“Devastated” researchers worry co-author’s use of fake reviews could hurt their careers

In late December, Ana Khajehnezhad learned what no scientist wants to hear: One of her papers had been retracted. The reason: Her co-author had faked the reviews.

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-authorsMorteza Habibi, an associate professor at Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran, and her former student, Shahab Sharifi Malvajerdito 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.

Betrayed trust

Malvajerdi explained that, in 2015, Elahiwho is also based at Islamic Azad Universitybegan 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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5 thoughts on ““Devastated” researchers worry co-author’s use of fake reviews could hurt their careers”

  1. so, you give your manuscript to Mr Elahi because of his skill in publishing isi papers and you correspond him. In this case in my opinion all authors are responsible evenly.

  2. Mr. Malvajrdi, the co-author you paraphrase, was an undergraduate student, supervised by Mr. Elahi, when the paper was written and submitted. I think it’s ridiculous to apportion equal responsibility to the two of them.

    Ed: This appears to refer to the comment by “hamed” above.

    1. No, I think you misunderstood the above story. Mr. Elahi doesn’t supervised the work. They ( Ana Khajehnezhad , Malvajerdi and Habibi) as said above give their manuscript to Mr elahi because they think he has a good experience in getting the acceptance as one of them said above:

      “”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.””

      1. If I may, the RW post says: “Malvajerdi explained that, in 2015, Elahi—who is also based at Islamic Azad University—began supervising his undergraduate project on semiconductors”.

  3. I sympathise with the feelings of the person discussed in this post. I have been increasingly wary about this, specially regarding the common practice among journals of electing one ‘corresponding author’ to take control over any communications during submission and peer review. The result being that many manipulators (frequently a senior PI with marginal participation in the project) take advantage of this ‘power’ to modify and restrict whatever information is exchanged with journal editors and reviewers.
    As a coauthor I want to be fully aware of what is happening with paper submissions. Just recently I received two independent submission notices for the same manuscript interspaced by just 5 days. I have written to the first and corresponding authors asking for the editorial decision of previous submissions, and was hitherto ignored. In case this corresponding author (or worse, someone acting else in his/her guise) incurred on a double submission, how can I know for sure before it is too late?

    I would like to restrict myself to journals which share all correspondence with all authors and publish their contacts online, but, alas, these are so few and small. Does anyone know why? How do you feel about this?

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