I was entertained to see that Springer recently retracted a set of papers, having apparently detected a set of fake reviewers . The game seems to be that authors suggest reviewers who are real people but with fake emails owned by the authors. Allyson Lister, a colleague of mine, was twice the victim of this form of identity theft   a while back so I am perhaps less surprised to hear that this is happening than some in the scientific community.
Now, of course, this is a form of fraud and is not something than I would condone. Ally lost some time chasing the situation down, but I do not think that there were any negative outcomes for her other than this. She also got to write some entertaining blog posts about the issue. But there is clearly a reputational risk as well. If the review apparently coming back from Ally had been of poor quality, then that, by itself, is an issue.
For the journals, my immediate response, though is to hope that they got the money back that they paid for these reviews. However, hidden behind the flippancy is, perhaps, a serious point.
The serious fraud office define fraud as “an act of deception intended for personal gain or to cause a loss to another party.” You can argue the former here, but they the last? The fake reviewers do not stand to gain any money from the publishers, so clearly they are not trying to cause loss to them. The best you can argue is that the authors using fake reviewers are trying to cause loss to their employers at some point in the future, gaining promotions to which they are not entitled.
The journals say that organising reviews and ensuring peer-review is a significant contribution that they are making; yet, to achieve this, they are dependent on people with who they have no existing business relationship. It’s all done on a freebie, a gentlemens agreement. Does this really make sense? If the whole system were moved toward a more formal basis, then suddenly, fake reviewers would clearly be in breach of contract, as well as clearly be defrauding the reviewers. Even the basic machinary of payment would help to prevent the fraud; instead of just requiring a name and email, journals would need to know bank accounts, tax details and so on.
All in all, I think, this supports provides another strong reason why we should pay reviewers .
I am not sure why, but while writing this it became clear to me that the argument would be much better supported if also represented as a sea shanty. Middle age hitting me no doubt, but here we go…
What shall we do with the fake reviewer? What shall we do with the fake reviewer? What shall we do with the fake reviewer? Early in the Morning Pay Reviewers, Sue the Fake Ones Pay Reviewers, Sue the Fake Ones Pay Reviewers, Sue the Fake Ones Early in the Morning Full Economic Costs are Rising Full Economic Costs are Rising Full Economic Costs are Rising Time to Pay the Piper What shall we do with the fake reviewer? What shall we do with the fake reviewer? What shall we do with the fake reviewer? Early in the Morning
— Phillip Lord