French ocean institute goes public about authors who forged their researchers’ names

The National Institute for Ocean Science (Ifremer) in France has flagged 11 papers on PubPeer for concerns including faked authorship and plagiarism, and has blasted the journals involved for their failure to adequately address the unethical work. 

In some cases, for example the International Journal of Innovative Computing, Information and Control, editors have removed the names of the forged authors without informing readers

And in one case, a journal seems to have retracted the offending paper with no notice of any kind (we’re sure we don’t need to remind you that the Committee on Publication Ethics doesn’t approve of such practice). 

A name that appears on nine of the articles is Bertrand Chapron, a researcher at Ifremer.  Chapron had nothing to do with the articles – a fact his institution has been pointing out to the journals involved, without satisfaction, while noting that two of his putative co-authors have highly suspect affiliations. 

In what reads like a surefire recipe for achieving 1K status, the list, per Ifremer, of the countries in which one of the co-authors listed institutional positions in articles published between 2018 and 2021:

Bangladesh, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, United States, Papua New Guinea, Taiwan, United Kingdom, Brasilia, Australia, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Spain, Egypt

Here’s the PubPeer post for one of the papers, a 2018 article in Energy and Earth Science titled “Systems Design for Energy Demands By Optimal Utilization of Renewable Energy in Robust Aquaponic Systems”:

The names of Bertrand Chapron and Alexander Babanin [of the University of Melbourne] were unduly used by the 2 main authors Tim Chen and C.Y.J. Chen; so were their respective affiliations to Laboratoire d’Océanographie Physique et Spatiale, IFREMER (Plouzané, France) and to Department of Infrastructure Engineering, University of Melbourne (Melbourne, Australia).

Neither Bertrand Chapron nor Alexander Babanin took part in this publication, which is totally outside their scientific fields of expertise; neither did they give their consent to be the co-authors. They had no prior contact with Tim Chen and CYJ Chen in any shape or form, until they became aware that their names were being unduly cited by the two above-cited authors.

The post also claims that the editor of the journal was contacted four times by email last year about this paper and three others.

The editor of Energy and Earth Science never has answered these emails and the requests of retracting the paper; and he did nothing so far.

The post goes on to note suspicions about the identities of the co-authors of the article, in particular “Tim Chen” and “C.Y.J. Chen”:

The academic affiliations of the author Tim Chen are: _ School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham_, Birmingham, UK and Department of Surface Water and Maritime Systems, Fraunhofer I0SB-AST_ Ilmenau, Germany. They differ with the main academic affiliation to Ton Duc Thang University (TDTU) used by this author in many other articles he has published with John alias C.Y.J. Chen. …

The author C.Y.J. Chen exhibited 29 different academic affiliations in different institutes and/or universities in 15 different countries (i.e. Bangladesh, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, United States, Papua New Guinea, Taiwan, United Kingdom, Brasilia, Australia, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Spain, Egypt) for the 66 articles (at least) published between 2018 and 2021 in which he is a co-author with Tim Chen (timchen@tdtu.edu.vn).

For the 2019 article “Prototype of web-based daily work report management system using smart pens,” which appeared in the Journal of Applied Engineering Science and was marred by similar issues, IFremer’s research integrity office wrote

The editor of Journal of Applied Engineering Science removed the names of Bertrand Chapron and Alexander Babanin from the paper and published a corrigendum that refers to the “written apology of the corresponding author Dr. John Chen explaining it was his omission”. How is it possible to make an omission when using the names of 2 authors at the same time in the same paper? Moreover, even if John Chen apologized to the editor for this “omission” on his part, he has not as yet apologized to either Professor Babanin or Dr. Bertrand Chapron, neither has he acknowledged his “omission” towards them and their respective affiliations.

Our email to Tim Chen did not receive a reply. 

Marianne Alunno-Bruscia

We’re used to universities and other institutions keeping mum when it comes to research misconduct – hiding behind personnel privacy policies and other sheets to keep quiet – so this case is a refreshing twist on the genre.

Marianne Alunno-Bruscia, an ethics & research integrity officer at Ifremer, told us that the institute learned of the problematic papers in February 2020 during an “extensive bibliographic survey … to fulfill the evaluation requirements of its research units imposed by Hcéres, the French High Council for evaluation of research and higher education (https://www.hceres.fr/en).”

The survey turned up two dodgy papers, and a year later, Ifremer found nine more:

It appeared that these 11 publications were all the work of the same two authors.

In January 2021, Ifremer set up an inquiry into this matter, not only to defend the reputation of our senior scientist, whose identity has been usurped, but also to preserve the good reputation of the French research institute in marine science which had also been misrepresented. Further investigation by Ifremer revealed that a second senior scientist working at the University of Melbourne (UoM), had also been falsely cited in 8 out of the 11 above-mentioned publications. Neither of the two French or Australian senior scientists took part in these works, which are outside their scientific fields of expertise; nor did they give their consent to be co-authors in these studies. As a matter of fact, they did not even know the two authors.

Between January and June of last year, Ifremer set about contacting the corresponding authors, universities and journals involved. Alunno-Bruscia said: 

The reaction from the latter was often unsatisfactory and sometimes inappropriate, i.e. some of the scientific journals simply erased the names of the two French and Australian scientists from the articles, but did not issue a corrigendum; or they removed the full article, without publishing a retraction notice; some indeed have neither acknowledged receipt of our requests nor done anything to rectify the damage. Ifremer therefore decided to comment officially on PubPeer through its institutional account.

Hat tip: Guillaume Cabanac

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2 thoughts on “French ocean institute goes public about authors who forged their researchers’ names”

  1. “Energy and Earth Science” are from Scholink, a predatory publisher based in (I think) China. Yes, they spam people with junk emails. Haven’t checked the other journals.

  2. Integrity Officer Marianne Alunno-Bruscia has broadened her inquiries:

    “WITHDRAWN: First order derivative spectrophotometric technique and coefficients validation for contemporaneous determination of oral diabetes medicines” (Chen et al, 2018).
    “Engaging parents Involvement in K – 12 Online Learning Settings: Are We Meeting the Needs of Underserved Students?” (Chen et al, 2019).

    Chen and Chen did not limit their creativity to the acquisition of Chapron and Babanin’s identities. So far 22 Pubpeer threads, but I lost count of the number of purported co-authors.

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