Universities Today

Publishing’s wild west watchdog

When we hear academic integrity, we often think about the student code of conduct which contains policies on plagiarism and cheating. These polices provide explicit boundaries to help guide students towards learning ethical behaviour practises. The polices also empower instructors with clear definitions to help them teach students the nuances of academic writing, research, and ethical work. However, when students cross the boundaries, these policies become the foundation of disciplinary action. But what about professors and researchers? Their research and publishing is not always confined to an institution and is more commonly found in the global ether of academic publishing where journals and publishers set the boundaries. Who monitors their publishing and research and what happens when they cross the line? Enter Dr. Ivan Oranksy, vice president and global editorial director of MedPage Today and co-founder of Retraction Watch, an online blog. Oransky visited McGill as part of the Academic Integrity Day on Feb. 3. His talk, [Retractions, Post-Publication Peer Review, and Fraud: Scientific Publishing’s Wild West] attracted over 150 profs, graduate students, and staff from four Montreal universities.


When Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus founded Retraction Watch in 2010, retractions had grown ten-fold in the previous decade. During his talk, Oransky discussed reasons for that increase, and the growth of post-publication peer review, and other trends he and Marcus have seen as they’ve built a site that is now viewed by roughly 150,000 people per month.

Retraction Watch publishes retractions from peer reviewed journals and online publications. The blog follows the stories of egregious researcher behaviours including scientific misconduct, lying, cheating, falsification, and fraud. The blog even has a leaderboard, showcasing the top 30 academic integrity perpetrators.

Oransky claims “… scientific publishing is becoming more unpredictable, and yes, more dangerous. From predatory publishers to sophisticated ruses — including authors submitting fake email addresses for reviewers so they can review their own papers — designed to either subvert existing peer-review processes, or expose their flaws, it’s a wild time” (Ivan Oransky on publication practices and academic fraud, McGill Reporter, Jan. 2017).

Other publications from the event:

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