‘Perplexed’ author’s identity forged on plagiarized paper in ‘probably fake’ journal

Steffen Barra

In February, Steffen Barra Googled his name. A clinician working in the field of forensic psychiatry, he was in the habit of periodically checking if anything negative had been written about him. What he didn’t expect to find was a plagiarized paper with his name attached to it. 

Barra, a researcher at the University of Saarland in Germany, told us the 2023 article, “Introducing the Complexities of Forensic Psychology: Decoding the Mind Behind the Crime,”   plagiarized from an information page from a company offering online courses. The article also resembles many college informational pages about the field, such as this one from the University of North Dakota, he said. 

Concerned he might be blamed for the misconduct, Barra immediately contacted the publisher, Hilaris. 

A company representative responded to Barra the same day, February 29, with one phrase: “We will remove the link.” 

Once Barra pressed for an explanation, a representative from the journal named Jennifer responded: “We will take necessary action against the person who is responsible for the uploading of wrong file with your details.” 

But Hilaris’ author page for Barra is still live, as is the link to the PDF of the article. 

We attempted to contact the email listed in the paper, but it forwarded automatically to Barra’s email address. 

Barra also reached out to Hjördis Czesnick, head of Office of the German Research Ombudsman, for help investigating the case. Czesnick found Hilaris’ registered address on their website: a PO box in Brussels. On behalf of Barra, Czesnick contacted the Secretary of the Flemish Commission for Research Integrity, as well as Belgian police. 

Czesnick told us the journal in which the article appeared, Abnormal and Behavioural Psychology, is “known for dubious practices” and is “probably fake.” The title appears on Cabell’s List of predatory publishers.

The website for Abnormal and Behavioural Psychology says the open-access journal charges $99 for a“Fast Editorial Execution and Review Process,” which promises a decision in three days, review comments in five days after submission, and a galley proof two days after acceptance. Any manuscript accepted for publication incurs an article processing charge. 

Hilaris did not respond to our request for comment. Their page on plagiarism states: 

Ethical standards of very high-quality ensures [sic] the authenticity of the scientific publication and wins [sic] the public trust on scientific findings so that it [sic] enhances the credibility of the research work or idea.

Barra said he feels “perplexed” by the situation: “[N]o one could think of any good reason for a ‘Publisher’ to do something like that,” he told us in an email.

Past instances of false authorship could provide a hint. In April 2023, we covered a similar case in which a researcher was listed as an author on a plagiarized paper that had nothing to do with her field of study. Commenters on the post said including a reputable researcher in the publication may have been an attempt to improve the journal’s image.

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6 thoughts on “‘Perplexed’ author’s identity forged on plagiarized paper in ‘probably fake’ journal”

  1. These are most perplexing of the trash ‘science’ literature. Giving dodgy journals a veneer of authenticity by publishing articles attributed to real researchers is the most plausible theory I’ve heard. As if the real researchers aren’t going to notice, especially when a real contact email is included. (This one doesn’t seem like a citation stacker, btw. Only 5 references with no repeats to the same author).
    Maybe the notso Hilarious publishers will take it down. I clicked some of the previous examples and found dead links. What a game. Thanks to all the Cheshires, Smuts, Biks, RW, and more out there for sunlighting these.

    1. “Thanks to all the Cheshires, Smuts, Biks, RW, and more out there for sunlighting these”.

      Amen to that!

    2. I don’t know if sleuthing circles are going to be very helpful with the more rapacious predatory publishers like OMICS and its ever-growing list of sockpuppets. Because
      1. They are unashamed of their business model of fraud and identity theft and have no intention of stopping;
      2. They might pretend to place DOIs on their productions, but seldom pay to have them registered, leaving no way to flag the paper-shaped artifacts on PubPeer;
      3. The whole low-hanging fruit aspect. Where is the challenge?

  2. Unfortunately an alternate, also plausible reason comes to mind why someone would go to the trouble of publishing a plagiarized article in someone else’s name: a dirty trick from a colleague. The harasser would know the fake article will show up in the author’s Google Scholar profile and word would get around. Then it creates huge hassle for the target and confusion amongst colleagues – did someone really bizarrely fake a plagiarized article in his name, or did the stated author really submit it like it says, but once it was discovered to be plagiarized, cried ‘that wasn’t me. I’m being smeared.’ Occum’s razor favor’s the latter. Who’s to know? Academics sometimes can be diabolical.

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