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Erdogan’s academic elites

Önder Metin had a rogue PhD student whom he trusted "to ensure their academic growth". But "mistakes were made by mistake", conclusions are never affected. Yet those who still complain, will pay dearly.

Turkey is probably unique among democracies (which it still pretends to be) and even among totalitarian states in one peculiar feature: the dictator president Recep Tayyip Erdogan directly controls all universities, by personally appointing all rectors.

As the result, every Turkish scientist and student who is friends with their university president is also friends with the totalitarian President of Turkey. And those who are not friends with the rector can easily find themselves sacked or even in jail, charged with treason or terrorism. Turkey has probably the most worrisome record in the world in that regard. An academic system like this creates a kakistocracy pipeline where good Turkish scientists end up either abroad, arrested, or driving taxis while those who make careers in Erdogan’s Turkey do so not certainly not on academic, but on other merits.

Just recently, all Turkey and especially Istanbul has been protesting against Erdogan’s decision to appoint the former politician Melih Bulu as rector of the Boğaziçi University. Bulu’s academic qualifications: a high tolerance for research misconduct, as his own PhD thesis at the same university showcases. It’s full of plagiarism, as Elisabeth Bik has confirmed.

Bulu’s MSc thesis from the Bogazici University is not much better:

So let’s have a look at the Turkish academic elites who succeed in such climate. Engineering and material sciences is a research field Turkey is very strong in, so here are some of the stars.

My readers will surely recall Fatih Sen, nanofabricator at the Dumlupinar University, whose excessive shenanigans in almost 90 papers were previously exposed by Elisabeth Bik and a reader of my site (read here and here). Sen did get into some trouble, he saw a prestigious national award revoked and two of his papers in Scientific Reports retracted (Zhang et al 2020 and Hou et al 2020, also due to presence of unrelated authors from China and elsewhere Smut Clyde suspected these to be purchased authorships).

Professor Sen still has his job, probably also because his other papers are likely to be safe from retractions. Look, two of them got recently corrected by the publisher Elsevier: Sahin et al J Biotechnology 2017 and Sen et al J Mol Lipids 2019. Both these papers recycled nanoparticle images which were reused in FIFTEEN publications from the Sen lab, all in different context. Not to be outdone, the non-profit American Chemical Society (ACS) corrected a Sen paper which recycled an image across THIRTY publications (Lolak et al ACS Omega 2019).

You see, the system is broken. If scholarly publishers are only interested in making money, even if from fraud, while national higher education authorities in countries like China, India, Iran and especially in Turkey see as their one and only priority to please their respective nations’ authoritarian rulers, then expect nothing good to come out of that.

There seems to be some kind of a misconduct investigation at Sen’s university going on, but its outcome really depends on how well connected to Erdogan he and his friends are. The scientists I want to introduce you to now are extremely well connected.

First, meet Mustafa Güden, former rector of the Izmir Institute of Technology and current member of the Turkish Council of Higher Education. His case shows how popular a certain practice in material sciences is: self-plagiarism. Like this:

Mustafa Güden, Emrah Çelik, Alpay Hızal, Mustafa Altındiş, Sinan Çetiner Effects of compaction pressure and particle shape on the porosity and compression mechanical properties of sintered Ti6Al4V powder compacts for hard tissue implantation Journal of biomedical materials research. Part B, Applied biomaterials (2008) doi: 10.1002/jbm.b.30978

Data reused from Guden et al Materials Characterisation 2005

Those may be same experiments shown in two different papers unchanged, but this is still not OK. It seems, the Güden lab ever made only one single electron microscopy picture of their powdered nanomaterials, hence its reuse. How do they know that one picture was representative or reproducible then? Here the same kind of self-plagiarism again:

Uğur Türkan, Mustafa Güden, Mert Sudağıdan Staphylococcus epidermidis adhesion on surface-treated open-cell Ti6Al4V foams Biomedical Engineering / Biomedizinische Technik (2016) doi: 10.1515/bmt-2015-0007  

Even a photo of a tube with pencilled labelling was reused, next to a whole panel with stress analyses.

Halit Kavi, A. Kaan Toksoy, Mustafa Guden Predicting energy absorption in a foam-filled thin-walled aluminum tube based on experimentally determined strengthening coefficient Materials & Design (2006) doi: 10.1016/j.matdes.2004.10.024 

“same images and (possibly data) used in another publication without any referring to this publication for those.”

Why do scientists do this? Because they need to increase their publication output, the number of papers and cumulative impact factor counts and decides about promotions and cash awards. Some studies are published repeatedly with small modifications, some experiments are salami-sliced into a ridiculously large number of increasingly irrelevant publications. An experiment which was apparently done only once can be published again, as a recycled control or simply to pad up the figure count (if you sliced your salami too thinly). While the paper where the figure first appeared is likely to be mentioned somewhere in references (your citation index must be boosted, too!), the editors and reviewers are intentionally left in the dark about the real origins of the recycled data. They are led to believe everything presented in the paper is new and original, otherwise they would have probably rejected the submission outright.

Which brings us to two other university rectors. First, Hatem Akbulut, Rector of the Sakarya University.

Şeyma Özcan, Aslıhan Güler, Tugrul Cetinkaya, Mehmet O Guler, Hatem Akbulut Freestanding graphene/MnO cathodes for Li-ion batteries Beilstein Journal of Nanotechnology (2017) doi: 10.3762/bjnano.8.193

The diffractogram was recycled from Ozcan et al, Solid State Ionics 2016. Elsewhere, a set of spectra was published previously in a peer reviewed conference proceedings paper, which means it counts as previous publication (to be fair, this is something also a German rector had to learn):

Abdulkadir Kızılaslan , Hatem Akbulut Assembling All-Solid-State Lithium-Sulfur Batteries with Li3N-Protected Anodes ChemPlusChem (2019) doi: 10.1002/cplu.201800539 

Ömer Çomakli, Rector of the Atatürk University, cannot use the excuse of “conference proceedings”. He recycled a diagram between two peer reviewed journal papers, which may have been a misunderstanding. But he also reused three spectra, previously published in the same journal as Comakli et al 2014.

O. Çomaklı, M. Yazıcı, T. Yetim, A.F. Yetim, A. Çelik The effect of calcination temperatures on structural and electrochemical properties of TiO2 film deposited on commercial pure titanium Surface and Coatings Technology (2016) doi: 10.1016/j.surfcoat.2015.11.055

Did Comakli think an absence of a copyright issue makes it OK?

We shall remain at Atatürk University and proceed to this article’s main feature of this celebration of Turkish academic leaders in material sciences and engineering.

Önder Metin: “Mistakes were made by mistake.”

This bigwig of materials science Önder Metin, is now at the prestigious Koc University, but his career previously took place at the Atatürk University. Metin is associate member of the Turkish Academy of Sciences and the Turkish Chemical Society. Here is Metin (right) with the Atatürk University rector Comakli (left), plus a friend (middle), receiving an award:

Image: Hurriyet

First, some classic data recycling for the noble purpose of boosting your publication output.

Melike Sevim Yılmaz, Begüm Yarar Kaplan, Selmiye Alkan Gürsel, Önder Metin Binary CuPt alloy nanoparticles assembled on reduced graphene oxide-carbon black hybrid as efficient and cost-effective electrocatalyst for PEMFC International Journal of Hydrogen Energy (2019) doi: 10.1016/j.ijhydene.2018.11.228 

The commenter got the spectra reuse right, but labelled the authorship confusingly: the data was reused from Metin paper with same first author, Melike Sevim Yilmaz, Metin’s first ever PhD student and now assistant professor at Atatürk University. Her other paper, Yilmaz et al Materials & Design 2018, has Selmiye Alkan Gürsel, professor at Sabanci University, listed as last author.

Another case, again with Sevim as coauthor:

Aydin Hassani, Gülşah Çelikdağ, Paria Eghbali, Melike Sevim, Semra Karaca, Önder Metin Heterogeneous sono-Fenton-like process using magnetic cobalt ferrite-reduced graphene oxide (CoFe2O4-rGO) nanocomposite for the removal of organic dyes from aqueous solution Ultrasonics Sonochemistry (2018) doi: 10.1016/j.ultsonch.2017.08.026

The data was reused from Sener et al, J Power Sources 2015. The first author of the 2018 paper, Aydin Hassani, is not among the 2015 authors. Hassani, now professor at the Near East University, reassured however on PubPeer:

We confirm that this change does not affect the originality and importance of the scientific findings reported in the paper.”

A Corrigendum was issued not even 2 weeks later declaring the same. Another paper also received a correction. As it happens, it recycled data previously published by Hassani and Metin in Hassani et al Env Science and Pollution (2018), in a paper without Hassani on it:

Marta Martins, Önder Metin, Biljana Šljukić, Melike Sevim, César Sequeira, Diogo Santos PdNi alloy nanoparticles assembled on cobalt ferrite-carbon black composite as a fuel cell catalyst International Journal of Hydrogen Energy (2019) doi: 10.1016/j.ijhydene.2018.12.221

The Corrigendum proclaimed:

The authors confirm that this change does not affect the originality and importance of the scientific findings reported in the paper.

Since we encounter this International Journal of Hydrogen Energy already the second time, let me tell you how this Elsevier scholarly magazine operates. It is run by a father and son team: the Turkey-born University of Miami emeritus professor T. Nejat Veziroglu is the founding editor, and the junior Emre A. Veziroglu, a quality assurance manager who never worked in academia and whose highest academic degree is MSc, acts as the Editor-in-Chief. Ayfer Veziroglu, an publishing executive without any research record after PhD graduation, nevertheless published several research papers in that journal, by virtue of being wife of the founding editor and mother of the Editor-in-Chief.

This little family business with journal impact factor of 5 of course counts the nanotech-forger Fatih Sen among its loyal customers (almost 20 papers). Of course there are recycled nanoparticle images, and also fake X-Ray diffraction spectra like this, first author is Sen’s PhD mentee and new wife, Betül Sen.

Sen et al Int J Hydrogen Energy 2017
Turhan Veziroglu, receiving Santilli-Galilei award, 2008

Another unsavoury punter of International Journal of Hydrogen Energy is the loony inventor, businessman and antisemite Ruggiero Santilli (read reporting by Pepijn van Erp and also by Smut Clyde in this regard). Santilli even published in the Veziroglu family journal unhinged self-promoting editorials and research papers under an assumed name, a fictional sockpuppet named “J.V. Kadeisvilli”.

The publishing relationship worked so well that the Italian antisemite honoured Veziroglu senior in 2008 with a ridiculously fake award “Santilli-Galilei Gold Medal for Lifetime Commitment to True Scientific Democracy”, which the Turkish professor proudly received (as reported by Sylvie Coyaud, to which Santilli retorted with worst misogyny and antisemitic slurs under the assumed named of “Luca Petronio”).

Metin did not comment on his choice of that journal, despite my repeated asking. His collaborator Diogo Santos at University of Lisbon, Portugal, explained:

Honestly, we select the journals mainly based on the scope and the IF, and not so much on the editor.

But come to think of it, their papers fit there nicely indeed.

What they did both comment on, was to specifically blame Metin’s former PhD student Melike Sevim for all irregularities. In particular for the data reuse from their older joint study, Martins et al Journal of Alloys and Compounds (2017), which resurfaced 2 years later as something entirely different:

Khadijeh Ganjehyan, Bilal Nişancı, Melike Sevim, Arif Daştan, Önder Metin Monodisperse CuPt alloy nanoparticles assembled on reduced graphene oxide as catalysts in the transfer hydrogenation of various functional organic groups Applied Organometallic Chemistry (2019) doi: 10.1002/aoc.4863

“PdAg/rGO becomes Cu7Pt3-rGO over time.”

Metin explained to me:

this mistake is unfortunately occurred inadvertently due to the selection of wrong TEM image by my ex-PhD student from the TEM data depository, as she were carrying out extensive TEM analysis of different materials in the same period.

Also Santos blamed Sevim in his email to me:

“As far as I understood, Melike, Onder’s ex-PhD student, was carrying out extensive TEM analysis of different materials in the same period and by mistake swapped the figures.  

As the previous error did not affect the analysis of the results, I believe that submitting these corrigenda was the best way to clarify the mistakes to the scientific community.

But that was not a normal corrigendum, but a time-reversed one. These authors managed to correct on 9 February 2021 their earlier paper from 2017 (submitted 29 March 2017, published 10 May 2017) and replace the data in it, while the 2019 paper (submitted 24 October 2018) remained as it is! Maybe it was easier to deal with Elsevier than with Wiley, which can’t complain anymore about inappropriate data reuse in the 2019 publication? In any case, an elegant solution to the alleged unidirectionality of the time continuum:

The authors report that this change does not affect the originality and importance of the scientific findings reported in the paper.

The next two papers were published by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and Springer, which might make it a bit more difficult to obtain correction, but not at all impossible. All you need is some chutzpah.

Seda Ergen, Bilal Nişancı, Önder Metin One-pot reductive amination of aldehydes with nitroarenes using formic acid as the hydrogen donor and mesoporous graphitic carbon nitride supported AgPd alloy nanoparticles as the heterogeneous catalyst New Journal of Chemistry (2018) doi: 10.1039/c8nj01569d

With some magic and scale adjustment Ag42Pd58 became Ag40Pd60 over time.

The paper without Sevim as coauthor apparently recycled data from an earlier work of science by the Metin lab, Kahri et al Nano Research 2017 (with Sevim on it). Amazing how nanoparticles can grow and transmutate in just one year. Alchemy? Or time travel again?

Metin however sees it differently. He wrote to me:

The TEM images posted are not the same images. Of course, they might look similar because they show the same AgPd alloy NPs which were synthesized by using the exactly the same recipe. I think that the person who posted this issue to the Pubpeer did not read the paper at all, just focused on the TEM images. On the other hand, in one of these papers, we reported the alloy composition as Ag40Pd60 and in the second paper it is reported as Ag42Pd58 because these are the results we had from two different sets of ICP-MS analysis that gave us an average alloy composition. The slight change in the composition is always possible for the ICP-MS analysis even for the analysis of different portions of the same batch of alloy NPs. In this regard, the presented particles in these two  articles are the same nanoparticles and it is highly possible to get similar TEM images for different batches of samples. However, the presented TEM images are not the same.

I invited some experts to check, and they disagree in their PubPeer comments. One expert made an extinction overlay clearly showing that the image is the same, just cropped and shifted:

Metin was still not impressed:

“these are the TEM images of exactly the same nanoparticles which are prepared by exactly the same method used as catalysts for different applications. When we study the TEM on our nanoparticles, we record different TEM images from different regions of the TEM grid. The represented TEM images might be ones recorded at different magnifications in the same region. However, these are not the shifted TEM images.

I am confused. Is Metin saying those are different images but of same nanoparticles? Even if these were made of different alloy materials? How does that even work?

Onto another paper about which Metin also attests to an utter absence of problems. He also told me:

I sent an author response to these Pubpeer posts, but I do not know why they did not appear in the Pubpeer.

Funny that, his other PubPeer comments all appeared online normally. Maybe the problem with that paper is the absence of Sevim as blameable coauthor? Like here:

Önder Metin, Hasan Can, Kıvılcım Şendil, Mehmet Serdar Gültekin Monodisperse Ag/Pd core/shell nanoparticles assembled on reduced graphene oxide as highly efficient catalysts for the transfer hydrogenation of nitroarenes Journal of Colloid and Interface Science (2017) doi: 10.1016/j.jcis.2017.03.066

Exactly same XPS survey data used in two different articles without any reference to each other, but the high resolution spectra of the core levels are peculiarly different.

Metin replied on PubPeer:

We examined two XPS survey spectra and concluded that they look similar at first glance, but they are not same. There are differences in the noises and peak positions as well as the overall spectra. Moreover, the high-resolution XPS spectra for Pd3d and Ag3d core-levels are quite different in terms of both peak positions and the peak shapes. […] having high-resolution XPS data for the related elements without the XPS survey spectrum for a sample is not possible for our research group. […] We can share the raw data with you if you request them via sending a message to us from an academic email address.

Metin’s explanation that the big peaks are slightly different may be correct, but it makes the matter even worse. As a PubPeer user explained:

a close look on the noise and background below 200 eV and above 600 eV shows that the survey data is the same in two articles, contrary to the similarity argument of the author.

How can this happen? A miracle?

Metin replied again on PubPeer:

if you think that my explanations is contrary to yours, I can share the raw data with you if you send me an email from an academic email. Because I do not want to discuss this issue with anonymous persons herein.

Elisabeth Bik tried reasoning with the Koc professor:

Dear Dr. Metin, I agree with the comments in #1 and #3, that these two plots look very similar to each other. Could you please post high resolution images of these plots here? I am not an anonymous person 🙂

Good luck. To me, Metin explained that he unfortunately cannot provide high-resolution spectra or raw data:

We always do a new analysis for every sample that we prepared in the laboratory. The XPS analysis is done by the specialists in the central laboratory and he always records survey XPS spectrum along with the necessary high-resolution spectra. Actually, it is not possible to record high-resolution XPS spectra without recording XPS spectrum. Since the high resolution spectra are different, it is very strange to not record a new XPS spectrum. In this regard, since these XPS survey spectra are attributed to the sample composed of the same elements and same support materials, we think that it is possible to get a similar XPS survey spectra.

Metin also wrote to me:

when you consider all my papers posted in Pubpeer, one can conclude that they are inadvertent mistakes that do not change the scientific conclusions reported by the papers at all. As scientists, we are all human beings and these types of inadvertent mistakes are possible for most of the research groups doing active research. Additionally, as their advisors, we must trust our students to ensure their academic growth. Students can make such inadvertent mistakes in any country, and we as their advisors can unfortunately overlook these kinds of mistakes during the revising of their papers due to our busy schedules and problems in our private life. However, I will be more careful on revising/checking the papers of students and others from now on.  
In conclusion, I would like to state that there are no serious mistakes that mislead the scientific community in our articles. Moreover, these mistakes were made by mistake.

And then Metin dropped a bombshell:

my university has assigned a scientific committee for a formal investigation about me for the Pubpeer posts. I also applied to the Security Cybercrime Braeu [sic!] for the investigation of a fake email address that serviced the pubpeer posts to my university administration and my colleagues, and the investigation is going on“.

OK then, I will send this article to Metin’s university administration.

Kind of precludes an investigation, doesn’t it? Image source: Twitter

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5 comments on “Erdogan’s academic elites

  1. It is outrageous to see that they can still threaten and try to bully people with all the misconduct done by these so called academics.

    Like

  2. Smut Clyde

    Is that an upraised middle finger in the inset?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Smut Clyde

    The International Journal of Hydrogen Energy seems to show up in any discussion of faked spectra and fabricated x-ray diffraction patterns. Remember these?

    from Hybrid hollow structures for hydrogen storage.

    from Multi-mode hydrogen storage in nanocontainers.

    Like

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