The journal Tumor Biology is retracting 107 research papers after discovering that the authors faked the peer review process. This isn’t the journal’s first rodeo. Late last year, 58 papers were retracted from seven different journals— 25 came from Tumor Biology for the same reason.
It’s possible to fake peer review because authors are often asked to suggest potential reviewers for their own papers. This is done because research subjects are often blindingly niche; a researcher working in a sub-sub-field may be more aware than the journal editor of who is best-placed to assess the work.
But some journals go further and request, or allow, authors to submit the contact details of these potential reviewers. If the editor isn’t aware of the potential for a scam, they then merrily send the requests for review out to fake e-mail addresses, often using the names of actual researchers. And at the other end of the fake e-mail address is someone who’s in on the game and happy to send in a friendly review.
Fake peer reviewers often “know what a review looks like and know enough to make it look plausible,” said Elizabeth Wager, editor of the journal Research Integrity & Peer Review. But they aren’t always good at faking less obvious quirks of academia: “When a lot of the fake peer reviews first came up, one of the reasons the editors spotted them was that the reviewers responded on time,” Wager told Ars. Reviewers almost always have to be chased, so “this was the red flag. And in a few cases, both the reviews would pop up within a few minutes of each other.”
Now, whereas Vox Day rightly points out that such reports as the one above clearly undermine both the credibility of science as well as any attempt to claim that Science (TM) disproves God, the point I want to make is different. I simply wonder whether outcomes like this are more prevalent now that Christianity has lost its hold on both the culture and on many scientists. Indeed, since science, to function properly, requires the practice of absolute moral standards–such as, “Always report your results honestly”–then the question is: Has the erosion of absolute morality that has accompanied the erosion of Christianity in the culture led to more cheating in the sciences? In fact, what would itself be an extremely interesting scientific study would be to see whether secular scientists are more likely to cheat than Christian ones. Or, to study such a question indirectly, what could be examined is where most of the cheating in the sciences occur: Does it occur in fields where the majority of scientists self-identity as secular / atheistic? If so, that would be an interesting correlation. And it would be suggestive of the fact that perhaps good science and secularism do not mix well, unlike all the propaganda that we are fed about how they do. In fact, it would be greatly ironic if a study showed that the most honest scientists were Christians, which would thus support the idea that good and trustworthy science can only thrive in a Christian milieu, not a secular one.