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同儕審閱真的有效嗎?探討120份論文遭撤銷的案例

同儕審閱被視為科學研究的支柱之一,經過同儕審閱程序而發表的論文通常被視為具有較高的品質,然而,這個過程也因為各種因素受到批評。前陣子,一些知名有同儕審閱程序的期刊如《斯普林格》(Springer)和《電氣和電子工程師協會》(Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers , IEEE)期刊撤銷了120篇假論文,引起學術界對於同儕審閱品質以及期刊是否真的在進行同儕審閱議題的討論。

法國格勒諾布爾約瑟夫·傅立葉大學的計算機科學家Cyril Labbe 花了兩年的時間發現120份會議程序和論文其實是由計算機生成的亂碼,這些毫無意義的論文是利用名為SCIgen的電腦程式產生的,它是由美國麻省理工學院(MIT)的研究人員發明的。SCIgen通過隨機結合單字串生成假論文,對於沒有該研究領域的經驗或專業知識的人來說,假論文的內容是符合邏輯的。然而,由於這些論文被發表在聲稱設有同儕審閱程序的期刊之中,因此使得人們對這些論文是否真的經過同儕審閱產生懷疑,以及如果這些論文真的通過了同儕審閱,它們是如何得以發表的呢?

讓我們來討論一下論文撤銷所引發的一些問題:

1.同儕審閱系統是否真的存在呢?

期待審稿人準確地發現捏造的數據可能是很困難的。在這些被撤銷的論文的案例中,論文的內容顯得很籠統,但使用的術語卻是合理的。例如,題目為《TIC: a methodology for the construction of e-commerce》一文的摘要中寫道:

In recent years, much research has been devoted to the construction of public-private key pairs; on the other hand, few have synthesized the visualization of the producer-consumer problem. Given the current status of efficient archetypes, leading analysts famously desires the emulation of congestion control, which embodies the key principles of hardware and architecture. In our research, we concentrate our efforts on disproving that spreadsheets can be made knowledge-based, empathic, and compact.(近年來,大量的研究致力於公眾和私人媒合的建設;另一方面,極少數綜合了生產者-消費者問題的可視化研究。當前高效的原型導致領先的分析師們渴望能夠仿效數據阻塞控制表現出硬體和和架構的主要原則的數據。在我們的研究中,我們致力於反證電子表格可以是基於知識的、情緒性的和緊湊的。)

通過同儕審閱的論文並不意味著毫無瑕疵,這一點是合情合理的。由於缺乏足夠的獎勵機制,同儕審閱的標準有時並非那麼嚴格,上述這些投稿論文可能正好可以證明這一點。正如美國認知科學家Steven Harnad 在部落格中所提到的「合格的審稿人是非難得的一種珍貴資源。要找到合適的審閱人並非易事;不適合的審稿人(缺乏經驗或存有偏見)會錯過可檢測的錯誤,讓劣質的論文蒙混過關。」

2.「發表或是滅亡」這種文化是否是此類醜聞的罪魁禍首?

Labbe 認為,頻繁的發表對研究科學家造成了很大的壓力,並造就鼓勵造假研究的環境。在某些領域和國家,學術生涯發展高度依賴於研究人員的論文發表數量,以及同樣重要的發表期刊的影響因子是眾所皆知的事實。

因此,在此壓力和環境之下,一些研究人員便很可能鋌而走險違反學術倫理以發表論文,如投稿造假研究等。美國賓國理海大學生物科學教授Michael Behe 反駁道「看來騙子的數量比我們想像的還要多,或者說,獲得職位的經濟利益遠遠大於被抓到的懲罰。

3.基於訂閱和開放存取形式的期刊,兩者的同儕審閱是否有所區別呢?

由於開放存取涉及作者支付出版商以獲得發表,因此引發了很多有關同儕審閱品質以及取得發表等問題的討論。順帶一提,120篇遭撤銷的論文皆發表在訂閱制的期刊中。這是否能回應那些聲稱開放存取出版商的同儕審閱沒有那訂閱期刊的那麼嚴格的論點呢?

揭露造假論文的科學家Cyril Labbe 總結道,這些醜聞表示「垃圾之戰已在科學的中心開戰了」雖然投稿假論文的意圖無法確定-無論是為了測試期刊、純粹惡作刻、或是為了詆毀作者/編輯,但是有著審查程序的知名期刊可以如此輕易地被誤導,的確是十分令人不安的。這種事件會使人們對學術研究界的誠信產生懷疑。盡管期刊應對於其出版的研究更加謹慎,研究人員也應該適時停止將發表數量作為衡量成就的標準。

您認為期刊真的會對論文進行同儕審閱程序嗎?您覺得同儕審閱的效果如何?以研究發表數量來決定研究人員未來職業發展的機會是否恰當呢?

請與我們分享您的觀點
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Is peer review really effective? The case of 120 withdrawn papers

Peer review is perceived as one of the mainstays of scientific publishing. Papers that undergo the peer review process are generally considered to be of high quality since they are scrutinized by experts before publication. Nevertheless, this process has also been criticized on various grounds. The recent case of withdrawal of 120 fake papers from well-known peer-reviewed journals such as Springer and Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) has sparked a discussion among the scientific community regarding the quality of peer review and whether journals actually conduct a peer review.

Cyril Labbe, a computer scientist of Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France, worked for two years and found that 120 conference proceedings and papers related to specific conferences were computer-generated gibberish. A computer program called SCIgen, an invention of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, was used to spawn these nonsensical papers. SCIgen randomly combines strings of words to produce fake papers that can seem logical to a person without experience or expertise in that field of study. However, these papers were published by journals claiming to have a peer review process in place, which raises questions about whether these papers really underwent the peer review process, and if they did, how these papers found their way to publication.

Let’s consider some concerns this case of withdrawn papers has raised:

1. Is there a problem with the peer review system?

Expecting peer reviewers to invariably spot fraudulent data might be a tough proposition. In the case of these withdrawn papers, the content seemed vague, but the terms used were plausible. For instance, a paper titled “TIC: a methodology for the construction of e-commerce” contained this in its abstract: In recent years, much research has been devoted to the construction of public-private key pairs; on the other hand, few have synthesized the visualization of the producer-consumer problem. Given the current status of efficient archetypes, leading analysts famously desires the emulation of congestion control, which embodies the key principles of hardware and architecture. In our research, we concentrate our efforts on disproving that spreadsheets can be made knowledge-based, empathic, and compact.

It is understood that a paper that passes peer review does not necessarily imply that the research is flawless. Due to the lack of adequate incentives, peer review is at times not as rigorous as it should be. It is possible that these papers were submitted to prove precisely this. As Steven Harnad, an American cognitive scientist, writes on his blog "Qualified referees are a scarce, over-harvested resource. It is not easy to find the right referees; ill-chosen referees (inexpert or biased) can admit a bad paper; they can miss detectable errors.”

2. Is the “publish or perish” culture responsible for such scandals?

Labbe opines that high pressure on research scientists to publish, and to do so frequently, creates an environment where publishing fake research can be incentivized. It is a well-known fact that in some fields and nations, career advancement depends on the number of publications researchers have to their credit, with an equal importance attached to the impact factor of the journals they get published in.

So it’s likely that some researchers resort to unethical publication practices such as submitting fake papers. Michael Behe, a Professor of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, retorts, "It looks like there are far more charlatans than we thought, or conversely, the economic benefits of securing tenure far outweigh the punishment for getting caught."

3. Is there a difference between the peer review of subscription-based and open access journals?

Since open access publishing involves the authors paying to get published, questions are raised by many about the quality of peer review and the research that gets published. Incidentally, the 120 withdrawn papers were published in subscription-based journals. Does this put to rest claims that open access publishers have less rigorous peer review than subscription-based ones?

As Cyril Labbe, the scientist who exposed the fake published papers, surmises, this scandal indicates a “spamming war started at the heart of science.” Although the intentions behind submitting the fabricated papers aren’t clear—whether to test journals, as a prank, or to defame authors/editors—it is, indeed, disturbing that esteemed journals with appropriate publication processes could so effortlessly be misled. Such instances raise questions regarding the credibility of the scientific community. While journals should be more vigilant of the research they publish, it’s time researchers stop considering the volume of publication as a measure of success.

Do you think journals actually put papers through peer review and how effective is peer review? Is it appropriate that the number of publications a researcher has should define future career opportunities?
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