Would you like to know how papermill business and the authorship & citations for sale market works at the scholarly publisher back-end side? How all this trash passes peer review and editorial gatekeeping?
Imagine you are a German academic, professor at a university. For some reason, you agreed to act as an editor for an MDPI special issue.
And then you received such an email from China, from “email@example.com”:
“Dear Guest Editor,
It’s presumptuous to contact you!
I’m from Chinese Mainland. I have several articles ready to be published in your special issue in the journal “Sustainability”. Can you give me some help to publish more smoothly on the topic you are responsible for?
If can, I look forward to cooperating with you.
If you are worried about the poor quality of articles, which will affect your academic reputation. Before submission, I can send the article to you for a look in advance. Only articles approved by you can be submitted.
Sorry for my bold contact again!
We look forward to your reply!
The perplexed German editor contacted me. I suggested they ask this Allen to submit a manuscript. The editor replied:
Now brace yourself, preferably while sitting down, away from sharp corners or dangerous objects. Ready for Allen’s reply?
“Dear Dr. [xxx],
Thank you for your prompt reply!
In order not to waste you too much time, I’ll speak directly. Please forgive me for any offence.
Every month, some authors want me to help publish papers in the journals which you have a special issue., so I look forward to cooperating with you.
My expected cooperation process is as follows:
1. The article will be sent to you for review before submission. Only if you think it meets the submission standard, we will let the author submit.
2. After the article has passed the preliminary review of the journal system and has arrived at you, please invite your close colleagues or classmates to serve as reviewers as soon as possible. The comments of reviewers can be friendly on the premise that they meet the quality standards.
3. After receiving the revised manuscript of the author, please review and submit your opinion on the employment of the article as soon as possible.
I believe that according to our cooperation process, we can not only ensure the quality of the article, but also help the author to publish the paper faster and more conveniently. Of course, the author will also thank you for your help. In order not to waste too much of your time, I’ll just say it. If I offend you, please accept my apology.
You will be paid US $500-800 for each paper. Or The author can also put your name to the article to increase your academic popularity, such as adding your name to the second or third author.
The above two ways of thank you are up to you
We look forward to your reply!
Allen never got to submit any manuscripts. The German editor reported the bribe attempt to his academic employer (who suggested to call the police), and to the Editor-in-Chief of this MDPI journal, Marc A. Rosen, professor of engineering at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Canada. Surely Prof Dr Rosen will crack down on the criminals trying to attack his esteemed journal and impugn its Impact Factor of 3.9?
Dream on. Prof Dr Rosen has better things to do. Like being paid by MDPI to loan his name and otherwise to stay completely out of the scam MDPI is running. Which every other academic editor at MDPI does, for example the German Editor-in-Chief at Psych whose job is to look away from the disgusting racist trash published by actual Nazis in his journal under the previous racist editor.
In 2019, MDPI published a Special Issue “Beyond Thirty Years of Research on Race Differences in Cognitive Ability”, one year later its owner Shu-Kun Lin expressed admiration for Trump and said “Black Lives Matter. White Lives Matter. All Lives Matter.”
The racist trash was at least originally written work by its actual (racist) authors. But there is little money to be made with that, and a lot of unwelcome controversy. No publisher wants to look like a bunch of racists, even MDPI whose owner Shu-kun Lin is an avid Trump fan.
But papermills on the other hand, Chinese, Iranian, Egyptian and Russian ones, these are great business partners for MDPI and its ilk, both in Open Access and subscription. Thousands of nonsense manuscripts are being churned out daily, their authorships for sale, even openly advertised on the internet, price list and all. Especially MDPI and Hindawi (now part of Wiley) became the most reliable business partners for papermills, but not only them.
Nick Wise and Alexander Magazinov on the authorships-for-sale market on social media. Merely $700 for the 7th position on some paper way outside your expertise!
“sadly, no-one could find any other evidence of existence for these festively-named individuals, who may well be Knock-Knock jokes that somehow gained sentience.” – Smut Clyde
The papermillers earn on two ends. They sell authorships of course, but they also sell citations. It costs 2200 Swiss Francs to publish in Sustainability, while the authorships are sold starting for $700 for middle positions up to several thousands of dollars for first authorships. And then there are reference brokers who may be the papermillers themselves, and who invite customers to pay a lump sum for their already published papers to be referenced at random and without any context in the manuscripts created by the papermill. On the expense side, the papermillers have to pay their scribes to assemble plagairised texts and figures (the job’s quality indictative of scribes’ low salaries), the eventual Open Access fee, and then there is a small sum to be paid to the greedy editors, just like our Allen offered. The business must be highly profitable for everyone involved: the full-service papermillers for sure, their customers converting paid authorships and citations to salaries, the corrupt academic editors taking bribes, and certainly the publishers like MDPI, Hindawi, Frontiers, but also Springer Nature and Elsevier.
Who needs science if you can have a 75 paper strong special edition by Afrand and Karimi? A guest post by Alexander Magazinov.
Now we know about the bribe system, we can imagine how serial fraudsters like Afshin Davarpanah manage to publish their nonsense papers, especially at MDPI, especially at that same MDPI journal Sustainability. Although, maybe Davarpanah (who lacks a doctorate degree but constantly sports new fictional academic affiliations) is not just a regular papermill customer, but the papermill owner, but we can only guess.
Rahmad Syah , Seyed Mehdi Alizadeh, Karina Shamilyevna Nurgalieva , John William Grimaldo Guerrero, Mahyuddin K. M. Nasution , Afshin Davarpanah , Dadan Ramdan, Ahmed Sayed M. Metwally A Laboratory Approach to Measure Enhanced Gas Recovery from a Tight Gas Reservoir during Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Injection Sustainability (2021) doi: 10.3390/su132111606
The paper is a vehicle for nonsense references to authors who paid for that.
Another PubPeer user asked:
Just hypothetically, what if Fatemeh Kamali, a former research assistant at School of Petroleum Engineering, University of New South Wales, Australia, was also offered money by someone like “Allen Tang”? Looking at her performance as editor of this special issue and this specific paper, how sure can we be she refused the offer?
The PubPeer user noted:
Rahmad Syah, Afshin Davarpanah, Mahyuddin K. M. Nasution, Faisal Amri Tanjung, Meysam Majidi Nezhad, Mehdi Nesaht A Comprehensive Thermoeconomic Evaluation and Multi-Criteria Optimization of a Combined MCFC/TEG System Sustainability (2021) doi: 10.3390/su132313187
The “author” Mahyuddin K. M. Nasution replied on PubPeer using computer-generated nonsense text:
A brief detour about Nasution to another MDPI journal:
Its references are completely nonsensical, here a fun example of how the paper starts:
Want to see the reference 2?
2. Prell, R.-E. “How do you know that I am a jew?”: Authority, cultural identity, and the shaping of postwar American Judaism. In Jewish Studies at the Crossroads and Anthropology and History: Authority, Diaspora, Tradition; University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, PA, USA, 2011; pp. 31–57
A PubPeer user noted:
“Note in addition to #1. The review history is open (thanks to MDPI). https://www.mdpi.com/2673-4060/3/3/41/review_report
There are three reviewers:
- Domingo Enrique Ribeiro-Soriano, Professor of Business Administration, Universitat de València, Spain , Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org , Researcher ID: http://www.researcherid.com/rid/G-5798-2015 ORCID: http://orcid.org/0000-0003-3222-9101
- Mr. Ricardo Costa Climent, PhD student at Department of Informatics and Media, Email: email@example.com (previous affiliation Universitat de València, Spain, possibly, undergraduate BS/MBA, no Researcher ID and ORCID found). So, both acclaimed reviewers are real and different persons. (3. The third reviewer is anonymous.)
Reviews 1 and 2 begin from the same phrase: “This is an interesting paper and I enjoyed reading it. However, there are essential weaknesses that need to be addressed.” Moreover, items no. 1 in both reviews are also the same: “1) The introductory/opening section should communicate a little clearer the literature gaps, as well as the study’s aims & objectives in order to facilitate the flow of the study.””
The alleged reviewer Ribeiro-Soriano wrote in this regard in an email:
Basically, this could mean bribe-taking editors at MDPI steal reviewer identities, simple as that. The publisher cannot care less.
Now here is another Davarparah contribution to Sustainability, which also likely got published because some “academic” editor eagerly took a bribe. We won’t point fingers here, but the guest editor of that special issue was a Dr. Sohbet Karbuz of Bilkent University Energy Policy Research Center in Turkey.
Rahmad Syah, Afshin Davarpanah, Marischa Elveny, Amir Ghasemi , Dadan Ramdan The Economic Evaluation of Methanol and Propylene Production from Natural Gas at Petrochemical Industries in Iran Sustainability (2021) doi: 10.3390/su13179990
That paper was utter nonsense also, among other things, the nonsense references were a give-away. The paper was described by PubPeer users as “a citation plantation“.
Also here, the author Rahmad Syah replied on PubPeer with a computer-generated nonsense text:
In yet another case of same Davarpanah and same MDPI Sustainability, one of the authors admitted to have been added to the “paper” without her knowledge. MDPI does not care:
Mohsen Mortazavi , Fatma Tansu Hocanın, Afshin Davarpanah Application of Quantitative Computer-Based Analysis for Student’s Learning Tendency on the Efficient Utilization of Mobile Phones during Lecture Hours Sustainability (2020) doi: 10.3390/su12208345
The coauthor Fatma Tansu Hocanın explained on PubPeer that Mohsen Mortasavi used to be her student, and added in an email:
“I received an e-mail from Mohsen on November 2020 that mentioned he has recently published the paper in Sustainability journal by modifying his thesis study according to new quantitative analysis. After I received his e-mail, I get surprised because I was not informed about the publication process before. This is because the Sustainability journal submitted the author confirmation e-mails to my EMU account (as Mohsen provided to them, I guess); which I am not using. I just had a quick check on the published paper, and I saw Afshin’s name in the paper at the first time. And, I thought that Mohsen modified the work with him. Moreover, during my quick check I realized that my affiliation is not up to date. So, I contacted with the editor via the provided e-mail by Mohsen. After discussions, the editor informed me that they cannot do any changes as it was published, so I did not go into the details of the published paper.“
You see: MDPI’s academic editor was informed of the fraud and the unapproved authorships, but refused to “do any changes“.
Davarpanah is just one of many loyal customers of the papermill-MDPI cooperation. Another example is the russian food chemist Dmitry Bokov (read about him here). For Bokov’s MDPI-related exploits in all possible research fields way outside his (official) expertise, type author:”do bokov” site:mdpi.com into Google Scholar. Here an MDPI paper where he and Davarpanah bought authorships:
Mohammad Rafe Hatshan , Sadia Aslam , Dmitry Bokov , Ahmed Jaber Ibrahim , Yasser Fakri Mustafa , Afshin Davarpanah , Marischa Elveny, Shafaqat Ali Advanced Binder-Free Electrode Based on CuCo2O4 Nanowires Coated with Polypyrrole Layer as a High-Performance Nonenzymatic Glucose Sensing Platform Coatings (2021) doi: 10.3390/coatings11121462
The paper, edited by Yingyi Zhang, Shahid Hussain and Awais Ahmad (a protege of notorious
con-man Spanish professor Rafael Luque), was another citation plantation which image data was stolen from somewhere else. Here, the papermillers erased the rightful owners’ original labellings, hence the cloned patches:
Also with this MDPI journal, the Editor-in-Chief is a white European man: Alessandro Lavacchi, of Istituto di Chimica dei Composti OrganoMetallici in Italy. His journal published also the following citation plantation “coauthored” by food chemist Bokov and another regular papermill customer, Mika Sillanpää, associate professor at the Aalto University in Finland. The guest editors was again the trio Zhang, Hussain and Ahmad.
Abduladheem Turki Jalil , Shameen Ashfaq , Dmitry Olegovich Bokov , Amer M. Alanazi , Kadda Hachem , Wanich Suksatan , Mika Sillanpää High-Sensitivity Biosensor Based on Glass Resonance PhC Cavities for Detection of Blood Component and Glucose Concentration in Human Urine Coatings (2021) doi: 10.3390/coatings11121555
It was not just nonsense citations. It was a had-drawn spectra recycled across various papers.
I have another one at MDPI Coatings. With Sillanpää, Luque and other papermill customers:
Fatemeh Rajabi, Chin Hua Chia , Mika Sillanpää , Leonid G. Voskressensky , Rafael Luque Cytosine Palladium Complex Supported on Ordered Mesoporous Silica as Highly Efficient and Reusable Nanocatalyst for One-Pot Oxidative Esterification of Aldehydes Catalysts (2021) doi: 10.3390/catal11121482
MDPI wrote to Luque:
Luque, a professor of something at the University of Cordoba, swiftly convinced the MDPI editorial office that a former collegaue of his named Saeed ran this giant conspiracy on PubPeer to discredit him and his Iranian coauthors. He threatened Saeed with a lawsuit and criminal persecution, with MDPI in cc.
“Please stop playing dumb. The easier in your situation will be to admit your misbehaving and close the case asap, for which I am willing to alleviate some of the criminal charges that I am filing against you in a court case currently in preparation.
[…] your behavior is fundamentally wrong and I expect as mentioned in my previous email an immediate public apology as well as admiting your involvement in the case, which has been very painful to Prof Rajabi and Mr Awais Ahmad in recent weeks. For sure, your behavior will not
go unpunished, I am following this up with the appropriate authorities including the police and the Intelligence service.
With very best wishes for your uncertain future”
Later on, Luque added this, again towards Saeed:
“You and your team should very soon hear from the court case with all FULL evidences and proofs that I certainly hope will end up your crime days.
You can continue flagging as many Pubpeer papers of mine and my Iranian coworkers (including profs. Rajabi, Rostamnia, Doustkhah, etc.) as you want, I will not stop until you all end up prosecuted by justice. This is a strong commitment.
If you all think you can do something to me with several flagged nonsense Pubppeers (which if any mistakes, i will be delighted to correct and even retract being the case, absolutely no problem),please feel free to continue.
The most severe of all this behaviour and crimes is that you and your Iranian colleagues are destroying the reputation of Iranian scientists and publications and this has been also flagged to the Iranian Minister of Science, Prof. Zolfigol.”
And these unhinged tirades closed the case for MDPI and Coating‘s Editor-in-Chief.
That was in May 2022. Now same Iranian government minister Mohammad Ali Zolfigol is busy sending killer squads into Iranian universities to torture and kill student protesters. But – I hear Luque exclaim – but Prof Zolfigol still remains a great scientist! Well, a bunch of his papers has been just retracted by the Royal Society of Chemistry for fraud. But don’t worry about this butcher’s papers at MDPI.
Sustainability‘s Editor-in-Chief Marc Rosen never replied to my emails. There is no point of writing to MDPI editors anyway, they are paid to look away and keep stumm. Not very ethcial, but what can you do, obviously the hefty salary of a western university professor is not enough for some.
Everyone is making money with this papermill scam of sold authorships and citations. Even you can, invite yourself as guest editor at MDPI! No qualifications needed, you don’t even need to chase after contributors, because the papermillers will find you with their offers. Just bring enough greed.
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