Fake peer-reviewing

From The Embassy of Good Science

Fake peer-reviewing

What is this about?

Fake reviewing, or self-reviewing, involves recommending a fake reviewer during the peer-review process.[1] Fake or self-review manipulates the review process and guarantees a paper receives a positive review. This is considered a questionable research practice.[2]

  1. Ferguson, C., Marcus, A., & Oransky, I. (2014). Publishing: The peer-review scam. Nature News, 515(7528), 480.Accessed via: https://www.nature.com/news/publishing-the-peer-review-scam-1.16400
  2. Bouter, L. M., Tijdink, J., Axelsen, N., Martinson, B. C., & Ter Riet, G. (2016). Ranking major and minor research misbehaviors: results from a survey among participants of four World Conferences on Research Integrity. Research Integrity and Peer Review, 1(1), 17.

Why is this important?

Peer reviewing is a pillar of the scientific process, improving the quality of published research. Within the article submission process, many journals allow authors to suggest peer reviewers. By providing fake email addresses generated by the author themselves, authors can manipulate the peer-review process. Several forms of ‘fake reviewing’ can be distinguished:

  1. Authors can refer to existing scientists, but provide fake email addresses;
  2. Authors can refer to ficticious reviewers, supplemented with an email address;
  3. Third parties offering services can also provide fake reviews. [1]


If Journal editors are unable to detect the fake reviewers, articles might be published without the quality control of sufficient genuine peer review. All major publishers, including Elsevier, Springer, Taylor & Francis, SAGE, Wiley, and Informa have retracted papers because of fake reviews. [2][3][1] As of 2020 over 600 articles have been retracted because of fake reviewing according to the Retraction Watch Database.[4] COPE estimates that 10% of retractions are due to fake reviewing. [1]


Below a list of ‘red flags’ in peer review can be found, which should raise suspicions about authors aiming to fake the review process.


Red flags in peer-review[5]:


  • “The author asks to exclude some reviewers, then provides a list of almost every scientist in the field.
  • The author recommends reviewers who are strangely difficult to find online.
  • The author provides Gmail, Yahoo or other free e-mail addresses to contact suggested reviewers, rather than e-mail addresses from an academic institution.
  • Within hours of being requested, the reviews come back. They are glowing.
  • Even reviewer number three likes the paper.”


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 COPE. https://publicationethics.org/files/McCooK_Can%20you%20spot%20a%20fake%20COPE%202016.pdf
  2. Allison McCook (2016). Springer, BMC retracting nearly 60 papers for fake reviews and other issues. Retraction Watch Accessed via: https://retractionwatch.com/2016/11/01/springer-bmc-retracting-nearly-60-papers-for-fake-reviews-and-other-issues/
  3. Victoria Stern (2017) Elsevier retracting 26 papers accepted because of fake reviews. Retraction Watch. Accessed via: https://retractionwatch.com/2017/12/21/elsevier-retracting-26-papers-accepted-fake-reviews/
  4. http://retractiondatabase.org/RetractionSearch.aspx? Search word: fake peer review. Accessed 10-2-2020
  5. (1)  Ferguson, C., Marcus, A., & Oransky, I. (2014). Publishing: The peer-review scam. Nature News, 515(7528), 480.Accessed via: https://www.nature.com/news/publishing-the-peer-review-scam-1.16400

For whom is this important?

What are the best practices?

Considering fake review, there are several strategies journals can implement to overcome the challenges. A first strategy is not accepting the requests of peer reviewers from the authors. The reviewers are chosen by the journal editors, and ensure there are no ‘fake reviewers’. However, many journals cannot find (enough) peer reviewers, and granting the request can be time saving for journals.[1] At times, journals need to rely on the requests of authors to find peer reviewers at all.

A second strategy is implementing an easy system that verifies reviewers. One online platform created to facilitate verification is Publons.[1][2] Here, journal editors can do background checks on the reviewers, and easily check their contributions in the field. In addition, reviewers get recognition for their reviews, even if these are anonymous. [3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Publons (2019) Home page. Accessed via: https://publons.com/about/home/
  2. Alisson McCook (2017). Can you spot a fake? New tool aims to help journals identify fake reviews. Retraction Watch Accessed via: https://retractionwatch.com/2017/10/04/can-spot-fake-new-tool-aims-help-journals-identify-fake-reviews/
  3. Publons (2019) Get recognition for your reviews for MDPI. Accessed via: https://publons.com/in/mdpi/

Other information

Virtues & Values
Good Practices & Misconduct