Academic Publishing paper mills

When I’m citing you, will you answer too?

What do moth pheromones on one side have to do with cancer research, petrochemistry, materials science, e-commerce, psychology, forestry and gynaecology on the other? They are separated by just one citation!

This is an insane story and a seemingly unresolvable mystery of how one short paper about animal communication and insect pheromones ended up inappropriately cited over 700 times, mostly by obvious papermill products. And about European scientists who claim to have made a mistake, but are unable to explain how the mistake could’ve happened exactly.

A whole investigator team is presently working to solve this mystery: Alexander Magazinov (who greatly helped write this article), Maarten van Kampen, Guillaume Cabanac and others. And we still don’t really know what exactly happened.

This was the hijacked paper:

Neil J. Vickers Animal Communication: When I’m Calling You, Will You Answer Too? Current Biology (2017) doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.05.064

Its summary was:

“Male moths compete to arrive first at a female releasing pheromone. A new study reveals that additional pheromone cues released only by younger females may prompt males to avoid them in favor of older but more fecund females.”

Basically, an editorial to summarize the findings of another paper just published in the same journal issue. Usually, written by the journal editors or that paper’s peer reviewers. Because it was an editorial, and not original research or a literature review, the paper was not really cited: just once, in 2019, by a study about moth pheromones. And then suddenly something crazy happened: 69 citations in 2020, 250 citations in 2021, 394 citations (and growing) for 2022, and already some citations for the next year 2023. None of these currently 719 papers has anything to do with animal communications, insects, or pheromones.

Here for example, the earliest papers to cite Vickers 2017 (from Dimensions):

Alexander Magazinov stumbled upon one such citation and then kept finding more and more, recognising the names of the most prolific papermill customers, people who made their entire academic careers by buying authorships on fabricated pseudo-studies from papermills. Like the Iranian professor Masoud Afrand and his colleague at the Queen Mary University of London, Nader Karimi (about whom Magazinov wrote here), publishing in Elsevier:

Saeed Aghakhani , Ahmadreza Ghaffarkhah, Mohammad Arjmand , Nader Karimi , Masoud Afrand Phase change materials: Agents towards energy performance improvement in inclined, vertical, and horizontal walls of residential buildings Journal of Building Engineering (2022) doi: 10.1016/j.jobe.2022.104656 

“The range of solid-phase transfer to PCM liquid is 1 ◦ C, according to Refs. [41–44].”

The reference 41 was Vickers 2017.

From there, Magazinov moved to Awais Ahmad, a Spain-based mentee of the University of Cordoba professor and papermill customer Rafael Luque (whom we wrote about here). Here are Awais and other buyers at MDPI (where the editor was likely bribed by the papermill):

M. Sharmila , R. Jothi Mani , Abdul Kader , Awais Ahmad , Gaber E. Eldesoky, Adel E. M. Yahya, Aboud Ahmed Awadh Bahajjaj Photocatalytic and Biological Activity of ZnO Nanoparticles Using Honey Coatings (2021) doi: 10.3390/coatings11091046

“The diameter of the inhibition zone of ZnO nanoparticles against E. coli bacteria was 71% that of the control treatment [40,41].”

The reference 41 was Vickers 2017.

Afrand of course acted as guest editor on special issues where his function was most likely to take bribes from papermills. Like for publishing this trash in Prof Dirk-Uwe Sauer’s Elsevier journal, which featured as customer Grzegorz Krolczyk, vice-rector for science in Politechnika Opolska in Poland:

Xinrui Qi , Jianmei Wang , Grzegorz Królczyk, Paolo Gardoni , Zhixiong Li Sustainability analysis of a hybrid renewable power system with battery storage for islands application Journal of Energy Storage (2022) doi: 10.1016/j.est.2022.104682

“Zyoud et al. [25] designed a recycling charging method using the combination of constant-voltage, constant-current and pulse charging technologies for the independent PV system using lead batteries in the Levant region. This technology combined traditional charging technology with new charging technology and can prevent battery aging, repair the aging battery and increase battery life [26–33].”

The reference 30 was Vickers 2017.

Magazinov kept encountering his old papermill acquaintances from all over the world. Like the Romanian professor Simona Bungau and her Indian co-author Tapan Behl, here at MDPI:

Tapan Behl , Aditi Sharma , Lalit Sharma , Aayush Sehgal , Sukhbir Singh , Neelam Sharma , Gokhan Zengin , Simona Bungau , Mirela Marioara Toma , Daniela Gitea , Elena Emilia Babes , Claudia Teodora Judea Pusta , Adrian Gheorghe Bumbu Current Perspective on the Natural Compounds and Drug Delivery Techniques in Glioblastoma Multiforme Cancers (2021) doi: 10.3390/cancers13112765 

“Indeed, p53 leads to both antioxidant and oxidant gene expression, thereby its role in regulating ROS is controversial. Moderately increased levels of ROS block p53, while elevated levels induce its expression. The p53 targets are sestrins that promote the peroxiredoxins activity, upregulating the cellular levels of antioxidants [98,99].”

The reference 99 was Vickers 2017.

Bungau was caught via “tortured phrases” in her papers, which is a sign of stolen text disguised by back-and forth machine translation, originally established as plagiarism detection tool by Guillaume Cabanac, Cyril Labbé and Alexander Magazinov. Bungau and Behl are regular coauthors of a certain Md. Sahab Uddin, who was exposed as plagiarist and consequently kicked out from his PhD position in Hong Kong.

It is clear that many of the nonsense citations to Vickers 2017 were introduced by papermills, from tortured works like these, of course at Hindawi:

Amal Alqahtani Application of Artificial Intelligence in Discovery and Development of Anticancer and Antidiabetic Therapeutic Agents Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2022) doi: 10.1155/2022/6201067 

“In terms of cell sorting, the machine must be quick in separating the desired type of cell from of the particular set. Image-activated cell sorting (IACS) appears to become the most advanced technology for measuring the visual, electrical, and mechanical characteristics of cells [132]”

The reference 132 was Vickers 2017.

Cyclotron Branch, Before the Fall

“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 text of this “peer reviewed” Hindawi paper is utterly incomprehencible because it is completely plagiarised (e.g. from Linton-Reid, 2020), evident by badly tortured phrases.

Or how about Dmitry Bokov, a russian food chemist and another polymath Renaissance man, of the kind which bought all of their authorships from papermills. Here a paper with the Royal Society of Chemistry:

Supat Chupradit , Saade Abdalkareem Jasim , Dmitry Bokov , Mustafa Z. Mahmoud , Ali B. Roomi , Kadda Hachem , Mohammad Rudiansyah , Wanich Suksatan , Ramtin Bidares Recent advances in biosensor devices for HER-2 cancer biomarker detection Analytical Methods (2022) doi: 10.1039/d2ay00111j 

“Self-assembled monolayers (SAMs) can function as screen-printed electrodes (SPE) in electrochemical sensors to prepare an oriented and organized layer for various applications [44].”

The reference 44 was Vickers 2017.

The most notorious research fraudsters and papermill customers were spotted referencing Vickers’ moths. The Turkish associate professor Ali Zarrabi published no less than 7 cancer research nonsense papers citing Vickers 2017. Or

Here, Ahmed Shalan, the one-man papermill of materials science:

Reza Eivazzadeh-Keihan , Ehsan Bahojb Noruzi , Sarah Fattahi Mehrban , Hooman Aghamirza Moghim Aliabadi , Meghdad Karimi , Adibeh Mohammadi , Ali Maleki , Mohammad Mahdavi , Bagher Larijani , Ahmed Esmail Shalan Review: the latest advances in biomedical applications of chitosan hydrogel as a powerful natural structure with eye-catching biological properties Journal of Materials Science (2022) doi: 10.1007/s10853-021-06757-6 

The reference 113 was Vickers 2017.

Here, the papermill tricksters Amir Mosavi and Shahaboddin Shamshirband spotted:

Bahman Najafi , Farid Haghighatshoar , Sina Ardabili , Shahab S. Band, Kwok Wing Chau , Amir Mosavi Effects of low-level hydroxy as a gaseous additive on performance and emission characteristics of a dual fuel diesel engine fueled by diesel/biodiesel blends Engineering Applications of Computational Fluid Mechanics (2021) doi: 10.1080/19942060.2021.1871960 

“The cost of producing hydrogen must be reduced to the use of water electrolysis. Also, the durability, reliability, and safety of the system must be increased (Vickers, 2017; Yadav Milind et al., 2011).”

What can decorate that eternally idiotic curcumin-nanoparticle quackery better than some nonsense references? Thank you, MDPI:

Priti Tagde , Pooja Tagde , Fahadul Islam , Sandeep Tagde , Muddaser Shah , Zareen Delawar Hussain , Md. Habibur Rahman , Agnieszka Najda , Ibtesam S. Alanazi , Mousa O. Germoush , Hanan R. H. Mohamed , Mardi M. Algandaby , Mohammed Z. Nasrullah , Natalia Kot , Mohamed M. Abdel-Daim The Multifaceted Role of Curcumin in Advanced Nanocurcumin Form in the Treatment and Management of Chronic Disorders Molecules (2021) doi: 10.3390/molecules26237109

“Curcumin micelles may be beneficial in the treatment of lung cancer, according to the findings in [137]. Chang et al. [138] investigated the cell uptake, intracellular localization, and cytotoxicity of different sizes of curcumin encapsulated micelles on human colon cancer cells in vitro. Their findings showed that smaller curcumin-loaded micelles had a greater possibility for inducing cytotoxicity in human colon cancer cells than larger micelles. As a result, drug loading, micelle size, and uptake/release kinetics are all critical factors to consider when it comes to nanoparticle drug delivery [139].”

The reference 139 was Vickers 2017.

Magazinov found russian trash science (in russian!) referencing Vickers 2017, eg. a clinical paper on “prognostic medicine”, a Russian Medical Journal paper about Parkinson’s Disease, a Kremlin Medicine (sic!) paper on “ceramic materials for non-metal restorations”, or another russian-language paper but by an all-Iranian (!) team of authors, in the russian journal Petrochemistry.

But do not think it is just Asian folks like Persians, Chinese, Indians, Pakistani and russians who buy authorships from papermills. Follow the animal calls to Europe!

Here, an all-Spanish researcher team from Escuela Politécnica Superior in Sevilla, at MDPI

Estefanía Álvarez-Castillo , Manuel Felix , Carlos Bengoechea , Antonio Guerrero Proteins from Agri-Food Industrial Biowastes or Co-Products and Their Applications as Green Materials Foods (2021) doi: 10.3390/foods10050981

“Moreover, plant nutrients may also be entrapped within superabsorbent matrices for their controlled release, hindering the water losses due to evaporation, and reducing the irrigation [379].”

The reference 379 was Vickers 2017.

Why so many references? Well, papermills make a large part of their income from selling citations!

Here another Spanish professor, Gorka Orive of the University of the Basque Country in Spain, joined by many Iranians and the Harvard researcher Aaron Goldman of Brigham And Women’s Hospital:

Sepideh Mirzaei , Mohammad Hossein Gholami , Farid Hashemi , Amirhossein Zabolian , Mahdi Vasheghani Farahani , Kiavash Hushmandi , Ali Zarrabi , Aaron Goldman , Milad Ashrafizadeh , Gorka Orive Advances in understanding the role of P-gp in doxorubicin resistance: Molecular pathways, therapeutic strategies, and prospects Drug Discovery Today (2022) doi: 10.1016/j.drudis.2021.09.020

“Multidrug resistance (MDR) challenges the efficacy of chemotherapy and can drive the resistance of cancer cells to numerous chemotherapeutic agents that are structurally and mechanistically different [6].”

The reference 6 was Vickers 2017.

Recently, Orive teamed out with none other but the scamference fraudster Ashutosh Tiwari, having previously collaborated with the serial cheater in Madrid, Eva Carro (18 papers on PubPeer), who was mentioned here:

The Indefatigable Ashutosh Tiwari

Four years after Ashutosh Tiwari’s scamferences and research fraud were exposed, his impressive-sounding yet fictional “International Association of Advanced Materials”, or IAAM, still opens doors, hearts and wallets.

And here another Spanish researcher joined forces with the Tiwari-associate Sachin Mishra and the papermill trickster Saman Sargazi, with this result:

Mahtab Razlansari , Fulden Ulucan-Karnak , Masoud Kahrizi , Shekoufeh Mirinejad , Saman Sargazi , Sachin Mishra , Abbas Rahdar, Ana M. Díez-Pascual Nanobiosensors for detection of opioids: A review of latest advancements European Journal of Pharmaceutics and Biopharmaceutics (2022) doi: 10.1016/j.ejpb.2022.08.017

“A similar type of sensor was also developed to detect papaverine and morphine by employing a Column-based immunoaffinity approach [122].”

The reference 122 was Vickers 2017.

Since we mentioned Tiwari, here is from his own Linköping University in Sweden:

Anan Ashrabi Ananno , Mahadi Hasan Masud , Peter Dabnichki , Mosarrat Mahjabeen , Sami Ahbab Chowdhury Survey and analysis of consumers’ behaviour for electronic waste management in Bangladesh Journal of Environmental Management (2021) doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2021.111943 

“In the developing countries, imported e-waste is currently disposed of by i) selling to the second-hand market at a fair price (Ongondo et al., 2011); ii) giving it away to family and friends or donating these products to different organisations (Vickers, 2017) and iii) selling it to eco-friendly organisations to carry out recycling processes.”

Here, a US professor at prestigious Tufts University, Jennifer Parent-Nichols, joined three Iranian “authors” in publishing in russian journal:

Sanaz Faraji , Mahboubeh Ghayour Najafabadi , Hassan Gharayagh Zandi , Jennifer Parent-Nichols Water-Based Exercise Therapy And Improvement In The Motor Skills And Cognitive Function Of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Commentary Russian Open Medical Journal (2022) doi: 10.15275/rusomj.2022.0112

“Some previous studies reported positive effects of general exercise training on the motor, cognitive, and behavioral function of children with ASD [25,38].”

The reference 38 was Vickers 2017.

Nichols did not reply to email inquiries. But she sent her esteemed University of Tehran colleague Najafabadi to place this bizarre comment on PubPeer:

this reference showed play with ever methods such as animal can effect on factors related to children with ASD

Papermill scam aside, is this OK with Tufts and NIH, a US-American professor of paediatrics joining Iranians (sic!) to support russia, the fascist regime which leads a war of aggression, terror and genocide against Ukraine?

Or how about a scientist at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Rajender S. Varma? A Taylor & Francis paper:

Pejman Ghaffari-Bohlouli , Hafez Jafari , Nayere Taebnia , Ali Abedi , Armin Amirsadeghi , Seyyed Vahid Niknezhad , Houman Alimoradi , Sina Jafarzadeh , Mahta Mirzaei , Lei Nie , Jianye Zhang , Rajender S. Varma , Amin Shavandi Protein by-products: Composition, extraction, and biomedical applications Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition (2022) doi: 10.1080/10408398.2022.2067829 

“Sericin is made up of 18 amino acids, 70% of which are hydrophilic with an isoelectric point of around 4, allowing it to absorb considerable amounts of water while remaining partially soluble (Vickers 2017).”

“Step two involves breaking the disulfide bonds with a chemical that are classified as oxidative, reductive, and sulphitolysis based on their reaction mechanism (Vickers 2017).”

It probably won’t surprise you that Varma’s bad science network includes Radek Zboril from the Palacky University at Olomouc, Czechia. In fact, Varma even lists this Czech affiliation on the above paper.

A British scholar, assistant professor Cain Clark of Coventry University, became second-to-last author on an all-Iranian masterpiece:

Niloufar Rasaei , Rasool Ghaffarian-Ensaf , Farideh Shiraseb , Faezeh Abaj , Fatemeh Gholami , Cain C. T. Clark , Khadijeh Mirzaei The association between Healthy Beverage Index and psychological disorders among overweight and obese women: a cross-sectional study BMC Women s Health (2022) doi: 10.1186/s12905-022-01870-3 

“Animal studies have shown that sugar could increase depression incidence by activating the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and inducing elevation in glucocorticoids [60].”

The reference 60 was Vickers 2017.

One such Animal Call paper was already retracted, by Springer. It’s useless now for its last author and PhD graduate in Warsaw, Poland, with her career advancement.

Kai Wang , Rashed Qayoom Shawl , Rahul Neware , Justyna Dylik Research on immersive interactive experience of content e-commerce live users in the era of computer digital marketing International Journal of System Assurance Engineering and Management (2021) doi: 10.1007/s13198-021-01310-9 

Vickers 2017 is in the reference list, but not mentioned in the main text of the retracted paper. The retraction notice from September 2022 stated:

“The Editor-in-Chief and the publisher have retracted this article. The article was submitted to be part of a guest-edited issue. An investigation by the publisher found a number of articles, including this one, with a number of concerns, including but not limited to compromised editorial handling and peer review process, inappropriate or irrelevant references or not being in scope of the journal or guest-edited issue. Based on the investigation’s findings the Editor-in-Chief therefore no longer has confidence in the results and conclusions of this article.

The authors have not responded to correspondence regarding this retraction.”

And here is another retraction, as it happens also for a Polish scholar:

Mariusz Książek Application of sulfur waste in biomaterials Composites Part B: Engineering (2021) doi: 10.1016/j.compositesb.2021.108848 

“Generally speaking, the fight against corrosion comes down to the surface protection of the metal implant, which significantly extends its failure-free life [4,6,38]”

The reference 38 was Vickers 2017.

The retraction notice from July 2021 mentioned:

“After a thorough investigation, the Editor has concluded that the acceptance of this article was based upon the positive advice of one illegitimate reviewer report. The report was submitted from an email account which was provided to the journal as a suggested reviewer during the submission of the article. Although purportedly a real reviewer account, the Editor has concluded that this was not of an appropriate, independent reviewer.”

Maybe it’s relevant that Mariusz Ksiazek of the Building Research Institute Wroclaw-Warsaw is a serial fraudster who had already TEN such one-author publications retracted. He can go complain to his untrusty papermill and demand his money back now.

The Vickers reference pops up in unexpected places. Like Frontiers, world’s bestest OA publisher, how could they fall for papermills, ever? (sarcasm). Scientists from the Netherlands and Italy:

Letizia Alvino , Luigi Pavone , Abhishta Abhishta , Henry Robben Picking Your Brains: Where and How Neuroscience Tools Can Enhance Marketing Research Frontiers in Neuroscience (2020) doi: 10.3389/fnins.2020.577666

“The synchronized virtual reality (VR) environment of GRAIL immerses participants in a virtual scenario that reproduces real-life situations, while researchers can monitor participants’ cognitive and behavioral phenomena using different types of tools. VR has been demonstrated to contribute to enhancing consumer experience and customer interactivity by directly impacting the users’ sensory elements (Vrechopoulos et al., 2009; Bigne et al., 2016; Vickers, 2017).”

Our investigative team tags the authors on PubPeer and now even sends personal emails to the corresponding authors. Sometimes the authors even answer to calls.

Fatima Y. Noureddine , Raffaele Altara , Fan Fan , Andriy Yabluchanskiy , George W. Booz, Fouad A. Zouein Impact of the Renin–Angiotensin System on the Endothelium in Vascular Dementia: Unresolved Issues and Future Perspectives International Journal of Molecular Sciences (2020) doi: 10.3390/ijms21124268 

“The blood–brain barrier (BBB) is a protective border that supports selective exchange between circulating blood and the extracellular fluid of the central nervous system. The barrier properties of the endothelial cells comprising the BBB depend on the expression of tight junction proteins between adjacent cells. The BBB is considered part of the neurovascular unit (NVU) whose function is to couple cerebral blood flow to neuronal demands (neurovascular coupling) [3].”

The reference 3 was Vickers 2017.

So how did George Booz, full professor of cardiology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in USA explain on PubPeer what happened? That’s how:

We apologize for the confusion. The reference is not correct; however, the statement is.

That was it.

But in Germany, the corresponding author was a bit more communicative.

Mohsen Taghizadeh , Ali Taghizadeh , Mohsen Khodadadi Yazdi , Payam Zarrintaj , Florian J. Stadler, Joshua D. Ramsey , Sajjad Habibzadeh , Somayeh Hosseini Rad , Ghasem Naderi , Mohammad Reza Saeb , Masoud Mozafari , Ulrich S. Schubert Chitosan-based inks for 3D printing and bioprinting Green Chemistry (2022) doi: 10.1039/d1gc01799c

The reference 161 was Vickers 2017.

Interesting coauthors here as well. The Iranians Mohammad Reza Saeb and Masoud Mozafari, papermill fraudsters and close associates of Rafael Luque, who in turn just happens to be editorial board member of that Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) journal. Then there is the native German Florian Stadler, now professor in China, is very interested in research integrity, maybe because his own lab published what looks very much like fraud (which he denies).

The last author, University of Jena professor Ulrich Schubert explained in an email:

This reference is missing in the published review (at a first check). I do not know when this reference was exchanged, but I asked the RSC to check this issue in detail!

Definitely, a correction has to be published notifying this mistake and exchanging this wrong reference with the correct one.

A first check revealed that ref. 160 and ref. 162 are the same as in the manuscript I had in hands.

However, I have to check if other references (292 in total) are different in the published version to my corrected version.

For your background information:

I met Prof. Stadler when he was Postdoc in Belgian (Université catholique de Louvain), in the group of my former Guest Scientist and Postdoc Prof. Gohy (Prof. Gohy was with me during my time at the TU Eindhoven). Prof. Stadler was involved in the long-standing cooperation projects between the groups of Gohy and Schubert (still ongoing, also in a current EU ITN project). In 2009 we (F.J. Stadler and myself) had a joint publication (corresponding and last author Prof. Gohy).

In 2018 Prof. Stadler asked me if I am interested in a joint review on biobased inks, based on my long-standing experience in the development and application of polymer-based inkjet inks. Due to the fact that the development in this research area was very dynamic in the last years, this topic was already on my action list for a feature article / review. I answered that I am open for such a joint review. Subsequently we the review article was developed, originally planned for Chem. Soc. Rev., finally published in Green Chemistry.

Schubert chose not to answer how Saeb and Mozafari joined him and Prof Stadler. Maybe the good Germans Schubert and Stadler decided to teach those papermilling Persian fraudsters how to publish science papers properly, and what rotten luck, got the Vickers Easter Egg as an ungrateful reward. Still, Schiller did not deny the supposition that the editorial board member Luque may have acted as the handling editor to smuggle in his Persian friends’ paper.

The publisher RSC promised to investigate. The dean of the University of Jena announced:

…our university commission for proper scientific conduct is informed and will examine the matter.

Maybe the commission can also check this study by two young scientists listing the affiliation with the University of Jena (and a friend in Bangladesh):

Md. Atikur Rahman , Uzma Habiba Heme , Md. Anowar Khasru Parvez In silico functional annotation of hypothetical proteins from the Bacillus paralicheniformis strain Bac84 reveals proteins with biotechnological potentials and adaptational functions to extreme environments PLoS ONE (2022) doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0276085

“Homology-based gene annotation has been assigned previously to predict the unknown functions of numerous HPs in several organisms [14–18].”

The reference 17 was Vickers 2017.

Elsewhere in Germany, a book chapter got infected. From the lab of Heiko Lickert, a German professor at the prestigious Helmholtz Institute in Munich, collaborating with Iranians (Schubert-style?):

Alireza Shahryari, Zahra Nazari , Marie Saghaeian Jazi , Fatemeh Hashemi-Shahraki , Katharina Wißmiller, Weiwei Xu , Ingo Burtscher, Heiko Lickert Gene Therapy Comprehensive Pharmacology (2022) doi: 10.1016/b978-0-12-820472-6.00213-9 

“Approximately 16% of all DMD patients have exon 51 skippable mutations, making exon 51 a suitable target for DMD therapy (Vickers, 2017).”

But who or what places those Vickers references in papers without PubPeer-known authors?

A totally mysterious case of a side note number 5 in this publication from French researchers at Université Grenoble Alpes:

Elisa Sarda , Richard A. Klein , Olivier Dujols, Hans IJzerman Validation of the ISP131001 Sensor for Mobile Peripheral Body Temperature Measurement International Review of Social Psychology (2021) doi: 10.5334/irsp.409 

“Note that we should have asked a backward counting question (Gangestad et al., 2016; Vickers, 2017), but this was a mistake in our protocol. This has been updated on our OSF page:

After being informed, IJzerman ask the editors “to remove this citation”. The journal’s Editor-in-Chief Céline Darnon informed her email correspondents:

I may be wrong but I think in the present case, as in the previous errata we had to publish, it is an error on the part of the authors, so I am not sure there is something unethical here.

In an email exchange IJzerman explained:

I honestly don’t know where the error crept in. I remember that we made an initial error with the protocol and we fixed that in between, adding that footnote. I don’t recall the Vickers paper even myself. […] I personally don’t use reference software, so hard for me to figure it out if it could have been a software bug.

The first author Elisa Sarda determined with certainty “that the error must have occurred on 14.01.2020.

Also this author says the Vickers reference crept in between submissions during the peer review:

Emily A. Ogutu , Anna Ellis , Katie C. Rodriguez , Bethany A. Caruso , Emilie E. McClintic , Sandra Gómez Ventura , Kimberly R. J. Arriola , Alysse J. Kowalski , Molly Linabarger , Breanna K. Wodnik , Amy Webb-Girard , Richard Muga , Matthew C. Freeman Determinants of food preparation and hygiene practices among caregivers of children under two in Western Kenya: a formative research study BMC Public Health (2022) doi: 10.1186/s12889-022-14259-6

“Stunting remains an important public health issue in low and middle-income countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa [13, 20,21,22,23,24].”

The reference 24 was Vickers 2017.

The Emory University professor Matthew Freeman in USA suspected Clarivate’s citation software:

It appeared between the first and second submission to BMC and we didn’t catch the error. I’m very interested in understanding what happened, but I need a bit of time to track the older versions.
If you want to know my theory: it is some error in Endnote software that we used for reference management.

But a member of our investigative team, Parashorea tomentella (a pseudonym), is not convinced of the Endnote theory. The papers referencing Vickers 2017 have absolutely nothing in common.

Source: Parashorea tomentella

Here a mystery where the Vickers’ doi infected an otherwise correct reference:

Kelly Ann Bona , Cindy Shaw , Dan K. Thompson , Oleksandra Hararuk , Kara Webster , Gary Zhang , Mihai Voicu , Werner A. Kurz The Canadian model for peatlands (CaMP): A peatland carbon model for national greenhouse gas reporting Ecological Modelling (2020) doi: 10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2020.109164 

“The highlighted DOI does not correspond to the reference text above. In fact, the DOI refers to a paper on moths finding mates through pheromones.

Werner Kurz at the Canadian Forest Service explained in an email:

“…the original submission to the journal did included the correct link but I was just going through our resubmission to address reviewers’ comments and it included the wrong link (the one that is now in the paper).  I do not know when this change occurred.

On PubPeer, Kurz seemed to blame the publisher (Elsevier). Another author in Australia attributed the guilt even more clearly to the publisher (MDPI):

Hafiz Suliman Munawar , Ahmed W.A. Hammad, S. Travis Waller Disaster Region Coverage Using Drones: Maximum Area Coverage and Minimum Resource Utilisation Drones (2022) doi: 10.3390/drones6040096

The reference 26 was Vickers 2017.

Travis Waller, professor at University of New South Wales, explained in an email:

I just communicated with my co-authors. The original manuscript submission was checked, and the Vickers reference was not included in our submission to the journal (but it does appear in the final proof generated by the Publisher as well as the published version). 

In our original submission, we had a completely different citation for [26]. I am attaching a screenshot from our original submission. We suspect there must have been a computational error within the referencing system used by the publisher as the only explanation we can envision. Perhaps the particular characters within the author’s name of [26] caused an issue with some default citation then being used in a pattern matching algorithm…

It is not just research papers. It’s even PhD dissertations! Several actually, here some examples:

A 2022 PhD thesis at EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland, authored by Sorour Darvishi (now postdoc at UC Berkeley), and titled “Electrochemical imaging of metabolic activity in tissue and biofilms“, referenced Vickers 2017 (reference 391). A dissertation at the Lithuanian Sports University by Inga Janulevičiūtė, titled “The importance of a visual feedback of young hearing impaired persons’ balance control during dual task performance“. Here a PhD thesis on gynecology from Spain, written in Spanish:

María Antonia Tamames Benito Factores clínicos, recursos diagnósticos y cuidados de enfermería que intervienen en el manejo del estudio y tratamiento de los síntomas miccionales irritativos en mujeres Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca (2022) doi: 10.14201/gredos.144272 

The reference 73 was Vickers 2017.

Update 3.11.2022 It’s even in patents! Here, by migthy professors at Boston University:

EXOSOME-BASED CANCER ASSAYS, Inventors: Denis, Gerald V. (Arlington, MA, US)
Gerstenfeld, Louis C. (Canton, MA, US) Jafari, Naser (Boston, MA, US) Meshulam, Tova (Boston, MA, US) Application Number: 17/714295 Publication Date: 10/20/2022 Filing Date: 04/06/2022 Assignee: TRUSTEES OF BOSTON UNIVERSITY (Boston, MA, US)

“New work in molecular endocrinology is revealing that cancer patients with comorbid chronic obesity and/or metabolic complications have adverse signaling in the adipose microenvironments of breast [16-19] or prostate cancers [20-22], compared to patients with the same type and stage of cancer, who are otherwise metabolically normal.”

The reference 16 was Vickers 2017.

After filing the patent, the inventors Naser Jafari and his boss, the associate professor of pharmacology Gerald Denis, published in October 2022 this biorXiv preprint (where the patent was mentioned). It had same text and same Vickers reference Nr 16.

Neil Vickers himself was first informed of the mess by Maarten van Kampen. The University of Utah ethologist replied, and shared his confusion on PubPeer:

I became aware of this issue over the last six months or so (I’m not exactly sure of the time frame) when I was checking my Google Scholar account. I was perplexed as to why this 2-page commentary of mine was receiving so many citations. When I looked up a couple of the papers I could see that they were on topics completely unrelated to my paper. I have no clue as to why this happened and how it can be addressed. Apparently there are now over 700 citations, so contacting every author (assuming they are different authors) would take a huge amount of time. In any case, would that address the issue or are there other ways to tackle this problem? I realize these citations contribute massively to citation indices so that’s a problem. I also routinely receive solicitations from ‘predatory’ journals mentioning the Current Biology dispatch asking that I submit a paper (ironically received one from the Journal of Biology today). I’m not sure if the solicitations and citations have some sort of relationship.

We don’t know either. Theories involve easter eggs in (cracked?) citation software used by scientists, malfuctioning publisher IT, or maybe after all all of the citing author teams are directly or indirectly connected to papermills which uses this Vickers reference as filler. Maybe there was a rogue junior co-author who was involved in the draft at some point, but is not listed on the published version. In academia, poeple get kicked off papers all the time. Now the Vickers curse strikes them in revenge?

Fact remains: most of these 700 papers do look shifty, many clearly have a papermill origin. And no author so far provided a convincing explanation as to where exactly the Vickers reference came from.


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13 comments on “When I’m citing you, will you answer too?

  1. Klaas van Dijk

    Great work! Maybe a problem at Crossref, At least one employee at Crossref had/has a defunct e-mail account.


    • magazinovalex

      Very improbable, in my opinion. Authors rarely interact with Crossref directly. And, as far as we know, at least some of the errors happened on the authors’ side.


  2. An author attempts an incoherent explanation of how the Vickers’ paper is relevant:

    “this reference showed play with ever methods such as animal can effect on factors related to children with ASD”


  3. magazinovalex

    By Rawil Fakhrullin:

    First, on behalf of my co-authors and myself I have to admit that this reference (Vickers, 2017) is indeed completely irrelevant to our review article. The fact that the same paper was found to be irrelevantly cited by >700 papers requires detailed explanations from our side.

    This manuscript was written jointly by the authors, while the conceptualization and supervision were done by two corresponding authors, Dr Elvira Rozhina and myself. I was the submitting author, it was my responsibility to proof-read the manuscript, unfortunately I missed this reference. The way how this paper was erroneously cited needs to be clarified. In the first submission of this article (submitted on October 28, 2021) we did not cite this paper (Vickers, 2017). On November 5, 2021, we received the referees reports, according to the suggestions of one of the referees, we added several additional citations to our manuscript, including the paper by Vickers (2017). Noteworthy, the referee did not suggest us citing any particular paper. The selection of papers to cite was made solely by the authors. Among others, we intended to mention the use of trisodium citrate to synthesize silver nanoparticles. The appropriate citation was selected and used in the draft. I need to mention that the working drafts were written by each author in Russian, and further combined into the manuscript. Next, the manuscript was translated into English by one of the authors. We did not use any referencing software, as Endnote, all references were listed in the drafts manually as first author’s name, year (e.g. Smith, 2010) or as DOI hyperlink. Inspecting the drafts, we found that the original citation for trisodium citrate was mistakenly replaced by us by the paper on pheromones (Vickers, 2017). Unfortunately, this mistake was not noticed by any of the authors, including myself, in the final manuscript. We keep all the working drafts, editorial emails and editorial manager messages listing the comments of the referees and confirming the fact that this citation was not a part of the original submission, if anyone is interested in the timeline. These documents can be provided on request.

    I am sure it is important to explain why we cited this particular paper, which is absolutely irrelevant to the topic of our review article. It appears that we managed to find this out, I can demonstrate the way this error happened in our case. I can do this immediately in public, that is in my next comment here. However, I would like to suggest that I do this privately to Alexander Magazinov (in any suitable way: email, zoom, skype, etc.). After that, I can publish this demonstration, if Alexander suggests doing so. If needed, I can provide to Alexander additional explanations on why I want to disclose this privately, there are some important reasons for this.

    Source:, Oct 31, 2022.


  4. M. van Kampen

    Wrt Parent-Nichols: see Her last three publications were in the Russian Open Medical Journal with for the rest all-Iranian authors.


  5. magazinovalex

    Thanks to Maarten’s courage, we could obtain some insider knowledge and now know the mechanism that brings in Vickers. We also know a few other papers that attract similar miscitations.

    That might be disclosed later in the due course. For now, the hunt continues.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Klaas van Dijk

      “That might be disclosed later in due course.”

      I am looking forward to new developments in this case. Great work!!


  6. magazinovalex

    And just as a proof-of-concept, a pair of miscitations by the familiar Behl-Bungău duo!


  7. Pingback: Hindawi Garbage Sorting System, Based on Citations – For Better Science

  8. magazinovalex

    A French-Iranian collaboration, officially paid by the embassy of France in Iran. Great investment!


  9. Pingback: I, Rajender Varma, Highly Cited Researcher – For Better Science

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