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A Chinese agency took official action in response to widespread peer review fraud  of cancer studies caught earlier this year.

But while the Ministry of Science and Technology confirmed the vast majority of the instances of fraud in the Springer journal Tumor Biology, they still contend that a majority of the papers had legitimate results, they announced in a press conference last week.

The 107 papers by Chinese authors had been retracted in a single notice in April, citing a broken peer review process.

But while 95 of the papers did have fraudulent peer review, 80 of the studies produced valid results, they contend.

The 521 people involved in the work have varying degree of culpability, the Chinese authorities also said. Twenty-four people involved have been placed on a “watch list” (another 20 have been suspended from national projects), they added. But while 486 people overall have some degree of culpability in the bogus work, 102 only bear primary responsibility – while 314 did not specifically participate in “fraud,” they said.

The Ministry had undertaken a paper-by-paper investigation of the happenings behind the peer review fraud, they said.

“Zero tolerance” was the guiding policy behind the probe into each paper, they noted in their statement.

“The CPC Central Committee and the State Council attach great importance to the development of science and technology innovation, and vigorously create a pragmatic, honest and trustworthy social atmosphere and courage the creation and pursuit of excellence and innovation culture,” the agency said in its press release, as translated by Google.

The papers were published between 2012 and 2016. The subjects span from the impacts of smoking on cancer, to gene-specific effects on tumors, and include tumor locations from the gastric system to bones, the prostate, lung, liver, and elsewhere.

The site Sixth Tone first reported on the massive retraction. One of Springer’s editorial directors told the Chinese media outlet that the studies had been submitted with suggestions from reviewers with real names – but with fabricated email addresses. Follow-up determined that the real scientists were never contacted to review their peers’ work, according to the report.

Springer is not the first major publisher to discover widespread peer review problems prompting mass retractions on the international stage. BioMed Central retracted 43 papers in one action in November 2014, and Hindawi Publishing Corporation announced in 2015 that three editors had “subverted” the entire editorial process in publishing a series of 32 papers. 

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