Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Elsevier parasitology journal retracts paper after finding author made up peer reviewer email addresses

with 18 comments

Note to authors: If a journal asks you to suggest reviewers for your submitted manuscript, don’t thank them by faking the reviewer’s emails.

You might just get caught.

That’s what happened recently at Experimental Parasitology, according to the retraction notice for “Entamoeba histolytica: Cloning, expression and evaluation of the efficacy of a recombinant amebiasis cysteine proteinase gene (ACP1) antigen in minipig:”

This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief.

This article has been retracted as the author fabricated information during the review process to obtain a favorable review. As such this article represents a severe abuse of the scientific publishing system. The scientific community takes a very strong view on this matter and apologies are offered to readers of the journal that this was not detected during the submission process.

The paper was by a single author, Guang-Zhi He of the Guiyang College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in China.

Elsevier tells us that one of the journal’s editors became suspicious of the email addresses He gave for possible reviewers. Many of those addresses were directing to web domains in China, which, given that some of the reviewers weren’t from China, added to the evidence that many of them were false.

Prompted by the discrepancies, the editor checked the Elsevier Editorial System profiles of two reviewers, allegedly on opposite sides of the world, and saw that they had been been updated within three minutes of each other.

This seemed highly suspicious, and that’s when we launched a full investigation of the author and his published and “in review” papers.  From this the extent of the fraud was determined.

Elsevier tells us that there are several other papers in the process of being retracted.

The author, He, did not respond to our requests for comment.

It seems this experiment in publishing parasitology didn’t work out very well. He might have taken a lesson from another group of email address fakers, also in China, who used said address “to intercept any information that would be sent to the corresponding author.” That paper was also retracted.

Hat tip: Clare Francis

  • failuretoreplicant July 11, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    That really is something special.

  • chirality July 11, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    What was he thinking? It is so juvenile.

  • Richard Tol (@RichardTol) July 11, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    At Energy Economics, we refuse papers if authors recommend their pals as referees. Retraction because the authors successfully fooled the editors is a different matter.

    • chirality July 11, 2012 at 3:53 pm

      What about imaginary friends as referees?

      • Richard Tol (@RichardTol) July 11, 2012 at 4:17 pm

        Try me.

        Seriously, it is the editor’s job to catch this sort of stuff before publication.

        In this case, the author is wrong but the editor is not without blame either.

    • Neil July 12, 2012 at 4:10 am

      You just reject the paper? You don’t, y’know, take 15 minutes to find some suitable reviewers yourself?


      • Richard Tol (@RichardTol) July 12, 2012 at 11:42 am

        The author opts for pal review, indicating that the paper is not good enough to withstand peer review. Why would I waste time putting that to the test?

      • Kevin July 12, 2012 at 4:30 pm

        Yeah, why bother judging a paper for the soundness of the ideas contained within when you could save time by not doing your job?

      • Richard Tol (@RichardTol) July 12, 2012 at 6:02 pm

        You assume that editors and referees have limitless time and energy.

        Time is limited though. The author herself signals that the paper is not good enough to withstand peer review. No need to ask busy people to gather further evidence.

  • Jeffrey Beall July 11, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    Thanks for documenting this example of unethical behavior. Unfortunately this problem is growing. In my old blog, I documented a similar case:

    I am now very wary of journals that solicit reviewers from those who submit articles for review.

    • Jon Beckmann July 12, 2012 at 9:40 am

      There is nothing wrong with soliciting reviewers from authors, as long as there are some checks. Of course, authors will ask for their friends, but Editors are supposed to check they are not from the same institution or coauthors on previous papers…

  • mortshirkhanzadeh July 11, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    Perhaps he was not able to find a close friend to review the paper.
    It would be interesting to see what he sent to the editor to convince him to publish the paper.

  • VN July 11, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    How “smart” the author is ! Personally, I am not surprised.

  • Jon Beckmann July 12, 2012 at 9:38 am

    Lazy and stupid… He could have at least made the countries of the emails compatible with the location of the reviewers… But Marco reassures us that all is well in China! 🙂

    • Marco July 12, 2012 at 11:11 am

      I would be very much obliged if you would not put any words in my mouth!

  • Lynnepi July 12, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    I have never thought it was a good practice to have the author(s) provide their own reviewers. Too hard to police the conflict of interest!

    • Rafa July 12, 2012 at 4:49 pm

      In my field of study this is almost the rule. I see colleagues recommending collaborators and friends, thus managing to get puny studies published in not-that-bad periodicals. Microscopy Research and Technique is their main target, yet they love using Micron as well.

      There is no way you can find out about friends/lovers just by peeking CVs.

  • Colonel Boris July 13, 2012 at 11:14 am

    I know some journals ask for *potential* reviewers, which they then add to a database of reviewers for the field the submission was made in. They then send the paper for review to other people on that database.
    I can’t think of a chemistry journal I’ve submitted to that doesn’t ask for potential reviewers.

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