Khajehnezhad, who works at the Plasma Physics Research Center at Islamic Azad University in Tehran, Iran, told Retraction Watch she was “devastated” to hear the news:
I was so shocked. … I had absolutely no knowledge whatsoever on the actions taken by the corresponding author.
As we reported last month, Elsevier is retracting 26 papers affected by fake reviews; Ahmad Salar Elahi is corresponding author on 24 of them, including Khajehnezhad’s now-retracted paper published in International Journal of Hydrogen Energy. Many of Ehali’s co-authors are now facing the consequences of these retractions. Three of them shared their story.
Khajehnezhad said she immediately contacted her co-authors—Morteza Habibi, an associate professor at Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran, and her former student, Shahab Sharifi Malvajerdi—to ask them about the situation. Both Habibi and Malvajerdi told her they also had no knowledge of the fake reviews.
In an email to the journal, Habibi expressed some concern that the retraction may damage their credibility. Habibi told us:
My concern is that some researchers only focus on the names introduced at the retraction list and suppose I had a serious mistake too (just like the corresponding author).
But, Habibi noted, so far nobody has treated him differently or commented to him about the situation.
Malvajerdi told us it’s been a “shock” how judgmental people have been:
People have judged my work and me without knowing the true story behind it. But it’s notable that my professors in Iran have supported me because they know these things happen due to the corresponding author’s actions, not mine.
Malvajerdi explained that, in 2015, Elahi—who is also based at Islamic Azad University—began supervising his undergraduate project on semiconductors:
I thought [he] had the best research background so he could help me start my research career.
Malvajerdi, who’s currently working on his masters at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran, said he performed the work with Khajehnezhad and Habibi but asked Elahi to submit the paper on their behalf, which is how Elahi became corresponding author. Malvajerdi told us that, given Elahi’s experience publishing articles:
I thought that he would know best … where to submit these papers. Dr Habibi and Dr Khajehnezhad respected my decision to trust Dr Salar Elahi and let him submit the paper.
We reached out to Elahi to understand what happened, but he has not replied.
Malvajerdi told us that he was “really shocked and angry” when he found out about the retraction last month:
We decided to cut off all ties to Dr Salar Elahi and not conduct any joint research with him ever again. Seeing people judging me for something that I had no knowledge of really [hurt] me both academically and personally.
Habibi told us he was also surprised to hear about the retraction, since he considered it “worthwhile experimental work.” He emailed John Sheffield, the editor of International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, on Dec. 28, explaining that he and his two co-authors had no knowledge of “the actions of Dr Salar Elahi” and asked if the journal could withdraw or possibly review the paper again, instead of retracting it, “to avoid damaging the credibility of other three authors.”
Malvajerdi said he hopes it may still be possible to publish the work, despite the retraction:
Of course, we would love to resubmit it or even apply it for rereviewing at the same journal if the journal allows us to do so.
He added that he also discovered Elahi had duplicated one of their papers and published it in Journal of Inorganic and Organometallic Polymers and Materials without his knowledge. Malvajerdi said the editors told him they plan to retract the paper. We’ve contacted the editors to confirm this.
Malvajerdi said “we really hope that publishers review their policies for such cases,” because otherwise, a lot of hard work and potential “will be wasted” due to one author’s bad actions.
Although Khajehnezhad told us that no one has commented to her about the retraction, or her association with Elahi, she is still worried:
This has brought me a great shame.
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