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Do editors and referees look for signs of scientific misconduct when reviewing manuscripts? A quantitative content analysis of studies that examined review criteria and reasons for accepting and rejecting manuscripts for publication


  • Lutz Bornmann

    (ETH Zurich
    ETH Zurich)

  • Irina Nast

    (ETH Zurich)

  • Hans-Dieter Daniel

    (ETH Zurich)


The case of Dr. Hwang Woo Suk, the South Korean stem-cell researcher, is arguably the highest profile case in the history of research misconduct. The discovery of Dr. Hwang’s fraud led to fierce criticism of the peer review process (at Science). To find answers to the question of why the journal peer review system did not detect scientific misconduct (falsification or fabrication of data) not only in the Hwang case but also in many other cases, an overview is needed of the criteria that editors and referees normally consider when reviewing a manuscript. Do they at all look for signs of scientific misconduct when reviewing a manuscript? We conducted a quantitative content analysis of 46 research studies that examined editors’ and referees’ criteria for the assessment of manuscripts and their grounds for accepting or rejecting manuscripts. The total of 572 criteria and reasons from the 46 studies could be assigned to nine main areas: (1) ‘relevance of contribution,’ (2) ‘writing / presentation,’ (3) ‘design / conception,’ (4) ‘method / statistics,’ (5) ‘discussion of results,’ (6) ‘reference to the literature and documentation,’ (7) ‘theory,’ (8) ‘author’s reputation / institutional affiliation,’ and (9) ‘ethics.’ None of the criteria or reasons that were assigned to the nine main areas refers to or is related to possible falsification or fabrication of data. In a second step, the study examined what main areas take on high and low significance for editors and referees in manuscript assessment. The main areas that are clearly related to the quality of the research underlying a manuscript emerged in the analysis frequently as important: ‘theory,’ ‘design / conception’ and ‘discussion of results.’

Suggested Citation

  • Lutz Bornmann & Irina Nast & Hans-Dieter Daniel, 2008. "Do editors and referees look for signs of scientific misconduct when reviewing manuscripts? A quantitative content analysis of studies that examined review criteria and reasons for accepting and rejec," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 77(3), pages 415-432, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:scient:v:77:y:2008:i:3:d:10.1007_s11192-007-1950-2
    DOI: 10.1007/s11192-007-1950-2

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    Cited by:

    1. Lutz Bornmann & Markus Wolf & Hans-Dieter Daniel, 2012. "Closed versus open reviewing of journal manuscripts: how far do comments differ in language use?," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 91(3), pages 843-856, June.
    2. Pardeep Sud & Mike Thelwall, 2014. "Evaluating altmetrics," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 98(2), pages 1131-1143, February.
    3. Lutz Bornmann & Christophe Weymuth & Hans-Dieter Daniel, 2010. "A content analysis of referees’ comments: how do comments on manuscripts rejected by a high-impact journal and later published in either a low- or high-impact journal differ?," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 83(2), pages 493-506, May.
    4. Jerome K. Vanclay, 2012. "Impact factor: outdated artefact or stepping-stone to journal certification?," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 92(2), pages 211-238, August.
    5. Meva Bayrak Karsli & Sinem Karabey & Nergiz Ercil Cagiltay & Yuksel Goktas, 2018. "Comparison of the discussion sections of PhD dissertations in educational technology: the case of Turkey and the USA," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 117(3), pages 1381-1403, December.
    6. Drahomira Herrmannova & Robert M. Patton & Petr Knoth & Christopher G. Stahl, 2018. "Do citations and readership identify seminal publications?," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 115(1), pages 239-262, April.
    7. Mario Paolucci & Francisco Grimaldo, 2014. "Mechanism change in a simulation of peer review: from junk support to elitism," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 99(3), pages 663-688, June.
    8. Embiya Celik & Nuray Gedik & Güler Karaman & Turgay Demirel & Yuksel Goktas, 2014. "Mistakes encountered in manuscripts on education and their effects on journal rejections," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 98(3), pages 1837-1853, March.
    9. Lutz Bornmann, 2013. "Research Misconduct—Definitions, Manifestations and Extent," Publications, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 1(3), pages 1-12, October.
    10. Louis Mesnard, 2010. "On Hochberg et al.’s “The tragedy of the reviewer commons”," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 84(3), pages 903-917, September.
    11. McAleer, M.J. & Oláh, J. & Popp, J., 2018. "Pros and Cons of the Impact Factor in a Rapidly Changing Digital World," Econometric Institute Research Papers EI2018-11, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Erasmus School of Economics (ESE), Econometric Institute.

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