Imposter edits journal in latest peer review scam

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 5.49.05 PMWhen a computer scientist approached a journal about editing a special issue, little did the journal know he — or she — was using a stolen identity.

Before the jig was up, someone posing as a researcher named Xavier Delorme had edited three articles on optimization problems for The Scientific World Journal. The scammer used a fake email address, the publisher told Retraction Watch — a common strategy for duping journals in peer review scams. When the real Delorme, who works at École Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Saint-Etienne in France, began receiving correspondence about articles he had no involvement in, fake Delorme’s cover was blown.

Upon closer look, the publisher found evidence that peer reviews for some articles may have been submitted using phony identities, as well. The publisher has been unable to identify anyone responsible for the scam.

Here’s the retraction notice, which now appears on five articles from the special issue:

The Scientific World Journal has retracted this article. After conducting a thorough investigation, we have strong reason to believe that the peer review process was compromised.

This article was originally submitted to a Special Issue titled “Recent Advances in Metaheuristics and its Hybrids.” In late 2015, Dr. Xavier Delorme, the lead guest editor on the Special Issue, alerted us that his identity had been compromised. After further investigation, we discovered that several peer review reports in this issue had been submitted from similarly compromised email accounts.

We are retracting the articles in keeping with the “COPE statement on inappropriate manipulation of the peer review process.” There is no evidence that any of the authors or editors, including Dr. Delorme, were aware of this misconduct.

Most of the authors on the papers — and all the corresponding authors — are affiliated with Anna University in India.

Delorme is credited as the editor on three papers which now bear the notice:

Two papers with the notice were handled by another editor, but had peer reviews submitted from fake emails:

None of the papers — all published last year — have been cited, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science.

Paul Peters, the Chief Executive Officer of Hindawi, which publishes the journal, told us the backstory:

The person impersonating Dr. Delorme initially proposed the Special Issue, along with the three other Guest Editors. We corresponded with this “fake” Delorme and the other Guest Editors during the process of reviewing the proposal and launching the Special Issue.

We discovered the fraud when we began working with the real Dr. Delorme on an unrelated issue. The real Dr. Delorme registered an academic address in our system, and we began communicating with him on that new email address about both matters. When he began receiving editorial requests related to the Special Issue in The Scientific World Journal, he alerted us that something must be wrong and asked us to investigate.

We quickly realized the fraud had occurred and stopped publishing further articles in the Special Issue. Unfortunately, the five articles we have retracted had already been published at that point in time.

Peters shared another strange detail with us:

The person posing as Dr. Delorme made accurate reference to Dr. Delorme’s CV, but falsely claimed that he was also temporarily a visiting professor with the University of Sherbrooke. Dr. Delorme’s current affiliation is the École Nationale Supérieure des Mines in Saint-Etienne, France, and he is not affiliated with the University of Sherbrooke. We did not uncover a motive for this false affiliation.

Peters told us the publisher doesn’t know who was behind the fake reviews or the fake Delorme:

In this case, the text of the reviews did not appear unusual or contain unreasonable requests for citations. We simply found that a number of reviews had been submitted from fraudulent email accounts. When contacted on verified email addresses, the reviewers involved informed us that they had never seen the papers in question or written the reviews we received.

While we know the reviews were fraudulent, we have no concrete evidence as to who was behind the fraudulent accounts. Without an admission of guilt, it is difficult to apportion blame and we wouldn’t want to speculate based on the information we have. This incident occurred before the increased checks we put in place as a result of the similar retraction in December, and we believe our review process has been secured against future attacks of this kind.

In December, Hindawi retracted 10 articles for fake peer review, implicating an author in rigging the review process for four of the papers. In total, we’ve seen more than 300 papers retracted due to a peer review process that was likely manipulated.

We’ve reached out to the corresponding authors of the papers to see if they know anything about the case, and if they used a third party service to help with publication (we’ve seen companies orchestrate fake peer reviews before). We have also contacted the other guest editors on the special issue — there are a total of four listed on a call for submissions — and to the real Delorme. We’ll update this post with anything else we learn.

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9 thoughts on “Imposter edits journal in latest peer review scam”

  1. Of course this isn’t ethical, but it’s pretty funny. Ingenuity knows no bounds apparently! Fake reviewers, fake authors, and now even fake editors!

    1. On the inter-tubes, no one knows that you are not a dog, or a tenured assistant professor.

  2. Interestingly, majority of the articles retracted here are from authors affiliated with the same institution. Also, all author institutions located in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, India.

  3. Just out of curiosity did anyone read one of these papers? If so were they any good or just gibberish?

  4. I read a chunk of the first paper listed. It is not gibberish. The English is not native-speaker quality but it’s comprehensible. There are bits which sound as though they might be plagiarized, but Google didn’t give me any unequivocal hits (I didn’t try very hard–someone who has access to plagiarism checking software could do better) and this may just be strings of buzzwords common in the field.

    It’s not in my field, but on a superficial reading the paper does seem to be describing a potentially workable algorithm. One might question how much of an advance on existing methods it is–I couldn’t begin to say. They do acknowledge that several parts of the algorithm are “off the shelf” which doesn’t smack of trying to pass off old work as new.

    It’s a shame if the authors lost a real paper due to something like a corrupt paper-submitting company.

  5. It would be interesting to compare common elements in the reference lists of published and submitted articles. Perhaps the real motivation behind proposing this special issue under a fake name was citation stacking, which can be the case if specific journals, authors or articles would pop up regularly.

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