Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

A new way to fake authorship: Submit under a prominent name, then say it was a mistake

with 17 comments

4orcoverRecently, the editors of a journal about management science received a submission from a prominent Dutch economist. But something didn’t feel right about it.

For one, the author submitted the paper using a Yahoo email address. So the editors contacted the author via his institutional email; immediately, the researcher denied having submitted the paper — and said it had happened before. And then things got really interesting.

The editors — Yves Crama, Michel Grabisch, and Silvano Martello — decided to run a “sting” operation, pretending to consider the paper, and even submitted their own fake reviews, posing as referees. They accepted the paper via the electronic submissions system, then lo and behold:

The revised manuscript came quite quickly, but this time the authors were Alireza Noruzi, Hasan Jafari (both with affiliation Young Researchers and Elite Club, Ardabil Branch, Islamic Azad University, Ardabil, Iran), Tohid Banki (Department of Engineering, Bilesuvar Moghan Branch, Islamic Azad University, Bilesuvar,Moghan, Iran), and Mohsen Mohammadi (Department of Electrical Engineering, Payame Noor University (PNU), Tehran, Iran), while the name of the Dutch economist had disappeared.

The editors responded to the Yahoo address, asking who was the corresponding author, since the original researcher who submitted the paper was no longer on the author list. They got this response:

Dear Professor,
Many thanks for your kind email. Regarding to the mentioned problem, I have to say that XXX was the submission responsible of our paper.Where, after revision he doesn’t like to be as an author in this manuscript. Furthermore, according to some strict sanctions we obligated to do this. Anyway I apologize for this problem which provides some misunderstanding.
Thanks again. All the best,
Authors

At this point, the editors realized what had happened:

At this point, the objective was clear (avoid desk rejection and count on the reputation of the well known pretended author to ease acceptance), so we decided to stop playing cat and mouse.

They revealed their scheme:

We wrote to the real authors that we had discovered this extreme case of dishonest scientific conduct, coupled with a case of usurpation of identity, that they are indefinitely banned from publishing in 4OR, and that their names will be publicized in an editorial.

We hope that this account will stop the fraudulent activity of these individuals. It is clear however that Internet addresses can be a useful tool in the hands of dishonest persons, so future attempts of this kind cannot be excluded. We believe that scientific journals should evaluate which actions could help to preserve their integrity.

But the story doesn’t end there.

We could only find contact information for two of the authors singled out in the editorial, and both denied having anything to do with the fake submission.

Tohid Banki at Islamic Azad University told us he has contacted the journal to ask they remove his name (he bolded some sections of his response):

It is notified that Martello et al. might only mention in their paper the name (and his e-mail) of corresponding author who was in contact with them. They should have refrained from mentioning other people in their paper. Therefore, I have written a letter to the editorial office of the 4OR journal and asked to remove my name (and my affiliation address) from the article, page 335, as the primary corresponding author name has been written as xxx (Dutch economist). I have asked them to issue a letter about my innocence of these charges and mention that I have not been in contact with them at all.

The editorial has already had negative consequences, Banki told us:

Since I am Islamic Azad University faculty member, it lies tarnished my reputation and academic credentials. This paper including my name as delinquent in the page 335, has been released throughout the Iran and produced several serious problems for me at my university and among my students. It has very negatively affected my working situation and I might get suspended. 

Banki added he’s asked the journal to send him the email and IP address of the corresponding author on the paper, so he can notify the Iranian authorities.

The editorial includes a letter from the editors they addressed to Noruzi, implying he is the corresponding author — but he also denied playing any role in submitting the paper to 4OR.

Noruzi, a PhD student in electrical engineering, noted the editorial has placed him “on the verge of dismissal from both the university and job:”

I firmly declare to you that I do not have any connections with the cheating and I strongly reject it. Everyone can easily do such actions by using a name and a forged e-mail to destroy me. The Journal could know the real truth by finding my real e-mail or by contacting my university. In the paper published in the journal 4OR, while there has been no correspondence with me and the journal itself was not aware of all details, my name was listed as cheater which was totally wrong morally and legally. Anyone can easily realize that it was not from my side. For your information, I aggressively follow up the legal process to find the real perpetrators of this action through Iran’s cyber police and judicial authorities in Iran.

We contacted the editors to see if they had any response to both authors’ denial of any involvement, and they declined to comment:

Most of what we wanted to say is already contained in the editorial that we have published. You certainly understand that this is a complex and delicate matter, so that we prefer not to comment further on it.

You may have noticed all of the authors called out in the editorial “A brand new cheating attempt: a case of usurped identity” are based in Iran. That country has been in the news lately — last week, we reported on a slew of retractions including mostly authors based in Iran after a publisher was hacked in order to add authors, among other changes. Earlier this month, publishers Springer and BioMed Central retracted nearly 60 papers from authors based in Iran, citing — among other issues — adding extra authors.

The name of one of the researchers named in the 4OR editorial — Mohsen Mohammadi — is listed as a co-author on four of the papers pulled by Springer/BMC.

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Written by Alison McCook

November 28th, 2016 at 9:30 am

Comments
  • Dean November 28, 2016 at 10:57 am

    Journals can easily sidestep this nonsense by issuing a blanket ban on changes in authorship after the initial submission.

    • Brian November 28, 2016 at 1:19 pm

      There are legitimate reasons to at least add authors after submission. I have, for instance, sought out expertise to aid in dealing with a referee report, and that person made a significant enough contribution that they were (properly) added to the author list. Removing someone is a bit weirder, but there may be occasions when it’s called for.

    • Deepak November 29, 2016 at 12:23 pm

      Authors and position often change post submission depending on demands of the reviewers for more data.

  • Muster Mark November 28, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    >>They accepted the paper via the electronic submissions system, then low and behold:
    Minor correction – this should read “lo and behold”.

    • herr doktor bimler November 28, 2016 at 7:11 pm

      Someone with a nym taken from Finnegans Wake is in no position to criticise anyone else for creative spelling.

      • Muster Mark November 30, 2016 at 9:53 am

        I’m glad that you’re familiar with Joyce! This is not about ‘spelling’ – after all, it may simply be a typo, the sort of thing that often happens because of an over-enthusiastic auto-correct function. I agree with Lee Rudolph’s comment above. Careful writing is a value worth promoting in journalism.

    • Alison McCook November 30, 2016 at 10:25 am

      Fixed, thanks!

  • Lee Rudolph November 28, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    low and behold
    That’s “lo and behold” (or even “lo! and behold”); somewhat like “time and tide”, etc.—a pair of what were once synonyms conjoined for emphasis and now petrified into an idiom with one of the conjuncts no longer generally understood to be a synonym of the other.

  • Anne Tseng November 28, 2016 at 6:56 pm

    On the other hand, if the name of corresponding author is not a matter for editors and reviewers, there is no room for this kind of fabrication. Content of research should be the only determinant factor for paper acceptance.

  • Aria November 28, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    I try to be optimistic, but it is really hard to believe the “conspiracy theory” claimed by the authors. Specially, given the fact that one of them is already involved in several other retractions.

  • Mike Briggs November 29, 2016 at 3:42 am

    The the objective was to avoid desk rejection so the paper would be reviewed. –
    An argument for blinding editors and reviewers of the names of the authors?

    • Deepak November 29, 2016 at 12:22 pm

      Absolutely

  • Behnam November 29, 2016 at 4:13 am

    I don’t mean to support usurpation of identity. However, it is true that the name and institutional affiliation of the corresponding author play a role in the review process.

    • Deepak November 29, 2016 at 12:22 pm

      So agree with you.

  • Daniel November 29, 2016 at 11:50 am

    The editorial office before puting the manuscript into review process should contact all authors for confirmatory purposes. When they have not sent any email to the authors and have no any information in details, they cannot legally mention the names of authors as delinquent.

  • Deepak November 29, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    What made the authors do this fraud ?
    Its clear and most of us have also experienced that papers from lesser known authors often get rejected right at the desk by the leading journals.
    Its easy to balm the authors, but should the journal (read elite journal) editors not be equally responsible for this mess.
    Time to relook at our peer review policies and process of publications.

  • bob December 4, 2016 at 9:20 am

    1) It is not the editors’ fault that the authors tried to commit fraud, and editors certainly aren’t “equally responsible” when dishonest scholars commit fraud.

    2) Low-status authors often assume their papers are disproportionately desk-rejected because they are low-status. They rarely consider that their papers are disproportionately desk-rejected because their papers aren’t as good. Cognitive dissonance reduction is a real thing.

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