Former Texas postdoc earns 10-year federal funding ban for faking authors and papers to boost metrics

A former postdoc at the University of Texas Health Science Center has been found guilty of misconduct stemming from efforts to rig preprint servers to boost the postdoc’s publication metrics.

The findings about Yibin Lin include the fabrication and falsification of data, as well as plagiarism in six published papers that have since been retracted from the preprint server bioRxiv. On none of those articles does the name “Yibin Lin” appear as an author.

Lin also admitted to making up author names on submitted articles — none of which was published — to dupe preprint servers to “improve his citation metrics,” according to the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI).

It’s unclear how the behavior was uncovered. Retraction Watch readers may be familiar with “citation cartels” and other methods researchers have used to boost their citation counts. We also contributed to a book on the subject, Gaming the Metrics.

According to the ORI, Lin committed the misdeeds as a postdoctoral researcher at the UT Health Science Center’s McGovern Medical School, in Houston. In addition to the six retractions, the ORI said Lin also included tainted data and text in at least seven papers submitted to bioRxiv last year but which were not published, as well as an eighth paper rejected by bioRxiv and resubmitted to medRxiv.

The agency’s report on the case says that Lin:

knowingly and intentionally falsified, fabricated, and plagiarized the whole content of six (6) papers and eight (8) manuscripts, falsely created fictitious author names and affiliations without listing himself as an author to disguise himself from being the offender, and submitted them for publication in bioRxiv and medRxiv, open access preprint repositories, by falsely assembling random paragraphs of text, tables, and figures from previous publications and manuscripts to improve his citation metrics.

The six papers that appeared on bioRxiv are titled:

A sample retraction notice reads: 

This paper has been withdrawn by bioRxiv because its content, including the author names, was fabricated and fraudulently submitted in what may have been an attempt to game citation statistics or other metrics.

The first paper in the list doesn’t appear to cite any studies on which Yibin Lin is an author. However, the second paper in that list, “A simple and efficient method for in vitro site directed mutagenesis,” has at least six such references. And the third article has at least eight citations to Lin’s work. 

Lin agreed to a 10 year ban on any work with the U.S. government, as well as “serving in any advisory capacity to PHS including, but not limited to, service on any PHS advisory committee, board, and/or peer review committee, or as a consultant” for the same period of time.

John Inglis, co-founder of medRxiv and bioRxiv, said “the credit for uncovering the deception goes to the Content Team of both medRxiv and bioRxiv.” Disclosing the details, he said, would give would-be fraudsters tools to escape detection. He went on:

This is the most egregious example of deception we have seen in bioRxiv’s 7 years and 107,000 manuscripts. I am really pleased that UT acted so promptly and thoroughly to investigate and deal with the perpetrator. Unethical behavior in research should be identified and punished, whether it concerns journals, preprints, or anything else.

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7 thoughts on “Former Texas postdoc earns 10-year federal funding ban for faking authors and papers to boost metrics”

  1. I am just curious how so much fabrication and falsification went unnoticed by his post doctoral supervisor. Was there no quality check or control?

    1. But how should the supervisor have known about this? The postdoc himself is not even listed as an author, so there is no obvious connection to him.

  2. @Rajesh> If you are a postdoctoral fellow or a graduate student, within a year, you will realise that you can fool your supervisor. Please don’t put the blame on supervisors. You can then say that how come the journals did not notice this – there are 1000s of papers on pubpeer with similar issues. Usually, we try to trust our own students and postdoctoral fellows.
    if you are supervisor, you know that you would like to trust your students because you recruited them. Most of the times, not always and there are exceptions where PIs do such things, they get duped as well.

    1. One of the things Ive learned is my many years of observing the dominance hierarchy of academic science is the more you are paid, the more irresponsible you become. The extreme levels of fraud we are seeing will continue until this changes.

    2. Whether “being fooled” or “outright encouraging” the postdoc to game/abuse the system or anything in-between, the supervisor still bears responsibility. The supervisor recruited the postdoc, so that’s where it all began. Fostering a culture, centered on ethics, responsibility and research integrity, within their groups rests fully on the supervisor.

  3. How is an advisor supposed to monitor submission of fake manuscripts on which neither he (the advisor) nor the postdoc were authors? My understanding is the postdoc submitted fake manuscripts to bioRxiv without the advisor’s name or postdoc’s name as authors. The postdoc included citations to his own work to raise his own citation profile. It is not clear how anyone could have known a priori that this postdoc was going to behave this way – you cannot be fooled about something you have knowledge. Am I responsible if one of my mentees were to get a speeding or parking ticket going about their own business? This situation is squarely on the postdoc.

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