The journal IEEE Transactions on Electromagnetic Compatibility took the unusual step Tuesday of announcing that it was retracting 29 articles that had been published in the last two years. (The IEEE is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, but it is more commonly known by its acronym.)
The journal declined to identify the articles or to explain in any detail why they were being withdrawn. Plenty of journals retract articles after allegations of scientific misconduct are made, but the norm is to identify the articles.
The association's statement said that the retractions were made "because of violations of IEEE policy discovered in the peer review process of those articles." Further, the association said that "the IEEE Board of Directors has established a committee to examine all aspects of peer review practice across the organization and make recommendations for improvement. The findings of the committee will be published upon the conclusion of the committee’s review."
For now, the IEEE said that "three volunteer editors identified during the investigation as involved in the misconduct have been permanently excluded from IEEE membership. They have been prohibited from publishing with IEEE in the future and no longer hold any positions on an IEEE publication."
The IEEE received "an allegation" about the misconduct this year, and that sparked an investigation.
Inside Higher Ed asked IEEE a series of questions about which papers were retracted, which editors had been barred from working with the group, how they violated peer-review rules and whether the papers had flaws that had been identified or were being retracted solely because of problems with the peer-review process. IEEE declined to answer any of those questions.
Ivan Oransky, co-founder of the blog Retraction Watch and distinguished writer in residence at New York University's Arthur Carter Journalism Institute, said via email that the retraction announcement raised many questions. He also noted that IEEE journals have a reputation for large numbers of retractions.
As to this retraction notice, he said that "it's a bit odd for a publisher to announce a host of retractions but not say which papers they're retracting."
Oransky added, "We've been campaigning for clearer retraction notices since we launched Retraction Watch in 2010. Opaque notices don't help anyone."