Peer-reviews don’t protect against plagiarism and articles retraction. Why?

After reading one more post from the excellent blog Retraction Watch, this question dawned on me: if the classical peer-review is such a good thing, then why is it rather inefficient when it comes to detecting flaws or plagiarism cases which later are exposed by the net?

Because I have seen implicit and explicit blaming of:

  • authors, seeking to publish as many papers as possible (because only the number of them counts, not their contents)
  • journals, seeking to fill their pages with any costs, also failing to protect the authors which gave them the copyrights.

There is a missing link in this chain: what about the peer-reviews? I bet that many articles submitted for publication are not accepted as a consequence of peer-review reports which detect flaws or plagiarism attempts. However, so many other papers are published after they pass the peer-review filter, only to be found later as being flawed or plagiarizing.

I think this is the strongest argument against old-ways, let’s talk in private  practice.  It shows that even  if the great majority of researchers is honest and dedicated to commit to best practices in the field, the very few who try to trick, to “boost” their CVs, escape undetected during the classical peer-review process  because of the tradition to talk in private about research, to follow the authority paths, and so on. This practice was not bad at all, before the net era, it was simply a part if the immunitary system of the research community. On the other side, there is no reason to believe that flawed or plagiarized articles are more frequent now than before. The difference which makes such articles easier to detect is the net, which allows public expressions of doubt and fast communication of evidence (“don’t believe me, here is the link to the evidence, make you own opinion”).

Don’t you think that peer-review could get better, not worse, by becoming a public activity which results from the contribution of (few or many) peers?


On peer-review and the big value it may have for epijournals, or even as a publishing business model, see also the posts:

4 thoughts on “Peer-reviews don’t protect against plagiarism and articles retraction. Why?”

  1. There have to be upsides and downsides. Just imagine blog comments, redditors, and so on versus I walk over to your office and we have a conversation every other day where I’m polite and take time in meatspace to read the paper papers you ask me to.

    1. You are right, but there is no “versus”, they complete one another. My point is that those whistleblowers who find flaws in published papers are doing peer-reviews. We could use this for improving the process.

      Because I don’t know the future, I look for comparisons with the past. There was surely more charm in the expectation of arrival of the perfumed handwritten letter versus the instantaneous e-mail. Or the fixed phone, which is far less intrusive than the mobile phone, but the truth is that people use the mobile phone and new rules of etiquette emerge.

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