Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Elsevier retracting 26 papers accepted because of fake reviews

with 16 comments

Elsevier has retracted 13 papersand says it will retract 13 moreafter discovering they were accepted because of fake reviews.

A spokesperson for Elsevier told us that the journals are in the process of retracting all 26 papers affected by the “peer-review manipulation” and “unexplained authorship irregularities.” Most share one corresponding author, a physical science researcher based in Iran.

So far, 13 of the papers were retracted this year: 10 in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy and three in Results in Physics. Of the remaining 13 papers, four others were published in Results in Physics, four in Journal of Crystal Growth, three in Journal of Alloys and Compounds, and one each in International Journal of Thermal Sciences and Fusion Engineering and Design.

The papers, submitted and published between late 2014 and 2017, are from a group of researchers in Iran; A. Salar Elahi is corresponding author on 24 of them. Elahi, based at Islamic Azad University in Tehran, Iran, is also corresponding author on two papers retracted from Springer journals earlier this year for plagiarism.

Publishers have been aware of the problem of fake reviews since at least 2014, and several major publishers—including Springer, BioMed Central and Elsevier—have retracted a total of hundreds of papers because of peer review manipulation.

We asked the publisher how the fake reviews were missed during peer review, as well as how (and when) the peer review manipulation was discovered. A spokesperson explained that the editors of two of the journals alerted Elsevier “when they could not validate the email addresses of reviewers suggested by the authors upon submission:”

Elsevier then conducted a thorough investigation of all historical submissions from this author group to all Elsevier journals. Based on the evidence provided, the various Editors decided that retraction was appropriate in 26 cases where the peer review process had been compromised. In addition, in several cases, the authorship lists had been changed without agreement with the Editor.

The 13 retraction notices are almost identical. Here’s the notice for the paper, “Electromagnetic flux density simulation for the circular and D-shaped cross section superconducting tokamaks,” which was submitted Sept. 14 2016 and published Dec. 31, 2016:

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

After a thorough investigation, the Editor has concluded that the acceptance of this article was based upon the positive advice of three illegitimate reviewer reports. The reports were submitted from email accounts which were provided to the journal as suggested reviewers during the submission of the article. Although purportedly real reviewer accounts, the Editor has concluded that these were not of appropriate, independent reviewers.

This manipulation of the peer-review process represents a clear violation of the fundamentals of peer review, our publishing policies, and publishing ethics standards. Apologies are offered to the reviewers whose identities were assumed and to the readers of the journal that this deception was not detected during the submission process.

In addition, no reason has been provided for the addition of the author names B. Mahdavipour, A. Salar Elahi and M. Ghoranneviss to the authorship of the revised article.

The paper, published in International Journal of Hydrogen Energy and retracted on Nov. 28, lists Elahi as corresponding author and has not yet been cited, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science. Elahi has 162 papers indexed by Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, the majority of which has been cited between 0 and 10 times.

The spokesperson confirmed that the problematic reviews in the 26 papers were from author-suggested reviewers.

We asked whether the six journals were systematically checking author-suggested reviewers. The spokesperson told us:

The practice of some journals to consider the comments of a reviewer suggested by the author reflects a dilemma that faces all journals in an increasingly competitive environment: the challenge of finding reviewers with the expertise, time and willingness to review.

The spokesperson also said:

The recommended best practice is to always ensure that accepted papers are reviewed by additional reviewers who were not suggested by author. … We instruct authors to always provide institutional email addresses for suggested reviewers and our editors to exercise caution if using reviewers with non-institutional emails who they do not personally know.

We contacted Elahi to ask about the peer review and duplication issues. He did not respond to any of our questions, simply asking that we do not report the case.

Fake peer review has affected publishing worldwide; after all 26 papers have been retracted, authors from Iran will have contributed more than 100 retractions for this reason.

Note: Please see an update to this story.

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Comments
  • Philip Nash December 21, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    This is the handling editors’ fault in not seeking additional reviewers beyond those suggested by the manuscript authors.

  • ICC December 21, 2017 at 6:10 pm

    This is the authors’ in attempting to defraud the scientific enterprise and falsify the scientific record for personal gain.

  • O December 22, 2017 at 7:44 am

    Editors need to do better! Unacceptable.

  • Prof. Chukwuemeka Chucks Agbakwuru December 22, 2017 at 4:37 pm

    I would like to say that peer review manipulation is a strange paper malpractice and must be treated with much caution against a repeat in addition to retraction exercise.

  • oyewobistephen December 22, 2017 at 5:15 pm

    Editor’ fault

  • Mohammed Isah Kimpa December 22, 2017 at 10:27 pm

    This is very good. It will not pave way for others that are trying to published their papers without having substantial data.
    Thanks to the Elsevier editors.

  • Seyed Jafar Sadjadi December 23, 2017 at 4:43 am

    There is no doubt that authors made a bad mistake and ELSEVEIR’s decision was correct. However, I would like to blame ELSEVIER’s editorial reviewing system. As a founder of Open Access publisher, we never trust public email address to send paper for review. In fact, our system does not allow us register a reviewer with public email address. Elsevier is number one publisher and does not have to trust to public email addresses for reviewers. I am sure if all big publishers ask university email address, this kind of fraud will never happen.

    • Saeideh Valizadeh January 6, 2018 at 1:39 am

      Very good point. Exactly you are right.

  • Z. Ahmadi December 23, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    Unfortunately, A. Salar Elahi is Managing Editor of Journal of Theoretical and Applied Physics.
    (http://www.springer.com/physics/applied+%26+technical+physics/journal/40094?detailsPage=editorialBoard). And he was associated editor Journal of Fusion Energy for several consecutive years and he published a few own papers in the Journal of Fusion Energy. It can be determined by his search at Journal of Fusion Energy.
    It seems that to be checked by Editor-in-chef JTAP journal and Springer.

  • Prof. Morteza Bahram December 25, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    Although this was the mistake of the editor in fact, I appreciate the journal office for these papers retracting by because of the authors shameful manner and unresponsibilty behaveior for fake reviewer suggestions.

  • Dr. Amin Talebi Bezmin Abadi December 26, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    Two edge report!
    Thanks to Elsevier for their braveness to report it!
    Questioning that why you should have to trust Gmail or email to correspond with expert reviewers???? No doubt that it is an editor s’ fault but Elsevier should revise its strategies considering the manuscripts.

  • S. Zahra Bathaie December 27, 2017 at 3:09 am

    Thank you for announcing this ugly news. I am so sorry for this. But, I think that Elsevier and other publishers should revise their policy for publication of review papers. The authors of such papers should be expert in the field. Unfortunately, authors of many published review papers in recent years, even in the high impact journals, are not qualified well.

  • F. Farhadi December 28, 2017 at 12:22 am

    Thanks for the news, But I think the main problem is editors! Why they trust to the suggested reviewers without checking them?Why they trust to Gmail/Yahoo or other public e-mails? If the editors do best their duty, they can prevent such problems easily..

  • mohsen kelich December 28, 2017 at 1:00 pm

    these articles are one out of thousand(1/1000) articles which are published by Iranian in a year, in this case it would be normal. you can request email with university domain

  • Mehdi Aliehyaei January 17, 2018 at 9:55 am

    Dear researches
    I think that authors of paper are innocent!!!!!. Why? Consider the following reasons:
    1) In all of submissions, editor request a three potential reviewers (Without note to confidential e-mail), so the writer can propose three reviewers. Also in that page It is noted that editor may be not use from this reviewer. So there is no problem with author.
    2) About adding the name of some other authors to the paper. I think the authors should be responsible.
    3) Many researches have overlaped with other science field. For example energy economy is related to energy(mechanical engineering) and economic. or extended exergy analysis that is combination of life cycle, operation and maintenance, efficeincy that included several research fields. so it is ((((illogical)))) that all researches should published paper that 90-100% realted to their field.
    4) I think that elsevier publisher sometimes has a unrealistic sensitivity about the iranian authors although this publisher has a right to expect honest paper from authors. But in that case I think it exaggerated!!!!!!!
    5) Iranian people with religion great Islam and incient civilization always follow the honesty path.

    Regards
    M.A.Ehyaei

  • Mehdi Aliehyaei January 17, 2018 at 10:38 am

    Also I have another comment for reviewing process. I think all of paper should be reviewed blind ( In paper that it has been sent to reviewer neither author name nor institute). This is fairer than the reviewer can see autohr names and institute. I feel that some reviewer consider more to authors and universities more than scientific content of the paper.

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