 2012. Update. 2012. Last Accessed 13 Aug 2017.
  12. Curry, S. (2016). Zika virus initiative reveals deeper malady in scientific publishing. The Guardian. Last Accessed 13 Aug 2017.
  13. Dansinger, M. (2017). Dear plagiarist: A letter to a peer reviewer who stole and published our manuscript as his own. Annals of Internal Medicine, 166(2), 143. doi: 10.7326/M16-2551.Google Scholar
  14. Dobránszki, J., & Teixeira da Silva, J. A. (2016). Editorial responsibilities: Both sides of the coin. Journal of Educational and Social Research, 6(3), 9–10. doi: 10.5901/jesr.2016.v6n3p9.Google Scholar
  15. Finelli, C., Crispino, P., Gioia, C., LaSala, N., D’amico, L., La Grotta, M., et al. (2016). Notice of retraction: The improvement of large high-density lipoprotein (HDL) particle levels, and presumably HDL metabolism, depend on effects of low-carbohydrate diet and weight loss. EXCLI Journal, 15, 570. doi: 10.17179/excli2015-642. (Retraction of: Finelli, C., Crispino, P., Gioia, C., LaSala, N., D’amico, L., La Grotta, M., Miro, O., Colarusso, D. EXCLI Journal, 15, 166–176).Google Scholar
  16. Harnad, S. (1998). The invisible hand of peer review. Nature Web Matters. Available at: Last Accessed 13 Aug 2017.
  17. Hartzog, W. N. (2011). Taken in context: An examination of judicial determinations regarding implied obligations of confidentiality. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 255. Order No. 3495711, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved from Last Accessed 13 Aug 2017.
  18. Helgesson, G., & Eriksson, S. (2015). Plagiarism in research. Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy, 18(1), 91–101. doi: 10.1007/s11019-014-9583-8.Google Scholar
  19. Heywood, E. (2008). Confidentiality, libel, peer review and the law. The Journal of the European Medical Writers Association, 17(4), 168–170.Google Scholar
  20. Higgins, J. R., Lin, F.-C., & Evans, J. P. (2016). Plagiarism in submitted manuscripts: Incidence, characteristics and optimization of screening—case study in a major specialty medical journal. Research Integrity and Peer Review, 1, 13. doi: 10.1186/s41073-016-0021-8.Google Scholar
  21. Hong, W., & Walsh, J. P. (2009). For money or glory? Commercialization, competition, and secrecy in the entrepreneurial university. The Sociological Quarterly, 50(1), 145–171. doi: 10.1111/j.1533-8525.2008.01136.x.Google Scholar
  22. ICMJE (International Committee of Medical Journal Editors). (2017). Responsibilities in the submission and peer-review process. Last Accessed 13 Aug 2017.
  23. Jones, D. N. (2014). Predatory personalities as behavioral mimics and parasites: Mimicry–deception theory. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 9(4), 445–451. doi: 10.1177/1745691614535936.Google Scholar
  24. Jøsang, A., Keser, C., & Dimitrakos, T. (2005). Can we manage trust? Trust Management, 13–29. Last Accessed 13 Aug 2017.
  25. Khan, N. M., Khan, F. A., Mu, T.-H., Khan, Z. U., Khan, M., Ahmad, S., et al. (2015). Retracted: Potentiality of neem (Azadirachta indica) powder in rheology modification of oil-in-water emulsion. Journal of Food Process Engineering, 38, 190–196. doi: 10.1111/jfpe.12132.Google Scholar
  26. Kumar, M. N. (2014). Review of the ethics and etiquettes of time management of manuscript peer review. Journal of Academic Ethics, 12(4), 333–346. doi: 10.1007/s10805-014-9220-4.Google Scholar
  27. Laine, C. (2017). Scientific misconduct hurts. Annals of Internal Medicine, 166(2), 148–149. doi: 10.7326/M16-2550.Google Scholar
  28. Lancet Editorial. (2013). What is the purpose of medical research? Lancet, 381(9864), 347. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60149-X.Google Scholar
  29. McCook, A. (2017). Watch out for predatory journals, and consider retract/replace, suggests medical journal group. Last Accessed 13 Aug 2017.
  30. Mertens, S., & Baethge, C. (2012). Standards in the face of uncertainty—Peer review is flawed and under-researched, but the best we have. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, 109(51–52), 900–902. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2012.0900.Google Scholar
  31. Moed, H. F., Colledge, L., Reedijk, J., Moya-Anegon, F., Guerrero-Bote, V., Plume, A., et al. (2012). Citation-based metrics are appropriate tools in journal assessment provided that they are accurate and used in an informed way. Scientometrics, 92(2), 367–376. doi: 10.1007/s11192-012-0679-8.Google Scholar
  32. Naik, G. (2017). Peer-review activists push psychology journals towards open data. Nature News. doi: 10.1038/nature.2017.21549.Google Scholar
  33. Nature. (2001). Bad peer reviewers. Nature, 413(6852), 93. doi: 10.1038/35093213.Google Scholar
  34. Nederhof, A. J. (1985). Methods of coping with social desirability bias: A review. European Journal of Social Psychology, 15(3), 263–280. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.2420150303.Google Scholar
  35. Newington, L., & Metcalfe, A. (2014). Factors influencing recruitment to research: Qualitative study of the experiences and perceptions of research teams. BMC Medical Research Methodology, 14, 10. doi: 10.1186/1471-2288-14-10.Google Scholar
  36. Oleinik, A. (2014). Conflict(s) of interest in peer review: Its origins and possible solutions. Science and Engineering Ethics, 20(1), 55–75. doi: 10.1007/s11948-012-9426-z.Google Scholar
  37. Open Society Institute, Budapest Open Access Initiative. (2002). Read the budapest open access initiative. Last Accessed 13 Aug 2017.
  38. Parrish, D. M., & Bruns, D. E. (2002). US legal principles and confidentiality of the peer review process. Journal of the American Medical Association, 287(21), 2839–2841. doi: 10.1001/jama.287.21.2839.Google Scholar
  39. Powell, K. (2016). Does it take too long to publish research? Nature, 530(7589), 148–151. doi: 10.1038/530148a.Google Scholar
  40. Powers, E. A., Goudy, W. J., & Keith, P. M. (1978). Congruence between panel and recall data in longitudinal research. Public Opinion Quarterly, 42, 380–389. doi: 10.1086/268461.Google Scholar
  41. Price, A. (2006). Cases of plagiarism handled by the United States Office of Research Integrity 1992–2005 (pp. 46–56). Plagiary: Cross Disciplinary Studies in Plagiarism, Fabrication, and Falsification.Google Scholar
  42. Rainbolt, G. (2006). The concept of rights (1st ed.). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  43. Ready, T. (2006). Plagiarize or perish? Nature Medicine, 5, 494–495.Google Scholar
  44. Resnik, D. B., & Elmore, S. A. (2016). Ensuring the quality, fairness, and integrity of journal peer review: A possible role of editors. Science and Engineering Ethics, 22, 169–188. doi: 10.1007/s11948-015-9625-5.Google Scholar
  45. Resnik, D. B., Gutierrez-Ford, C., & Peddada, S. (2008). Perceptions of ethical problems with scientific journal peer review: An exploratory study. Science and Engineering Ethics, 14(3), 305–310. doi: 10.1007/s11948-008-9059-4.Google Scholar
  46. Roberts, D. L., & St. John, F. A. V. (2014). Estimating the prevalence of researcher misconduct: A study of UK academics within biological sciences. PeerJ, 2, e562. doi: 10.7717/peerj.562.Google Scholar
  47. Rockwell, S. (2006). Ethics of peer review: A guide for manuscript reviewers. Last Accessed 13 Aug 2017.
  48. Ross-Hellauer, T. (2017). What is open peer review? A systematic review. F1000Research, 6, 588. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.11369.1.Google Scholar
  49. Salman, R. A.-S., Beller, E., Kagan, J., Hemminki, E., Phillips, R. S., Savulescu, J., et al. (2014). Increasing value and reducing waste in biomedical research regulation and management. Lancet, 383(9912), 176–185. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(13)62297-7.Google Scholar
  50. Sarigöl, E., Garcia, D., Scholtes, I., & Schweitzer, F. (2017). Quantifying the effect of editor–author relations on manuscript handling times. Scientometrics. doi: 10.1007/s11192-017-2309-y. (in press).Google Scholar
  51. Smith, R. (2006). Peer review: A flawed process at the heart of science and journals. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 99(4), 178–182. doi: 10.1258/jrsm.99.4.178.Google Scholar
  52. Solomon, D., & Björk, B.-C. (2016). Article processing charges for open access publication—The situation for research intensive universities in the USA and Canada. PeerJ, 4, e2264. doi: 10.7717/peerj.2264.Google Scholar
  53. Spier, R. (2002a). Peer review and innovation. Science and Engineering Ethics, 8, 99. doi: 10.1007/s11948-002-0035-0.Google Scholar
  54. Spier, R. (2002b). On dealing with bias. Science and Engineering Ethics, 8(4), 483–484. doi: 10.1007/s11948-002-0001-x.Google Scholar
  55. Stenflo, L. (2004). Intelligent plagiarists are the most dangerous. Nature, 427(6977), 777. doi: 10.1038/427777a.Google Scholar
  56. Stewart Jr., C. N. (2011). Peer review and the ethics of privileged information. Research Ethics for Scientists: A Companion for Students. John Wiley & Sons, pp. 135–146. doi:  10.1002/9781119978862.ch10
  57. Sticklen, M. B. (2010). Retraction: Plant genetic engineering for biofuel production: Towards affordable cellulosic ethanol. Nature Reviews, 11(4), 308. doi: 10.1038/nrg2777.Google Scholar
  58. Teixeira da Silva, J. A. (2013). Responsibilities and rights of authors, peer reviewers, editors and publishers: A status quo inquiry and assessment. The Asian and Australasian Journal of Plant Science and Biotechnology, 7(Special Issue 1), 6–15.Google Scholar
  59. Teixeira da Silva, J. A. (2015a). Negative results: Negative perceptions limit their potential for increasing reproducibility. Journal of Negative Results in BioMedicine, 14, 12. doi: 10.1186/s12952-015-0033-9.Google Scholar
  60. Teixeira da Silva, J. A. (2015b). Debunking post-publication peer review. International Journal of Education and Information Technology, 1(2), 34–37.Google Scholar
  61. Teixeira da Silva, J. A. (2016a). On the abuse of online submission systems, fake peer reviews and editor-created accounts. Persona y Bioética, 20(2), 151–158. doi: 10.5294/PEBI.2016.20.2.3.Google Scholar
  62. Teixeira da Silva, J. A. (2016b). The militarization of science, and subsequent criminalization of scientists. Journal of Interdisciplinary Medicine, 1(2), 214–215. doi: 10.1515/jim-2016-0031.Google Scholar
  63. Teixeira da Silva, J. A. (2017a). Fake peer reviews, fake identities, fake accounts, fake data: Beware! AME Medical Journal, 2, 28. doi: 10.21037/amj.2017.02.10.Google Scholar
  64. Teixeira da Silva, J. A. (2017b). COPE requires greater consistency and accountability. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 8(1), 11–13. doi: 10.5901/mjss.2017.v8n1p.Google Scholar
  65. Teixeira da Silva, J. A. (2017c). The ethics of peer and editorial requests for self-citation of their work and journal. Medical Journal Armed Forces India, 73(2), 181–183. doi: 10.1016/j.mjafi.2016.11.008.Google Scholar
  66. Teixeira da Silva, J. A., & Al-Khatib, A. (2017a). Should authors be requested to suggest peer reviewers? Science and Engineering Ethics. doi: 10.1007/s11948-016-9842-6. (in press).Google Scholar
  67. Teixeira da Silva, J. A., & Al-Khatib, A. (2017b). How are editors selected, recruited and approved? Science and Engineering Ethics. doi: 10.1007/s11948-016-9821-y. (in press).Google Scholar
  68. Teixeira da Silva, J. A., & Bernès, S. (2017). Clarivate analytics: Continued omnia vanitas impact factor culture. Science and Engineering Ethics. doi: 10.1007/s11948-017-9873-7. (in press).Google Scholar
  69. Teixeira da Silva, J. A., & Dobránszki, J. (2015a). Problems with traditional science publishing and finding a wider niche for post-publication peer review. Accountability in Research: Policies and Quality Assurance, 22(1), 22–40. doi: 10.1080/08989621.2014.899909.Google Scholar
  70. Teixeira da Silva, J. A., & Dobránszki, J. (2015b). Potential dangers with open access files in the expanding open data movement. Publishing Research Quarterly, 31(4), 298–305. doi: 10.1007/s12109-015-9420-9.Google Scholar
  71. Teixeira da Silva, J. A., & Dobránszki, J. (2017). Excessively long editorial decisions and excessively long publication times by journals: Causes, risks, consequences, and proposed solutions. Publishing Research Quarterly, 33(1), 101–108. doi: 10.1007/s12109-016-9489-9.Google Scholar
  72. Teixeira da Silva, J. A., & Katavić, V. (2016). Free editors and peers: Squeezing the lemon dry. Ethics & Bioethics, 6(3–4), 203–209. doi: 10.1515/ebce-2016-0011.Google Scholar
  73. Teixeira da Silva, J. A., & Memon, A. R. (2017). CiteScore: A cite for sore eyes, or a valuable, transparent metric? Scientometrics. doi: 10.1007/s11192-017-2250-0. (in press).Google Scholar
  74. Teixeira da Silva, J. A., & Shaughnessy, M. F. (2017). An interview with Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva: Insight into improving the efficiency of the publication process. North American Journal of Psychology, 19(2), 325–338.Google Scholar
  75. Teixeira da Silva, J. A., Al-Khatib, A., & Dobránszki, J. (2017a). Fortifying the corrective nature of post-publication peer review: Identifying weakness, use of journal clubs, and rewarding conscientious behavior. Science and Engineering Ethics, 23(4), 1213–1226. doi: 10.1007/s11948-016-9854-2.Google Scholar
  76. Teixeira da Silva, J. A., Al-Khatib, A., Katavić, V., & Bornemann-Cimenti, H. (2017b). Establishing sensible and practical guidelines for desk rejections. Science and Engineering Ethics. doi: 10.1007/s11948-017-9921-3. (in press).Google Scholar
  77. Tennant, J. P., Dugan, J. M., Graziotin, D., et al. (2017). A multi-disciplinary perspective on emergent and future innovations in peer review [version 1; referees: Awaiting peer review]. F1000Research, 6, 1151. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.12037.1. (preprint).Google Scholar
  78. Tite, L., & Schroter, S. (2007). Why do peer reviewers decline to review? A survey. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 61(1), 9–12. doi: 10.1136/jech.2006.049817.Google Scholar
  79. Triggle, C. R., & Triggle, D. J. (2007). What is the future of peer review? Why is there fraud in science? Is plagiarism out of control? Why do scientists do bad things? Is it all a case of: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing?”. Vascular Health and Risk Management, 3(1), 39–53.Google Scholar
  80. WAME (World Association of Medical Editors). (2015). Recommendations on publication ethics policies for medical journals. Last Accessed 13 Aug 2017.
  81. Wangen, G. (2015). Conflicting incentives risk analysis: A case study of the normative peer review process. Administrative Sciences, 5(3), 125–147. doi: 10.3390/admsci5030125.Google Scholar
  82. Weber-Wulff, D. (2015). Plagiarism detection software: Promises, pitfalls, and practices. In T. A. Bretag (Ed.), Living reference work entry. Handbook of academic integrity (pp. 1–10). Singapore: Springer Science + Business Media. doi: 10.1007/978-981-287-079-7_19-1.Google Scholar
  83. Wicherts, J. M. (2016). Peer review quality and transparency of the peer-review process in open access and subscription journals. PLoS ONE, 11(1), e0147913. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0147913.Google Scholar
  84. Willis, M. (2016). Why do peer reviewers decline to review manuscripts? A study of reviewer invitation responses. Learned Publishing, 29(1), 5–7. doi: 10.1002/leap.1006.Google Scholar
  85. Yan, Z., Peng, Y., Wu, Y., & Di, J. (2015). Retraction: Controllable electrochemical synthesis of silver nanoparticles on indium-tin-oxide-coated glass. ChemElectroChem, 2, 1072. doi: 10.1002/celc.201500294.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of DentistryJordan University of Science and TechnologyIrbidJordan
  2. 2.Kagawa-kenJapan

Personalised recommendations