‘I never asked or expected to be included as an author’: Retired Penn State prof has three retractions for manipulated peer review

Roger Shouse

A retired professor of education has lost three papers – which he said he helped edit for a former student – after the publisher discovered manipulated peer review led to their acceptance. 

Roger Shouse, an associate professor emeritus at Penn State College of Education, spent the 2018-2019 academic year at Sichuan University in China as a professor of public administration. While there, he helped several students write research articles in English, and advised one who listed him as a coauthor on three papers even though Shouse didn’t ask for authorship, he told us.

Those papers –  on land use, climate vulnerability and disaster response among rural communities in Bangladesh – were retracted from the journal Land Use Policy this past August, after an investigation revealed the peer review process had been manipulated. 

Shouse was listed as the last author, and researcher Md Nazirul Islam Sarker of Neijiang Normal University was the first author. A fourth paper retracted at the same time, with an identical retraction notice, listed Sarker as second author but did not include Shouse.

The retracted papers are: 

All four studies were retracted on Aug. 24, 2022. The retraction notice on each stated:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief.

After a thorough investigation, the Editor has concluded that the acceptance of this article was partly based upon the positive advice of one illegitimate reviewer report. The report was submitted from an email account which was provided to the journal as a suggested reviewer during the submission of the article. Although purportedly a real reviewer account, the Editor has concluded that this was not of an appropriate, independent reviewer.

This manipulation of the peer-review process represents a clear violation of the fundamentals of peer review, our publishing policies, and publishing ethics standards. Apologies are offered to the reviewer whose identity was assumed and to the readers of the journal that this deception was not detected during the submission process.

In response to an email from Retraction Watch, Shouse said that he had advised one of the authors of these studies while at Sichuan University, but never expected to be included as an author:

I served as a professor of public administration at Sichuan University during the 2018-2019 academic year. During that time I advised one of the authors of these papers, helped with editing, etc.  After I returned to the U.S. in 2019 this student notified me from time to time of his papers being accepted. I never asked or expected to be included as an author (as his subject area was far from my area of expertise). Nonetheless, I noted over time that I was being listed as 3rd or 4th author, a discovery to which I paid only slight attention. At no time did I ever review any of these manuscripts for any journal.

In addition, from time to time I received invitations to review various papers in this particular subject area. If I recognized the title or area of research I would decline to review. If I didn’t recognize it I would sometimes recommend my student as a reviewer. For example, if the paper was on Bangladesh I would decline. If it was on (e.g.) the Congo I might recommend my student.

This is about all I can say about this other than I’m sorry for how this has or will affect my former student.

He added that while this author was not an official student of his (he was not their official adviser and they were not in any of his courses), he helped this student and several others write research articles in English, as he was the only native English speaker in the program. Shouse declined to specify which of the authors was his student.

Shouse also said that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he cannot return to Sichuan University, and his status there is uncertain. 

Sarker, who did not respond to Retraction Watch’s requests for comment, is the only common author of all four articles. For three of the papers, his affiliation is listed as Neijiang Normal University in Neijiang, China, where he has been an associate professor. The fourth lists his affiliation as Sichuan University. A LinkedIn profile lists someone of the same name as a student at the school  between 2016 and 2020. Sarker until recently also was listed as the corresponding author for two of the papers, while two did not have listed corresponding authors. All four papers have been recently updated to include email addresses for all authors.

Jaap Zevenbergen, the editor-in-chief of Land Use Management, did not respond to a separate request for comment. Instead, journal manager Rajah Devotta replied that publisher Joice Jiang would respond to our questions, but was out of the office. Jiang said in an email that she has been out sick but would look into the matter as soon as possible.

In an email, a spokesperson from Elsevier, the publisher of Land Use Policy, told us that the investigation started because the journal found that one of the email addresses of a reviewer recommended by the authors was invalid. The spokesperson said:

We wrote to the authors with our findings as part of the investigation.  One person was impersonated as a reviewer as they did not peer-review the paper in question, however the others initially denied any wrongdoing, but then stopped corresponding.

Update, 2200 UTC, 12/20/22: Another Elsevier spokesperson later responded to our email to Jiang with a slightly different version of events, including that not one but two reviewers’ emails were fake: 

Our publisher received a complaint from a researcher in China that the corresponding author tried to manipulate peer review in articles published in Land Use Policy.

Elsevier then investigated the articles and found two reviewers’ email addresses to be fake.

The genuine researcher denied owning the email account and reviewing for the articles.

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3 thoughts on “‘I never asked or expected to be included as an author’: Retired Penn State prof has three retractions for manipulated peer review”

  1. “I never asked or expected to be included as an author (as his subject area was far from my area of expertise). Nonetheless, I noted over time that I was being listed as 3rd or 4th author, a discovery to which I paid only slight attention.”

    So he never asked to be an author, but he was still fine being included as one? Given that his contributions where limited to “helped with editing, etc.” it seems he is admitting to what is practically a gift authorship.

    1. Yeah, there’s something a little bit off in there.
      If you got notifications that you were published … without first having agreed to be co-author on those papers… “Slight attention” doesn’t really seem appropriate. Surely, that would be cause for concern?

  2. Gotta love when senior researches blame their less senior co-authors for integrity issues. All authors are responsible for the integrity of the paper as a condition for submission. And Shouse was plenty happy to be an author until the papers got retracted.

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