Thousands of abstracts of conference presentations, most by authors in China, were declared flawed.
Some 40% of the retractions in the Retraction Watch database have a single curious origin. Over the past decade, one publisher—the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in New York City—has quietly retracted thousands of conference abstracts.
Most of the abstracts are from IEEE conferences that took place between 2009 and 2011. The 2011 International Conference on E-Business and E-Government alone resulted in retractions of more than 1200 abstracts. In all, IEEE has retracted more than 7300 such abstracts. Most of the authors are based in China, and their papers covered topics as diverse as physical sciences, business, technology, and social sciences.
Many of the retraction notices offer few specifics about the reason. For example, the notice for retracting “The Study on Simulating Binaural Room Impulse Response” says simply: “After careful and considered review of the content of this paper by a duly constituted expert committee, this paper has been found to be in violation of IEEE’s Publication Principles.”
So what happened? IEEE hasn’t given many details. The group, which sponsors more than 1700 conferences each year, requires peer review of all abstracts and papers before publication. But several years ago, in its decades-old catalog of abstracts, IEEE staff started to notice thousands of summaries that “did not meet our guidelines,” according to a spokesperson. The spokesperson wouldn’t disclose how they noticed the issue, “for reasons of operational integrity.”
The episode may reflect the more rapid and less intensive form of peer review that conference submissions often undergo compared with papers submitted to traditional journals, says computer scientist Lior Pachter of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The accelerated timetable “allows for quick turnaround for ideas and quick sharing,” he says, but it also can mean that mistakes slip through.
To prevent future mass retractions, IEEE says it has formed a committee of staff and volunteer experts to serve as “gatekeepers” for conference materials and provide an additional level of quality control. That sounds like a good step, Pachter says. Researchers in quick-moving fields such as computer science “know and have known for a long time that many [conference] papers are problematic,” he notes. And “people don’t want to have garbage in their conferences.”