Academic Publishing Guest post

Maybe stop accepting submissions, Herr Prof Dr Sauer?

Who needs science if you can have a 75 paper strong special edition by Afrand and Karimi? A guest post by Alexander Magazinov.

Alexander Magazinov found out that a respectable-looking engineering journal is infested by papermill fraud and citation ring scams, main port of entry: special issues. The German editor says Elsevier is on top of it. But on the other hand, the impact factor must keep rising!

Maybe stop accepting submissions, Herr Prof Dr Sauer?

By Alexander Magazinov

Not publishing “special issues” is not an option. But then, reciprocally, not naming and shaming “special issues” is not an option, too. So here we go, meet the Journal of Energy Storage, Impact Factor 8.907, and its German Editor-in-Chief, Prof Dr Dirk Uwe Sauer from RWTH Aachen. Meet also the “special issue,” titled “Recent Advances in Battery Thermal Management,” edited by Nader Karimi, Mohammad Arjmand, Cong Qi, and Masoud Afrand.

Afrand’s name may be familiar to For Better Science‘s readers, his name has been spotted in connection to a “special issue” in Wiley’s Mathematical Methods in the Applied Sciences. A nobody back then, he raked in much over 100 citations from that affair, behind only such titans of thought as Ali Chamkha, Ji-Huan He, and Hamid Sedighi. But now Afrand is a star of Mechanical Engineering, an editor of Springer Nature’s Scientific reports, and a welcome “guest editor” in many other venues.

Dear reader, can you imagine that a “special issue” edited by Afrand is clean? If you trust a person like Afrand, I have good news for you: you have qualified as an Editor-in-Chief. Because only Editors-in-Chief can be blind to all red flags hanging out there, deaf to all warning sirens sounding out there, and insensible to the strong smell of rot emanating from these actors and their affairs.

Let’s start.

Mohammed N. Ajour, Ahmad H. Milyani, Nidal H. Abu-Hamdeh, Turki AlQemlas, Moath K. Khaled, Arash Karimipour Thermal management of a battery pack using a layer of phase change material around the batteries: Changes in the airflow through the battery. Journal of Energy Storage (2022) doi: 10.1016/j.est.2022.104759

“In general, the use of numerical methods has been considered by investigators due to its lower cost [64–68]. Researchers in different scientific fields have used various numerical methods [69–73].”

[67] T.-H. Zhao, M.-K. Wang, W. Zhang, Y.-M. Chu, Quadratic transformation inequalities for Gaussian hypergeometric function, J. Inequal. Appl. 2018 (251) (2018) 15, https://doi.org/10.1186/s13660-018-1848-y.

[69] Y.-M. Chu, H. Wang, T.-H. Zhao, Sharp bounds for the Neuman mean in terms of the quadratic and second Seiffert means, J. Inequal. Appl. 2014 (2014), 299, https://doi.org/10.1186/1029-242X-2014-299, 14 pages.

[73] S. Rashid, S. Sultana, Ye. Karaca, A. Khalid, and Y.-M. Chu, Some further extensions considering discrete proportional fractional operators, Fractals 30 (1) (2022), 2240026, https://doi.org/10.1142/S0218348X22400266, 12 pages.

Huh, what do we have there? Arash Karimipour among co-authors – the Iranian one, not yet affected by any retraction, unlike his US colleague (or alter ego?) of the same name. Irrelevant citations to “a certain YM Chu” – and yes, they are irrelevant; nominally these papers are about pure maths, not numerical methods. However, I insist that even the word “nominally” is necessary, because these products are most definitely meaningless garbage, and therefore do not belong to any discipline. And not only these three citations are sloppy, I just picked them as the funniest ones; there are at least twelve to this Yu-Ming Chu alone.

But so what! We are scientific nobodies, and Arash Karimipour is a “highly cited researcher” and a “Web of Science Academy mentor”! “Highly cited researchers” are a dime a dozen now, that’s true. But being a mentor in an “Online training supporting academics in conducting research with integrity” – oh well, at least good to take notes about what Web of Science puts into their definition of “integrity.” (H/t Nick Wise for spotting the Publons link.)

Maybe you think this “special issue” is an affair for “researchers” from certain corners of the world, or for those who now reside in the West, having migrated from those corners? If yes, you are mostly right, but not entirely. Next comes a collaboration between the emerging powers of science and the “true” westerners. All hail diversity!

Bo Wang, Fangyuan Gao, Munish Kumar Gupta, Grzegorz Królczyk, Paolo Gardoni, Zhixiong Li Risk analysis of a flywheel battery gearbox based on optimized stochastic resonance model. Journal of Energy Storage (2022) doi: 10.1016/j.est.2022.104926

“As reported by many researchers, numerical methods are very reliable if implemented correctly [33–43], we used numerical analysis.”

This stands somewhere nearby to “the water is wet [1 – 100]” or “the fire is hot [101-200].” Okay, most of these references may even mention “numerical methods,” though I have doubts about

[35] Z. Huang, P. Luo, H. Zheng, Design of Ti4+-doped Li3V2 (PO4) 3/C fibers for lithium energy storage, Ceram. Int. 48 (6) (2022) 8325–8330.

But nevertheless, the bulk citation is unwarranted, and even more unwarranted is the apparent emphasis on the works of Chu and Karimi (the co-guest-editor).

Some more random examples of citation habits, for you to immerse yourself into the atmosphere.

  • The use of numerical methods is common among researchers in various fields [55–59]. Numerical methods have greatly contributed to the spread of studies among researchers [60–64].(Khan et al., 2022)
  • Using numerical methods, researchers find the main parameters [53–64].(Farouk et al., 2022)
  • Reducing the research time has been an important factor in choosing the numerical method [69–73]. So different researchers in different fields such as mechanics, mathematics, etc. have been looking for better ways to achieve more accurate results in this field [74–78].(Sait, 2022)
  • Various methods for algebraizing equations have been proposed by researchers [47–51]. Researchers in mathematics have always been looking for suitable solutions to solve equations in different ways [52–56].(Tian et al., 2022)
  • Many of the articles published today use numerical methods [66–70]. The advantages of numerical methods such as higher speed have attracted many researchers [71–75].(Chen et al., 2022)

See how citations are carefully planted into hollow sentences about anonymous “researchers”? Mostly in batches of five, but sometimes a larger payload is delivered at once. Or how about this grotesque pattern:

  • Present work aims to study the phase change material effects in the thermal battery units with Al2​​O​3​​ working nanofluid for the first time [51–69], among a great number of articles regarding fluid flow and heat transfer in various conditions and geometries [70–88].(Asiri et al., 2022a)
  • Among a lot works concerned fluid flow and heat transfer in different conditions [52–59], the numerical heat transfer analysis of a generator of the absorption refrigeration system, was performed for the first time [60–76], for the geometric and thermal parameter of the battery as well as defined in Table 2.(Asiri et al., 2022b)
  • Among many articles concerning fluid flow and heat transfer in various geometries and conditions [25–34], present study aims to investigate the transient thermal analysis of a single U-tube vertical ground battery borehole heat exchanger filled with the phase change material, for the first time [35-53]“. (Salilih et al., 2022)

The “clever” trick is that any unrelated citation gets justified this way – see, that work does something completely different from what we are doing here, so our work is indeed novel! Very convincing (not).

Let’s leave the citation rings for a while and enjoy the quality science!

Saeed Alqaed, Heating a residential building using the heat generated in the lithium ion battery pack by the electrochemical process, Journal of Energy Storage (2022) doi: 10.1016/j.est.2021.103553

“Using this battery cooling system leads to a reduction of the amount of annual energy required by the building using urban energy sources from 17 to 14.2 kWh.”

Okay, heating an entire two-floor, two-hundred-seventy-square-meter building in a “cold dry climate” is apparently worth only about two US dollars a year. Or so Saeed Alqaed says. Of course, if we believe him, then we might go ahead and save approximately 35 cents with his system. But in our reality, the energy requirements are thousands times higher, how sad.

This Alqaed’s paper has yet another curious feature – it somehow manages to be listed in two “special issues” simultaneously: the one edited by Afrand, and another, devoted to an Enerstock 2021 conference in Ljubljana (archived here).

Zenodo, however, has the program of the Ljubljana event, without any trace of Alqaed. So doubts may be cast whether Alqaed participated in Enerstock at all, and I am not completely sure if the editors of the Ljubljana “special issue” are aware of what’s happening.

All in all, Afrand’s “special issue” carries 75 papers as of now. A naive reader says “too many”? That’s our outdated picture of the world; we need to show respect to people who need publications and who badly desire to be cited.

For the first category, we have

  • Seyed Mohammad Sajadi, who is listed as a co-author on 9 papers… From – how fittingly – “Department of Nutrition, Cihan University-Erbil, Kurdistan Region, Iraq” and “Department of Phytochemistry, SRC, Soran University, KRG, Iraq.” But if a respected nutrition / phytochemistry researcher decided to work on Li-ion batteries, and their thermal management through phase change materials and nanofluids, so be it.
  • Arash Karimipour, listed on 7 papers, and
  • Nidal H. Abu-Hamdeh, also listed on 7 papers. These two gentlemen are part of any package deal that involves Afrand, and Afrand is not available without package deals, you know.
  • Mustafa Z. Mahmoud, listed on 6 papers. From “Radiology and Medical Imaging Department, College of Applied Medical Sciences, Prince Sattam bin Abdulaziz University, Al-Kharj, Saudi Arabia” and “Faculty of Health, University of Canberra, Canberra, ACT, Australia,” but we are not surprised by such things any longer.
  • Zhixiong Li, listed on 5 papers. From “Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, Opole University of Technology, Opole, Poland” and “Yonsei Frontier Lab, Yonsei University, Seoul, Republic of Korea.” A hyperprolific author spammer, with 99, 113, 67 and 68 publications in 2019, 2020, 2021, and so far in 2022, respectively.

We are approaching the juicy part of counting citations. Behold,

  • Nader Karimi has been cited at least 461 times, while
  • Masoud Afrand has been cited at least 356 times.

“At least” means there may be an undercount due to how counting was done, but never an overcount. Ah, the magic of “special issues”!

It means that Karimi’s bonus for “handling” this “special issue” is worth over 10% of his citation count, which, according to Dimensions, stands at 4179. By the way, his bio at Dimensions reveals quite a life of a wanderer:

“I completed my first degree in mechanical engineering in 2000 at AmirKabir University of Technology in Tehran/Iran. This was followed by a master’s degree in energy conversion at Sharif University of Technology, Tehran in 2002. I was awarded a PhD in 2009 for my experimental and theoretical work on unsteady combusting flows at University of Melbourne in Australia. In between 2009 and 2011, I was a Marie Currie post-doctoral researcher at Darmstadt University of Technology in Germany. I then moved to the department of engineering at University of Cambridge in the UK and worked there as a research associate for almost two years. In late 2013, I was appointed as a lecturer in mechanical engineering at James Watt School of Engineering, University of Glasgow where I served till early 2020. I am currently a Reader in Mechanical Engineer at the School of Engineering and Materials Science, Queen Mary University of London.”

So what about the citations, maybe they are all genuine? Well, a random example:

Saeed Alqaed, Fahad Awjah Almehmadi, Jawed Mustafa, Shahid Husain, Goshtasp Cheraghian , Effect of nano phase change materials on the cooling process of a triangular lithium battery pack, Journal of Energy Storage (2022) doi: 10.1016/j.est.2022.104326 

“These materials have many applications in various devices such as heatsinks, solar panels, solar collectors, building materials, etc.
[17, 18, 74, 75].”

[18] A. Saeed, N. Karimi, M.C. Paul, Analysis of the unsteady thermal response of a li-ion battery pack to dynamic loads, Energy 231 (2021), 120947.

Literally nothing is special about this paper that makes it so attractive to be cited in such broad contexts. But it gets cited.

And now look at all the citations of that Karimi’s paper (there are 76 to date)! Hardly any of them is outside “special issues” in a few journals. There is a notable series of exceptions, though. Namely, a number of “regular papers” in the Journal of Building Engineering, where a certain Portuguese professor, Jorge de Brito, until recently used to be a co-Editor-in-Chief, but likely resigned after he was hit by the same wave of retractions as the US-based Karimipour. But “our” “special issue” is just too special, as it hosts 42 citations to that single paper, more than all the remaining publications in the world!

What about the other two editors, are they forgotten in this citation fest? Mostly yes. Cong Qi raked in less than 30 citations (just 24 actually, but remember a possible undercount). Arjmand got just 2 measly citations. With these “pathetic” figures, what are they doing here at all? Especially when all kinds of clowns, like Saeed Agakhani, Rasool Kalbasi, Arash Karimipour, Goshtasp Cheraghian, Changhe Li, Yongbing Tang, Yu-Ming Chu, Somchai Wongwises, and quite some others, are cited over 100 times?

In passing, let’s have a brief look at yet another paper, which gained 43 citations from this “special issue”:

Zhang, X., Tang, Y., Zhang, F., & Lee, C. S. A novel aluminum–graphite dual‐ion battery. Advanced energy materials, (2016) doi: 10.1002/aenm.201502588

What’s the secret of its sudden popularity in 2022, six years after publication? Has the world caught up with the visionary thought of Yongbing Tang? Or has this paper just been picked up by our clown show, like an element of circus decorations?

Citations by year

Now, as a good tradition prescribes, there is a spreadsheet devoted to Afrand’s “special issue.”

And now look at this, we also have a wonderful “regular paper”!

Barno Abdullaeva, Maria Jade Catalan Opulencia, Vitaliy Borisov, Khusniddin Fakhriddinovich Uktamov, Walid Kamal Abdelbasset, Ahmed Kateb Jumaah Al-Nussair, Maki Mahdi Abdulhasan, Lakshmi Thangavelu, Abdullah Hasan Jabbar Optimal variable estimation of a Li-ion battery model by fractional calculus and bio-inspired algorithms. Journal of Energy Storage (2022) doi: 10.1016/j.est.2022.105323 

Nick Wise nailed it down:

“On the 1st of February, an advert was posted on Facebook selling authorships of a paper. I believe that the original intended journal was Wiley’s International Journal of Energy Research, which has a 2 year impact factor of 5.164. However, that submission must have been rejected.”

I believe that this paper, with a rearranged title, is the same work described in the advert. It has 9 authors, as per the advert, from a wide variety of institutions and disciplines. What expertise are academics of dentistry, economics and business administration contributing to this work?

Sauer, the Editor-in-Chief, surely knew that his Journal of Energy Storage is deeply in trouble. But even if he didn’t, I have notified him about both the Afrand’s “special issue,” and also about the Abdullaeva et al. paper. The only additional discovery that appeared in the meantime is the evidence of the papermill offer, found by Nick Wise.

It is now Sauer’s turn to act, and in a sane world there wouldn’t be any other decision than to shut down the journal, at least temporarily. But I have doubts that it plays out this way.

Another story is to stop the scam production line. Because “special issues” by Afrand and friends are popping up here and there. Here’s what we have only in Elsevier’s stable:

Digressing, we’ll pay some attention to Safaei and Goodarzi. This is a family couple (as it has been reported to me by knowledgeable sources) living and working in the South of the US (Florida and Texas). Somehow, they are always present where Afrand or his friends are present, but never attract too much attention. See, citations to this duo are massively planted in (Ajour, 2022a) and (Ajour, 2022b), or earlier in (Nguyen, 2020), but this happens in a few papers per each “special issue.” Anyway, let me leave the topic of Safaei’s and Goodarzi’s importance to Afrand’s loop to your fantasy, dear reader.

And now, in June 2022, another Elsevier journal with an impact factor of 16.799, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, announced a “special issue”:

Let’s hope this fraudulent circus cannot expand forever.


P.S. For the sake of diversity, perhaps, Afrand & company accepted this:

Bakeer, A., Chub, A., Shen, Y., & Sangwongwanich, A. Reliability analysis of battery energy storage system for various stationary applications. Journal of Energy Storage, (2022) doi: 10.1016/j.est.2022.104217

At least, this is not a usual nanofluid / nano-PCM codswallop. The researchers have European affiliations, a combination of academia (Tallinn & Aalborg universities) and industrial ones (Danfoss).

Since I understand nothing in the topic, I looked at the reference list. Which is not a typical reference list of something accepted by Afrand. Here are the top citation recipients:

A modest donation to Sauer himself, but ahead of Sauer is Frede Blaabjerg, professor at the Aalborg University. Does anyone want to ask this Danish phenomenon about the secret of his sudden burst of late career productivity?

Indeed, science has made a giant leap forward since 1992, when an Ig Nobel in Literature was awarded to Yuri Struchkov for “only” 948 publications over 10 years. A knowledgeable colleague, though, once told me that Struchkov’s output is totally genuine, and massive because his lab was a go-to place for certain types of analyses. As a rarity in the Soviet Union, it had both the necessary equipment and trained people. Not sure what kind of unique expertise Blaabjerg offers to his collaborators, but let us leave him alone and make no accusations.


P.S. by L. Schneider. I reached out to Sauer asking how he plans to combat the papermill and citation ring fraud in his journal. This was his reply from 18 July 2022 (translated from German):

We are already looking at the review reports on the papers before the final decision, but a comprehensive check for who is citing whom and who is the author where is hardly possible without technical aids. However, the publisher is already increasingly examining the special issue editors for possible indications of unethical behaviour which may have occurred in the past.

However, the publishers’ weapons are also relatively blunt in many places. There are for example no “black lists” of authors or reviewers that automatically incur a ban.

Elsevier has just introduced a tool to compare by default across all journals whether very similar or same type submissions happen across different journals and it is already dramatic to see how often this takes place. These duplicate submissions are pretty much rejected everywhere simultaneously.

But unfortunately it remains a constant struggle.

3 days later, the above discussed (Abdullaeva et al., 2022) papermill forgery was published. When confronted with this, Sauer remained silent.

It is a constant struggle indeed, battling sleuths who harass your valued editors and authors, and spoil your business.


8 comments on “Maybe stop accepting submissions, Herr Prof Dr Sauer?

  1. I know I am an outsider, but I do understand incentives. Journals and publishers get paid to publish papers. So they do.

    Unlike companies that sell faulty toasters, no one gets a refund on a faulty journal subscription.

    Like

    • Got a reply from Prof Sauer (translated):
      The case is being investigated by the Ethics Committee of the publisher. It’s not easy to retract published papers, at least I can’t do it.

      All ongoing submissions relating to the Special Issue are subjected by me to a special review and I invite additional reviewers. What turns out to be very clear statistically is in individual cases
      very complicated to construe against the authors. Of course you can cite in one paper 6 publications of another author,
      even if he’s a special edition editor.

      Like

      • magazinovalex

        Elsevier’s “Ethics Committee” is a friggin’ pathetic meme! Most of the Microprocessors & Microsystems still stands untouched.

        How about asking these medical guys about their contributions? How about “release the code or never happened”? How about retracting obvious nonsense, like heating a house with one (or fifty) finger-sized batteries?

        Like

      • Dear Alexander & Leonid,

        Thanks for highlighting this issue. Currently, I am juggling some holidays and work, but that I have flagged-up to Elsevier, and in the interim I have paused the special indefinitely until the issue raised are completely investigated. I or Elsevier will revert once they have looked at this.

        Note that matters like these are dealt with by the Editor in Chief of RSER, in this case myself, so Professor Martin Schiemann is not required to respond. I personally discussed this issue with him before I sent this email.

        Kindest regards,

        Professor Foley

        Like

  2. magazinovalex

    While Journal of Energy Storage shows no new acceptances to Afrand’s SI, at the same time YM Chu’s citation vehicles continue to arrive there as “regular” papers. Some examples below, there are more.

    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.est.2022.105408
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.est.2022.105464
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.est.2022.105339
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.est.2022.105296

    It’s a distinct possibility that they were intended to the SI initially, but that plan got disrupted. Nevertheless, for some reason, Sauer decided to publish them anyway. Whether the reason is plain old corruption, or something else, we’ll probably never know.

    Like

  3. Came across another highly active papermill/recycling/citation farming vehicle: Journal of Healthcare Engineering. Popping up all over Pubpeer with the citation farming aspect, but many of the papers being farmed are rehashing oldish literature in subjects like thromboelastography.
    Kudos to you for fighting this many-headed dragon (yes, that’s a sly aspersion).

    Like

  4. magazinovalex

    September 23, 2022:


    Dear dr. Sauer,

    I am seeing new additions to Afrand’s “special issue”: after your acknowledgement of the email, the following items have been published:

    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.est.2022.105326
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.est.2022.105602

    The second one has been accepted on Sep. 1, 2022, while you acknowledged my email on Aug 18, 2022. Does it mean that Elsevier’s investigation was completed in under 2 weeks, and that the “special issue” has been determined absolutely clean? Or what on Earth is happening?

    Sincerely,
    Alexander Magazinov


    Like

  5. Pingback: When I’m citing you, will you answer too? – For Better Science

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