The peer review scandal that produced 60 retractions from an academic journal last week claimed a high-ranking official of the government of Taiwan on Monday. The state-run news agency CNA reported the resignation of the minister of education, a scientist whose name was listed as a co-author of at least five of the retracted articles.
The government had earlier said the name of the minister, Chiang Wei-ling, was added to the papers without his knowledge. He stood by that claim Monday at a news conference. Opposition parties had called for his resignation in the wake of the retractions.
CNA also said the affair is also now the subject of an investigation by Taiwanese prosecutors.
While the journal itself is not well-known, the allegations surrounding it and the apparently unprecedented number of retractions — made in one fell swoop — have attracted worldwide attention, particularly in academic circles, where the value and integrity of the peer-review process has increasingly been questioned.
On Thursday, The Washington Post and other news organizations reported that an academic journal of acoustics called the Journal of Vibration and Control had retracted 60 “scholarly” papers after discovering a “peer-review ring” that rigged the vetting process designed to ensure the value and integrity of published research.
SAGE, the group that operates the journal, revealed that Peter Chen, the Taiwanese academic who published under the name C.Y. Chen, had orchestrated fake peer reviews of his work and the work of his co-authors to get them past editors at the journal. Chen’s twin brother, C.W. Chen, was also listed as an author on many of the articles. C.W. Chen is a former student of the education minister, according to the Taipei Times.
Peter Chen, who left his post at National Pingtung University of Education during the investigation, reportedly issued a statement over the weekend saying that he had been “indiscreet” in using the education minister’s name on some of the papers. Reports about Peter Chen’s statement made no mention of whether he admitted to the allegations leveled against him by SAGE. He has been unavailable for comment to news organizations since the allegations emerged.
The SAGE investigation said Chen allegedly used fake e-mail addresses, fabricated identities and phony reviews to get 60 papers past the journal’s peer review.
Some reviews recommending the papers for publication were written by Peter Chen himself using the names of others at genuine academic institutions, the journal said as it made the retractions. Some, a SAGE spokesman said, were written by others, and no academic affiliation was provided — just the name of a country.
At a news conference, the departing minister said that “after reflection overnight, in order to safeguard my own reputation … I’ve decided to resign as the education minister,” according to Channel News Asia.
Apart from the role of the education minister, the Taiwan government’s interest has been piqued by a report that its science ministry may have funded the research for 40 of the papers at a cost of about $169,000, according to CNA.
The sheer number of published papers — 60 between 2010 and 2013 — has raised eyebrows as well. CNA quoted Wu Maw-kuen, president of National Dong Hwa University, wondering how anyone could possibly produce so many papers in so short a time. Whether that occurred to the editors of the journal is unknown.
The editor, Ali H. Nayfeh, has resigned. Efforts by The Washington Post to locate him have been unsuccessful. He is listed as a professor emeritus at Virginia Tech and is the recipient of numerous professional awards.
The articles have titles such as “Modified intelligent genetic algorithm-based adaptive neural network control for uncertain structural systems” and “Sensitivity of initial damage detection for steel structures using the Hilbert-Huang transform method.”