Authorship for sale: Some journals willing to add authors to papers they didn’t write

Got $300? Then you can be added as an author to a paper — even if you had no role in the research.

That’s right — some journals are willing to add authors to papers they didn’t write, often for a fee. This realization comes from one of the many sting experiments we’ve witnessed over the years, designed to expose the perils of the publishing industry, in which some journals will claim to peer review and publish any manuscript for a fee — no matter how nonsensical the content. Pravin Bolshete, a medical writer and researcher from India, wanted to explore a different side of predatory publishing — would journals agree to add a fictional author to a manuscript he/she didn’t write?

Presenting his findings at the Eighth Peer Review Congress this week in Chicago, Bolshete reported that, after sending hundreds of emails to publishers considered predatory according to the now-defunct (and controversial) list compiled by librarian Jeffrey Beall, 16% agreed to add an author to a paper.

Bolshete told us:

Apart from quality of publications published in predatory journals, contributions of authors could also be questionable. We all need to work together to eradicate these predatory publishers and journals.

Here is a sample of the email Bolshete sent, as a fictional author using a sham email address, asking publishers and journals to include him as a co-author:

Due to my busy schedule and patient overload I am not able to write/publish any paper, but now this is needed for my promotion. One of my colleague told me that your journal can help me with this. I will be glad if you can add me as a co-author on any medicine related article or if someone can write article on my behalf and help me in publishing some articles.

Using a copy of Beall’s list, Bolshete planned to contact the 906 publishers, not expecting to get many responses; after contacting 263 publishers and 64 standalone journals, however, Bolshete had received enough to write up the data, presented in a poster this week. (He declined to share the list of journals.)

Besides the willingness to add non-contributing authors to papers, Bolshete told us he was surprised by what else journals were willing to do:

I was surprised by receiving an invitation to be an editorial member but for this they asked me to pay some amount…receiving email to be an editorial member without seeing any details or resume was surprising.

Most of the publishers were located in India (n=119, 29.8%) and the United States (n=94, 23.5%); 44.5% responded to his inquiry. Among the 117 publishers who responded to the email, 63 provided responses that Bolshete considered to be unethical.

Here are some sample responses from publishers (minus confidential or identifying information):

Thanks for your mail. Below are some of the title of papers two authors just which are ready for publication: ……………. Note: there are some other papers available. The authors have no money to pay for their publication so they look for someone to be included as coauthor who can pay for the publication charges of the above papers. Also still have who can write about 14 which you can author. He is working on them now to be ready for publication next week.


On the other hand we could request some authors to add your name as a co-author in their research and you just have to pay the publication fee (300 USD for 2 papers).


We will request the authors to include your name in those papers or we request them to write new articles for you

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13 thoughts on “Authorship for sale: Some journals willing to add authors to papers they didn’t write”

  1. What a clever idea for a study. For researchers that stand to receive financial compensation for publishing, there would be a strong incentive to pay up. Why not ‘name and shame’ the journals in this case???

    1. >>Why not ‘name and shame’ the journals in this case???
      The journals were all taken from Beall’s list. They are immune to naming and shaming, because they just don’t care. So this study tells is that illegitimate enterprises are open to new, equally-illegitimate revenue streams. Who knew?

      I’m not sure why we are giving any attention at all to what predatory journals do any more. There seems to be some kind of “sting” piece every month, and the law of diminishing returns seems to apply.

  2. “Most of the publishers were located in India (n=119, 29.8%) and the United States(n=94, 23.5%)…”

    Is that before or after correction for those falsely claiming to be US-based, while in reality running the operation from elsewhere?

    1. Locations specified here were based on available information on the journal website/contact details, and agree that they could be located somewhere else.

  3. No surprise. Authorship does not always mean that all authors have made contribution to the research. Many senior researchers and professors get authorship credits without making any contribution to the research. Often times, they are not even aware of the contents. I would like to ask the Retraction Watch team to prepare more reports on these issues: honorary authorship, gift authorship, coercive authorship, abuse of power… This creates a vicious cycle and should be stopped if we really want to promote publishing ethics.

  4. At the end, scientific journals have to choose their own standards, but any business depends on some money. Competitors can do better, ethically and commercially. but it remains almost impossible for the general reader to see the fraud.

  5. There will always be “journals” where the primary and only acceptance criterion is the ability to pay whatever fee.

    Just like there will always be journals where the primary acceptance criterion is perceived prestige and peer admiration (and scientific quality/novelty second).

    Journals are simply a manifestation of aspects of the academic research culture.

  6. What puzzles me is why, apparently, some institutions’ tenure committees don’t notice or care about publication in scam “journals”.
    My institution most certainly cares, and when I am asked to write a letter of support for a tenure case at another institution, I always check the validity of the publications listed.

  7. Came across this from 2012
    relating to a journal that sent out spam solicitations for contributed articles.

    I also find in my pile a fairly remarkable invitation from

    “Journal HISTORY ”
    to guest edit a number of “Applied and Computational Mathematics.”

    The article they referenced in the invitation had two authors, but the software parsed it as one, so they addressed me by a very long and unusual name.
    I suppose I missed an opportunity to guest edit under that name. It would have been very striking.

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