Guest post: Shopping for favorable reviews

Originally a comment by Claire on Losing sight of women’s rights.

If you have not witnessed these kind of shenanigans, then you are lucky. I am aware of several, including stories about the infamous Wakefield autism paper that should have gotten the editor fired, although in this case it was the other way around.

Two people I know were reviewers, who roundly rejected the paper citing grave concerns about methodology, result and conclusions. One said to me that they didn’t even think the introduction was good, failing to cite some seminal work that would have rather undermined his central premise. Two bad reviews from respected authors in the field should have been enough to kill it. Instead the editor (or more likely the associate editor) reviewer shopped until they got the number of reviews they needed to proceed to publication.

It was outrageously unethical behavior and it’s always been disappointing to me that the Lancet did not thoroughly audit their processes afterwards. Nor was the internal audit at the Royal Free any more than window dressing. Dismissing it as one bad apple, no attempt was made to discover how a bad apple was able to operate with impunity without ethics approval. Despite the fact they supported him long after it was clear something fishy was going on.

I’m an associate editor for a journal and I can tell you it’s hard getting reviewers. To collect as many as this one did, is very unusual, not to mention a lot of work. It still staggers me that every step of the peer review process, which is meant to prevent this kind of thing failed.

The same is true in this instance. If a paper has been accepted and does not contain lies or inaccuracies, how does someone biased get into the process?

Claire adds: I would state that I am not a first-hand witness to these events. I am relating to you only what I was told, although I have no reason to doubt its veracity.

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