Last week, microbiologist Enrico Bucci emailed us with concerns that several of the citations listed on his Google Scholar profile were fake.
Colleagues of his had noticed the same problem on their pages.
The listings seem to be real titles, researchers, and publications, but scrambled. When Bucci first spoke with us, the Scholar citations all linked to clearly fake pages on a site hosted by e-commerce giant Alibaba. You can see an example here (that’s a screenshot on the right).
Google hasn’t responded to a request for comment from Retraction Watch, but since we contacted them, the links have been disappearing, replaced by unlinked citation notices (you can see a screenshot of one below).
Here’s Bucci’s theory:
Out of the blue, my Google Scholar Profile included some publication which was never authored by me…These citations were actually fabricated by someone removing the true authors and attaching my name (and those of some coauthors of mine) to a true paper (abstract, title and journal are ok; the year is sometime wrong).
It appears that Google Scholar is taking this citation as genuine – and pushing it in my Google Scholar profile (I think they use automatic indexing, relying mostly on coauthors for disambiguation of author names).
There is a clear intent of making money out of it. The site hosting these “faked” papers sells the pdf versions of them. There is a page containing the description and the conditions for this service which is here. http://www.lw20.com/Agreement.aspx
Try Google Translate on it.
At this point, I think they are grabbing the pdf papers from publishers, the indexing from google scholar (albeit with some mismatches in author names), then they translate abstract and titles in Chinese – so that Chinese scholars may find the papers – and try to sell the papers via their platform.
Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time someone tried to game Google Scholar.
We’d like to know how deep this problem runs. Do you have any fake references in your Scholar profile? Let us know in the comments.
Update, 3:40 p.m. Eastern, 11/17/14: Several scientists have reached out to tell us about their own experiences with fake citations.
Geologist Anne Jefferson tells us that her Google Scholar profile is accurate, but a number of fake papers with the same titles as her real publications are still available at http://lw20.com/, the Alibaba site that is hosting the odd chimeras. She told us:
I think your correspondent’s theory is correct. Lw20 is scraping the journals, quite poorly and then in some cases google scholar is getting tricked by the mismatched authors into thinking there is more than one paper.
Shark researcher and blogger David Shiffman had one of the fake papers show up on his profile, but he deleted it:
It was super easy. You right click on it and say “remove” and check a confirm box.