Nick Wise and Alexander Magazinov want to tell you about authorship-for-sale networks, where someone submits a (usually plagiarised or fabricated) paper to a journal, and then sells the co-author positions on the internet. What the sleuthing duo found are the most egregious and ridiculous cases, but even then the publishers like Elsevier, Wiley or MDPI could not care less. And why should they, it passed peer review, which was organised by a crooked editor who is paid by the authors.
Sometimes the reviewer is not a physical person, but a fake avatar created by the fraudsters selling the authorships. Like with this Frontiers paper, found by Magazinov:
Meiyi Tao , Xiaoling Yao , Shengli Sun , Yuelan Qin , Dandan Li , Juan Wu , Yican Xiong , Zhiyu Teng , Yunfei Zeng , Zuoheng Luo Correlation Analysis Between Required Surgical Indexes and Complications in Patients With Coronary Heart Disease Frontiers in Surgery (2022) doi: 10.3389/fsurg.2022.948666
The Open Access publisher kindly informs us:
Problem is, these people do not exist. Both “Hilla Mills” and “Luke Cheung” are fictional characters, who previously featured on this paper for example:
Hilla Mills , Ronald Acquah , Nova Tang , Luke Cheung, Susanne Klenk , Ronald Glassen , Magali Pirson , Alain Albert , Duong Trinh Hoang , Thang Nguyen Van Emergency Medicine with Advanced Surgery Protocols: A Review Journal of Environmental and Public Health (2022) doi: 10.1155/2022/3513250
That paper is another example of nonsense which passed peer review (in a week) via a crooked editor. As Dorothy Bishop commented on PubPeer:
“Could the academic editor Weiguo Li explain how an article with no genetics content found its way into a special issue on Application of Gene Testing for Public Health?
Reference 33 seems wrong for the context:
“Stents are employed because they have lower rates of restenosis than balloon angioplasty alone, and they also play a crucial role in the management of angioplasty-related problems .”
 A. D. Wagner, N. L. Syn, M. Moehler et al., “Chemotherapy for advanced gastric cancer,” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, vol. 8, p. CD004064, 2017.“
“I could not verify any of the authors’ identities. This exact group of authors seems to have published seven papers, on unusually wide range of medical topics, all in 2022. I have not spotted any activity of any of the authors outside this group. The ORCID profiles sometimes include articles by other researchers – for example, “Hilla Mills”‘ ORCID lists a paper by EGAH van Mill, and “Luke Cheung”‘s ORCID lists a paper by Lumei Cheung.“
Actually, it is quite likely all of this paper’s non-Vietnamese authors are fictional. The two Germans, Susanne Klenk and Ronald Glassen, have online publication records only as co-authors of Thang Nguyen Van (“Clinical Analysis Lab, Center of Bio-Medicine, Hanoi, Vietnam”), and are listed with the affiliation
Yet Glassen’s provided “institutional” email “firstname.lastname@example.org” is fictional, this RICBM does not exist, neither in Ulm nor elsewhere in Germany. It also has nothing to do with the real University Clinic Ulm, which also has a different zip-code. The clinic even confirmed to me to have never heard of these fictional employees Susanne Klenk and Ronald Glassen, yet its spokespeople seemed uninterested to approach the publishers with requests for corrections. So the scam with the made-up scientists and their fake western affiliations will continue exactly because nobody cares.
Why inventing these authors, you may wonder? First, western names and affiliations open the hearts and minds of editors usually distrustful towards papers from Asia. Second, as Magazinov suggested, these fake identities can be later used as reviewer and even editor sockpuppets to publish papers with real-life human co-authors. Who paid for this privilege. As we saw it in action with “Hilla Mills” and “Luke Cheung”, and we saw it merely because Frontiers is the only publisher to name the editors and reviewers, thanks for that. How many papers the German biomedical expert “Ronald Glassen” handled as reviewer and editor is something only the publishers will know, but not care about.https://twitter.com/nickwizzo/status/1580457285125836800?s=20&t=gxaAoV-hN4g-qVWhUWwOdw
At the end, it is about making money from crooked academics who seek to improve their publication record for career advancement. The money they pay for authorships is a valuable investment, returned many-fold via promotions and salary bonuses. The customers aren’t choosy about the topic of the “studies” they buy authorships on – their universities count the papers and impact factors, it’s the numbers which matter and not words. Which is why we get such impressive polymath expertise of Renaissance men and women on such papers. A win-win situation for everyone, including the scholarly publishers who sell Open Access options and subscriptions.
Nick Wise and Alexander Magazinov will give you a tour now.
The incredible collaborations of Renaissance men and women
By Nick Wise
There is a lot of pressure in academia to produce papers, particularly for early career researchers. Career progression and prestige is dependent on boosting your numbers, both of publications and citations, so you can increase your h-index and all the other associated metrics. Some academics in particular have responded to this pressure with extraordinary productivity.
Topping the publication number league table for 2022 so far (according to Dimensions as of 8 October 2022), if preprints and proceedings are excluded, is Viroj Wiwanitkit of Hainan Medical University in China with 461, well ahead of Francesco Montorsi of San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, Italy, in 2nd place with 296, and there are dozens of people with over 100. However, I want to highlight some authors who, whilst having published only 1 or 2 papers a week on average, have become modern-day Renaissance men and women, collaborating to tackle problems from across a wide range of scientific disciplines.
Take for example this masterpiece in Elsevier’s Journal of Molecular Liquids:
Raed Obaid Saleh , Dmitry Olegovich Bokov , Mohammed N. Fenjan , Walid Kamal Abdelbasset , Usama S. Altimari , Abduladheem Turki Jalil , Lakshmi Thangavelu , Wanich Suksatan , Yan Cao, Application of aluminum nitride nanotubes as a promising nanocarriers for anticancer drug 5-aminosalicylic acid in drug delivery system, Journal of Molecular Liquids, (2022) doi: 10.1016/j.molliq.2022.118676.
I am all for interdisciplinary collaboration and international cooperation, but it is hard to imagine what expertise academics of physical therapy and nursing would bring to this work.
Likewise, here is another Elsevier publication, in Arabian Journal of Chemistry:
Gang Zhao , Mostafa Hooman , Mahdireza Yarigarravesh , Mohammed Algarni , Maria Jade Catalan Opulencia , Fahad Alsaikhan , Abduladheem Turki Jalil , Abdullah Mohamed , Kareem M.AboRas , Md. Lutfor Rahman , Mohd Sani Sarjadi, Vibration analysis of size dependent micro FML cylindrical shell reinforced by CNTs based on modified couple stress theory, Arabian Journal of Chemistry, (2022) doi: 10.1016/j.arabjc.2022.104115.
How is an academic in business administration contributing to this work, which also happens to contain very little chemistry for a paper in a chemistry journal?
In MDPI’s Nanomaterials, there is
Hussein M Taqi Al-Najjar , Jasim M Mahdi, Dmitry Olegovich Bokov, Nidhal Ben Khedher , Naif Khalaf Alshammari , Maria Jade Catalan Opulencia , Moram A Fagiry , Wahiba Yaïci , Pouyan Talebizadehsardari Improving the Melting Duration of a PV/PCM System Integrated with Different Metal Foam Configurations for Thermal Energy Management, Nanomaterials, (2022) DOI: 10.3390/nano12030423
And one of my favourites, in Wiley’s Aquaculture Research:
Hafsan Hafsan, Dmitry Bokov , Walid Kamal Abdelbasset , Mustafa M. Kadhim , Wanich Suksatan , Hasan Sh. Majdi , Gunawan Widjaja , Abduladheem Turki Jalil , Maytham T. Qasim , Mahboubeh Balvardi, Dietary Dracocephalum kotschyi essential oil improved growth, haematology, immunity and resistance to Aeromonas hydrophila in rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), Aquaculture Research, (2022) doi: 10.1111/are.15829
As with all of these papers, it is hard to imagine how the authors came to collaborate. People from different countries publish together all the time of course, but how are authors from completely different disciplines and countries meeting and deciding to work together?
This question brings us to the second reason why I am writing about this group. For, as well as frequent collaborations on papers outside of their disciplines, they are also unfortunate enough to be authors on papers for which authorship has previously been advertised on Facebook. As it may have happened to a highly prolific professor in Nottingham:
Nuttingham Trash University
“I will not by myself, or be instructing or encouraging any other person or howsoever othewise, publish or cause to be published words or otherwise howsoever make statements to others which wrongfully refer to Nottingham Trent University and/or their employees and for any person or any body associated with Nottingham Trent University”
It may come as a surprise to learn that there is a thriving marketplace for the authorship of scientific papers on Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram (you can also buy book chapters, patents, bulk citations and anything else you might need to boost your academic career). The sale of authorships is obviously against the terms and conditions of every publisher, but unlike other forms of research misconduct it is very difficult to prove wrongdoing by reading the paper. Plagiarism by paraphrasing gives itself away by tortured phrases and nonsense text, image manipulation can be caught by careful examination of the images, and data forgery by statistical analysis. By contrast, selling authorship leaves no trace in the paper, only unlikely collaborations if the buyers aren’t fussy about the subject matter of their publications. Indeed, the paper could be of excellent quality, though if you’re prepared to sell authorship you may also be prepared to commit other misdeeds.
Below follows a selection of papers from the 90 or so I have found so far which have been advertised on Facebook.
Saade Abdalkareem Jasim , Moaed E. Al-Gazally , Walid Kamal Abdelbasset , Preeti Pradhan , Dmitry Olegovich Bokov , Mohammed Mustafa Abdulkadhm , Mustafa M. Kadhim , Usama S. Altimari , Mohaimen Al-Thamir , Lakshmi Thangavelu , Yasser Fakri Mustafa , Abdullah Hasan Jabbar , Sami Sajjadifar, Role of Alloying Composition on the Nanomechanical Behavior of Amorphous Nanolaminates, Chinese Physics B, (2022) doi: 10.1088/1674-1056/ac785d.
This poster is responsible for most of the cases where I have been able to match the advert with a published paper, because they are kind enough to include the title. We also see other features of such adverts: the impact factor (higher = more money), the indexing of the journal, the status of the paper, and that the price increases the higher the position in the author list.
The next finding already featured Alexander Magaznov’s post about a Herr Prof Dr Sauer and his Elsevier journal:
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.
Arif Sari , Walid Kamal Abdelbasset , Himanshu Sharma , Maria Jade Catalan Opulencia , Mahrad Feyzbaxsh , Azher M. Abed , Shaymaa Abed Hussein , Bashar S. Bashar , Ali Thaeer Hammid , A.S. Prakaash , Khusniddin Fakhriddinovich Uktamov, A novel combined power generation and argon liquefaction system; investigation and optimization of energy, exergy, and entransy phenomena, Journal of Energy Storage, (2022) doi: 10.1016/j.est.2022.104613.
Here the seller has obscured some of the words in the title but it’s not too tricky to fill in the blanks. We also see that the paper is advertised as revised, i.e. the paper has been submitted, the reviewers’ comments have come back, and the revisions have been made. The paper states that it was submitted on the 14th of January and the revised version submitted on the 4th of April, perfectly aligning with the advert being placed on the 16th of March.
Saade Abdalkareem Jasim , Walid Kamal Abdelbasset , Rustem Adamovich Shichiyakh , Sarmad Ghazi Al‐Shawi , Ghulam Yasin , Abduladheem Turki Jalil , Yasir Salam Karim , Yasser Fakri Mustafa , Maryam Norbakhsh, Probiotic effects of the fungi, Aspergillus niger on growth, immunity, haematology, intestine fungal load and digestive enzymes of the common carp, Cyprinus carpio, Aquaculture Research, (2022) doi: 10.1111/are.15890.
Another paper in aquaculture research where 9 researchers with no previous interest in fish-farming have decided to collaborate. In common with the Aquaculture Research paper I mentioned earlier, the ethical approval simply states that ‘All applicable international, national and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed’, without specifying the institution or nation, contrary to the ethical policies of the journal.
Nguyen Dinh Trung , Dinh Tran Ngoc Huy , Maria Jade Catalan Opulencia , Holya A. Lafta , Azher M. Abed , Dmitry Olegovich Bokov , Kahramon Shomurodov , Hoang Van Thuc Master , Ali Thaeer Hammid , Ehsan Kianfar, Conductive Gels: Properties and Applications of Nanoelectronics, Nanoscale Research Letters, (2022). doi: 10.1186/s11671-022-03687-3
Again, the advert says that the paper is revised and ready to be resubmitted. The paper states that it was submitted on the 5th of September 2021 and accepted on the 20th of April. That authors were added after submission is also suggested by an intriguing comment under ‘Ethics approval and consent to participate’:
Well, we wouldn’t want professional ethics in research issues to be compromised.
The list of affiliations is particularly eclectic, even for this genre. It is incredible that this didn’t ring alarm bells for an editor who was already questioning the addition of authors after submission.
In common with most of these papers, the authors complete the authorship contribution statement:
It is surprising that four authors contributed to the experimental studies, as this is a review paper with no original experiments.
The publication numbers for the highlighted authors of the papers above are below.
- Dmitry Olegovich Bokov, Associate Professor at the Institute of Pharmacy, I.M. Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University. According to Dimensions, his publications per year are as follows: 2017 – 1, 2018 – 3, 2019 – 15, 2020 – 17, 2021 – 42, 2022 – 95.
- Walid Kamal Abdelbasset, Associate Professor of Physical Therapy at Prince Sattam bin Abdulaziz University, Saudi Arabia. His publications per year are: pre-2019 – 12, 2019 – 10, 2020 – 30, 2021 – 55, 2022 – 92.
- Wanich Suksatan, lecturer at the Faculty of Nursing, HRH Princess Chulabhorn College of Medical Science, Chulabhorn Royal Academy, Bangkok. He is also a researcher at the Trudy Busch Valentine School of Nursing, Saint Louis University, USA. Publications: 2020 – 1, 2021 – 53, 2022 – 81.
- Lakshmi Prasanth Thangavelu, Head of Faculty and Dean of International Affairs at Saveetha Institute of Medical and Technical Sciences, Saveetha University. Publications: pre-2019 – 7, 2019 – 7, 2020 – 9, 2021 – 70, 2022 – 66.
- Abduladheem Turki Jalil, a PhD student in biology at Yanka Kupala State University of Hrodna, Belarus. Publications: 2020 – 2, 2021 – 14, 2022 – 74.
- Maria Jade Catalan Opulencia, Assistant Professor of Management at Ajman University of Science and Technology, UAE. Publications: 2015 – 3, 2019 – 1, 2022 – 46.
The existence of these papers and their accompanying adverts demonstrates many problems with academic publishing and academia more broadly. It is incredible that none of the editors or peer reviewers of these papers thought it odd that economists and dentists were collaborating on nanoscience, or physical therapists and lawyers on aquaculture. That they did not think this suspicious suggests, at best, a lack of awareness of the potential for the abuse of the publishing process in this way and, at worst, corruption. Authorship credit statements do nothing to prevent authors from claiming credit for things they didn’t do if all the authors are in on it.
These papers only exist because of the pressure on academics to increase their metrics in order to get promotions, positions and funding. I doubt that anyone would spend $700 to be the 7th author on a paper outside of their discipline if they didn’t feel like they had to. It is also sobering to think that it is only because of the public adverts and incredibly unlikely collaborations that the possible sale of authorship can be identified. Without an advert, and if the authors were more selective in the topic of the paper, nothing would seem out of place. I do not know how the sale of authorships can be prevented; while academics are judged on their publication numbers then there will always be demand.
Afterword by Alexander Magazinov
Nick has said all the important words, but I have a modest addition. If we look past all these Bokovs, Opulencias, Turki Jalils and Abdelbassets, perhaps we can spot some very familiar characters running the show? Okay, here you go.
What do we have here, my friends?
Haiying Zhang , Xiujun Nie , Dmitry Olegovich Bokov , Davood Toghraie , Omid Ali Akbari , Farnaz Montazerifar , Farzad Pourfattah , Yousof Esmaeili , Roohollah Khodaparast, Numerical study of mixed convection and entropy generation of Water-Ag nanofluid filled semi-elliptic lid-driven cavity, Alexandria Engineering Journal, (2022) doi: 10.1016/j.aej.2022.02.028.
Here’s our new pharmacist friend Dmitry Bokov cooperating with our old buddy Davood Toghraie of Islamic Azad University Khomeini Shahr in Iran. Davood is not disappointing us here, that’s what he loves to do and is doing every time:
Probably Hebatallah Teamah needed a few citations for promotion. Or to move from her current affiliation at Algonquin College Center for Construction Excellence, Ottawa, Canada to some other low-grade Western institution, where everything that matters in your application is raw numbers of publications and citations. Or whatever. So Toghraie and friends pretend that these studies are about heat transfer in cavities, never mind this is too far from the truth.
Going further, how about this one?
Awais Ahmad , Afshin Davarpanah , Lakshmi Thangavelu , Dmitry Olegovich Bokov , Razan A. Alshgari , Abdulnasser Mahmoud Karami, Self-assembled pine-like CuCo/CP configuration as efficient electrocatalysts toward electrochemical water splitting, Journal of Molecular Liquids, (2022) doi: 10.1016/j.molliq.2022.118635.
Here, a Renaissance man Bokov and a Renaissance woman Thangavelu join their forces with…
Afshin Davarpanah, whose PubPeer record is telling, but there are more stories to be told about him. One story is the use of fake affiliations (Cordoba, Medan, Luleå). The other is multiple editorial positions (Geofluids – Hindawi, Processes – MDPI, Energy Reports – Elsevier, not counting those with even more predatory publishers) occupied even without a degree. A brief summary is offered by a collage below.
On the same paper from Journal of Molecular Liquids, there is yet another interesting character, Awais Ahmad. As an extra bit of irony, there are two persons under that name known to PubPeer, one is our chemist with affiliations in Pakistan and Spain, another is an AI phrase-torturer with South Korean and Italian affiliations.
Actually, this is our Ahmad who tried to defend the paper in a 26-post-long PubPeer thread. To my taste, he wasn’t very convincing.
But you know what, Awais Ahmad the chemist is one of the favourite students of a certain Rafael Luque from Cordoba in Spain!
And – oops! – there is Luque himself joining forces with Bokov to produce something monumental:
Indah Raya , Awais Ahmad , Ayad F. Alkaim , Dmitry Bokov , Enas R. Alwaily , Rafael Luque , Mabkhoot Alsaiari , Mohammed Jalalah, Synthesis, Characterization and Photodegradation Studies of Copper Oxide–Graphene Nanocomposites, Coatings, (2021) doi: 10.3390/coatings11121452.
I could go on and on, but it’s tiresome. Now to my point: this madness is a product of a very familiar network. This fraud network is rather old, but has grown substantially in the last few years expanding on all fronts: permanent editorial positions, corrupt editors, special issues, citations, friendly peer-review. This is all the same freaking network I wrote about in my previous posts!
Wiley: Committed to integrity? Get out!
“We have initiated post-acceptance peer review with independent reviewers… ” – Wiley.
Despite all the apparent multinationality, it is crystal clear where the core of this network is situated: in one Islamic Republic just to the south of the Caspian sea, currently busy with beating women to death to protect its morality. Hey editor, by accepting yet another piece of this garbage you might have helped funnel a few thousand bucks into Iran. Those bucks may well end up in yet another Shahed drone about to explode in Ukraine. You don’t care, I know.
Scholarly publishing and academia are a cloaca maxima. Will the day come when thousands of crooks will be kicked in the butt? Will the day come when thousands of journal titles will be erased by publishers? Will the day come when thousands of phony universities will be shut down? It’s time for a clean up.
From time to time, yet another thought pops up in my head. What are the chances that some IRGC operatives disguised as academics are going to move or have already moved to Western countries based on CVs full of milled papers?
Would estimate pretty slim at the moment. However, the CCP operatives are everywhere, editorials, academics, both tenure, temporary and student positions. To remind the collaborative effort from not so long ago published here :
Identifying all these authors proved to be impossible, so now we have ORCID.
Nice work you two (and Leonid).
A modest suggestion to publishers caring for the integrity of the scientific literature (and reputation damage). Collect the names listed in this eye-opening post, search though the logs of your editorial managers, and reassess any paper ever touched by these scammers (i.e., edited, guest edited, authored, reviewed). Go public with the outcomes of your investigations.
Come on, use the APCs some of these customers paid (unless… waivers) to run a decent decontamination operation.
What is the publishers’ motivation to do this? I am serious.
Universities could, theoretically, offer a mild encouragement to the publishers: either you clean up your mess, or GTFO with your OA/subscription deals.
But being a realist, I don’t believe this scenario is going to materialize. At least not before universities start to get not-so-mild encouragements from intelligence services. That, too, might happen too late.
Meanwhile, Khusnuddin Fakhriddinovich Uktamov, the economist from Uzbekistan who took part in the Journal of Energy storage paper from this post (and my earlier one) scooped a retraction in SciRep: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-22500-w (h/t Smut Clyde via Nick).
I think Uktamov’s thing in Sauer’s journal is still safe, at least for the time being.
Also, Toghraie’s things in SciRep aren’t very likely to be threatened, beyond the already posted “Expressions of Concern” – hope Leonid forgives me for sharing the RW post, https://retractionwatch.com/2022/07/19/papers-in-scientific-reports-and-their-expressions-of-concern-raise-questions/
I have nothing against referencing Retraction Watch, I do it myself. I have a problem with RW being credited for my work, but apparently there is a wider expert agreement out there on this topic 😉
Now Awais Ahmad has been caught “representing the values of @383Fqm,” by inserting citations to himself in a paper which he edited (not authored!)
See also the PubPeer record of one co-author Shafaqat Ali, https://pubpeer.com/search?q=authors%3A%22shafaqat+ali%22
Also his Dimensions record, of yet another Renaissance man, https://app.dimensions.ai/discover/publication?search_mode=content&and_facet_researcher=ur.011150277503.09
Not without Davarpanah and Bokov, surprise-surprise, https://doi.org/10.3390/coatings11121462
And here’s the funny thing: all three Shafaqat’s works in PLoS ONE suffered a retraction, https://app.dimensions.ai/discover/publication?and_facet_source_title=jour.1037553&and_facet_researcher=ur.011150277503.09&viz-st:aggr=mean
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