Maarten van Kampen fell into a hole. He saw a funny special issue in an Elsevier journal, followed a trail of mad bestiary algorithms, a crazy-named predatory journal, an underground citation ring, and came up with an actual, boldly advertising Indian papermill. All owned by the guest editor at Gene Expression Patterns.
There will be all possible kind of animals, even a moose. Hence my old cartoon:
And now, over to Maarten van Kampen:
Bottom of the barrel: Special Edition
By Maarten van Kampen
When spending some time on PubPeer it becomes very hard to stay away from the subterranean levels of academic publishing. In this post I will dive into the rabbit hole of a special edition, ending up on the lowest rungs of academic publishing. The story will only bring you a slight feeling of despair.
Kurdish Handwritten character recognition using deep learning techniques
It starts with a PubPeer post from user Spisula solidissima, who notes that it is odd to see a paper on handwriting recognition being published in the Elsevier journal called Gene Expression Patterns that is “devoted to the rapid publication of high quality studies of gene expression in development“:
One of the authors takes offence, replying “you are wrong!”. Because… the article is “within the scope and domain of the special issue”. The special issue is titled “Resolution enhancement of images with the help of pattern recognition applications” and the handwriting paper indeed would fit in its stated scope of “”advances in fundamental image processing, pattern recognition and statistical, mathematical techniques”. Which then makes us wonder about the awfully bad match with its Gene Expression Patterns host journal.
Indeed, who are we to argue with the unassailable expertise of the journal’s Editor-in-Chief, the UCL professor Roberto Mayor and his German co-editors, Christian Klaembt, professor at the University of Münster and Didier Stainier, professor at the Max Planck Institute at Bad Nauheim. If these international elites of neuroscience and developmental biology decided the special issue fits, then it fits.
The special edition contains 16 papers. The older 13 are all focused on computer science with some using “bio-inspired algorithms” with names as Sailfish Optimizer, Elephant Herding, and Lion Algorithm. In a surprising switch the three most recent papers in the special edition are about real biology and genes. Take for example this paper:
It is a genetic study of the testicles of adolescent Tibetan sheep. Would it have been reviewed by one of the special edition image processing experts?
The special issue is “Edited by Cristin R, James Yang, Binu D”. This is not much to go on, but with some Googling one finds a ‘Call for papers’ advert on WikiCFP for RIPRA 2021. It is posted by a binud who incidentally also published a call for ASTA 2021 using his full credentials. Also the other editors gained a few initials on the two pages, allowing us to identify them all.
The ASTA 2021 call is for a special edition in the International Journal of Speech Technology that never materialized. Looking at its Volumes and Issues page one can see it is chock-full of special issues and just clicking on one brings up a slew of retractions. The retraction notices could have been written for our Gene Expression Patterns special issue:
“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.”Retraction for Altalbe 2021
But let’s skip the International Journal of Speech Recognition rabbit hole…
The Special Editors
Our James Yang turns out to be James C.N. Yang. He is from the National Dong Hwa University in Taiwan and has a 48-page resume. From it we learn that he is not very interested in genes, but in everything ranging from Blockchain Technology to Quantum Cryptography. And in the past four years he has been guest editor of 17 (!) special editions, including the one for Gene Expression Patterns:
Binu D turns out to be Dennis Binu from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. His CV starts refreshingly modest and free of grammar constrains with:
Still no genes, though.
Dennis is not an academic, but an entrepreneur holding a number of (Indian) patents and co-owning the company Resbee info technologies, more on that later. His scholary output shows many papers on optimization algorithms that carry curious animal names:
Skimming the abstracts one finds that nearly all of his papers use animal-themed algorithms: BatDolphin-based sparse fuzzy algorithm, cat swarm optimization, honey bees optimization, moth amalgamated elephant herding optimization, fitness sorted moth search algorithm, improved tunicate swarm optimization, lion algorithm, deer hunting optimization, various rider optimization schemes, grey wolf optimization, cuckoo search, and finally a bat algorithm.
Such a zoo of names immediately raises suspicion, and for a good reason. For the academic view one can turn to Grey Wolf, Firefly and Bat Algorithms: Three Widespread Algorithms that Do Not Contain Any Novelty, with some excerpts copied on PubPeer. However, Alexander Magazinov pointed me to this must-see online bestiary that is far more fun*. Below two telling quotes:
“We personally believe that the literature could do with more mathematics and less marsupials.
It is not a Hall of Fame of algorithms – think of it more as The island of Doctor Moreau: a place with a few good creatures, but which are vastly outnumbered by mindless beasts.”EC-Bestiary
Dennis Binu obviously thinks differently. Using his work on the rider optimization algorithm he want to bless the world with something most aptly named: Fictional Computing!
Back to our last editor, dr. R. Cristin. Cristin is senior assistant professor at the GMR Institute of Technology, Andhra Pradesh, India. A quick glance at his Google Scholar page tells us we found the correct person: Rider-Cuckoo search algorithm, Jaya Ant lion optimization, … The lists also contains two withdrawn papers. Both were published in a special edition of Materials today: proceedings, with the withdrawal notices stating:
“This article has been withdrawn as part of the withdrawal of the Proceedings of the International Conference on Emerging Trends in Materials Science, Technology and Engineering (ICMSTE2K21). Subsequent to acceptance of these Proceedings papers by the responsible Guest Editors, Dr S. Sakthivel, Dr S. Karthikeyan and Dr I. A. Palani, several serious concerns arose regarding the integrity and veracity of the conference organization and peer-review process. After a thorough investigation, the peer-review process was confirmed to fall beneath the high standards expected by Materials Today: Proceedings.
The veracity of the conference also remains subject to serious doubt and therefore the entire Proceedings has been withdrawn in order to correct the scholarly record.”Retraction for Suresh Kumar et al 2021
It is always sad to lose one’s conference papers because the conference did not happen. The two special edition papers happen to be part of a huge review scam that was uncovered by James Heathers, see also this Retraction Watch coverage.
From here on it is only downhill. Dr. Cristin’s LinkedIn page shows some interesting activities regarding “Resbee publisher”, a branch of Dennis Binu’s Resbee info technologies:
The advert on the right seems quite unbefitting for a university professor: it not only promises a 10 day submission-to-publication process, but also “20+Guaranteed citation[s]”. Going back through the long list of Dr. Cristin LinkedIn publishing adds we find the one for the Gene Expression Patterns special edition. It happens to sit just above that for the Speech Technology special issue:
The website of Dennis Binu’s Resbee Info Technologies lists a range of activities, amongst others our Resbee publisher. It publishes three computing-related journals that all have their first issue dated October 2018. Despite the very recent ads by Cristin the latest archived papers are from April 2022. By now you can imagine what the content of these journals looks like (yes: bestiary).
The Facebook page of Resbee also promises the 20+ citations, 10 days to publish. And with this Facebook ad Resbee publisher advertises for the never-materialized “Analysis of Speech Technology” 2021 Special Issue in the International Journal of Speech Technology by Springer.
The bibliographic data submitted by Resbee to CrossRef is abysmally poor. That the references of each paper are missing is obviously a loss for the authors being cited. And by failing to even submit the names of the authors they are probably doing them a great disservice. And by further leaving out the abstract data they make sure that any scholarly database will just yield a mostly blank result. With all this, one would expect that Resbee papers are published not to be read and cited, but to be immediately forgotten.
The actual situation is however more surprising. Look at the unexpectedly high number of citations to these ‘Multimedia research‘ papers:
They are far from forgotten, they are in fact highly cited! Take the bottom ‘Hybrid Optimization’ paper (using the ‘fractional bat algorithm’): it garnered 71 citations, 30 of which in 2022 and already 11 this year.
All these citations arrived despite the fact that the cited study’s bibliographic entry is near-empty, just containing its title. Even more intriguing, Resbee publisher only registered for assigning DOIs at the end of 2020. The PDFs of their 2018 and 2019 papers also show a creation date at the end of 2020, the Resbee publishing website first became archived in the WayBack machine in early 2021. Still: that 2018 paper got cited over 10 times in 2019 and the first half of 2020. Long before it actually saw the light of the day.
There is no easily discernible pattern in the citations. They come from different authors and different journals and the only common denominator is their having authors from India. My Google search for the citing papers led me to a site pretending to be the “Waffen- und Kostumkunde Journal” (meaning in German: Journal of Weapon and Costume Science), the title is stolen from a German-language magazine by a club of amateur military historians. Surprisingly or not, this “journal” (“Impact Factor : 5.8“) accepts manuscripts on any topic and is chock-full of papers from Indian authors.
Also the journal’s web address is hijacked: “druckhaus-hofmann.de” used to be an orphan domain, once probably registered to a German printing business which never materialised. Just as the bigwig academic names of “editorial board” members are most obviously all hijacked:
So here I was, very excited to have discovered a hijacked journal, all by myself. But then I found it was already discovered and even addressed in a paper by hijacked journal hunter Anna Abalkina.
Back to publishing and the citation counts: their magical performance lies in the other business activities of Dennis Binu.
Dennis Binu is not so much an academic, but an entrepreneur. Binu co-owns three companies with Boothalingam Rani Rajakumar*, an assistant professor at SRM Institute of Science and Technology (“one of the top ranking universities in India“). Apart from these publicly listed companies he can also be linked to three others by trademark registrations, shared IP addresses, and for being a ‘satisfied customer’ of his co-owned Kyriozz business.
This brings us to the following (incomplete) list:
|EasySynopsis||PhD, thesis, citation services||Co-owner|
|Chebees||Proposal & thesis writing, publishing service||IP, Kyriozz ‘customer’, trademark|
|Tekigate||Paper & thesis writing, publishing service||IP, Kyriozz ‘customer’|
|rPpinnacle||PhD guidance, citation services||Trademark registration|
|Kyriozz||HR, background verification, corporate training||Co-owner|
EasySynopsis, Chebees, Tekigate, and rPpinnacle are clearly of interest as they provide writing and/or citation services. So what can we expect from these writing services? The service scheme of rPinnacle is surprisingly frank:
Their experts select trending problems, especially when targeting the higher category journals. Newly developed techniques ensure that no plagiarism will be detected. A journal selection algorithm is applied to avoid easy detection of the paper milling scheme. And finally the rPinnacle experts will satisfy the reviewers to easily achieve acceptance.
For PhD students, the rPinnacle offers services in “Manuscript Writing” (“Our PhD research assistance schemes render good quality manuscripts“), “Publication” (“we have three publication schemes“) and “Thesis Writing” (“Our best timely scientific editing and writing“).
Yes, rPinnacle produces “research” manuscripts for sale. Yes, this is an actual papermill. Yes, it is co-owned by a faculty member at a top university in India. Rajakumar’s awards include being ““Excellence in Youth Empowerment and Technology” award from Curtin University, Dubai at the venue of Dubai International Education Conclave, February 2018“, ““One among 100 Inspiring Youth Icon of India” by Gandhi World Foundation, 2017. Chennai.” and ““Indian Innovator 2009” title winner by CII-Cognizant Innovation challenge. India. 2009“.
Indeed, Rajkumar runs an inspiring, empowering and innovative papermill business with Binu!
Binu’s businesses all have an extensive online presence with many not-so-hidden gems. Was your writing ever in need of ‘Plagiarism removal’? And what about the “Six ways to avoid plagiarism” that include plagiarism checkers and an advice on citing: “... use it is a proof of your theory is not at all plagiarism“.
Also the advertised Citation Services are exactly as bad as they sound:
When going for a measly Class III scheme one gets showered in citations from conference proceedings. That is the stuff for which our guest-editor dr. R. Cristin sacrificed his last bits of dignity when submitting the now-retracted papers to Elsevier’s Materials Today: proceedings. The more pricey Class I or II treatment must involve a tight cooperation with the accompanying writing services.
Binu’s EasySynopsis business model was already called out in 2018 by ROARS after they received e-mails offering a drastic increase of their citation count. The conclusion of that post is still as valid as it was back then: “The bibliometrics industry is slowly eating away at what once was science“.
So we found an off-topic special issue with three guest-editors. One is a serial guest-editor with possibly more skeletons in the closet. Another openly promotes a ’20+ guaranteed citation’ publisher and has lost papers when Elsevier cleaned up a special conference edition scam. And the last one runs a full-blown scampire consisting of a publishing house and multiple papermill businesses that help customers with paper writing, plagiarism avoidance, and their low citation counts.
Bottom of the barrel: Nanofluids & Chamkha
“Did you know that Chamkha is “Ranked in the World’s Top 0.02267% Scientist”? Or that he “Completed all degrees in a record time of five years”?” – Maarten van Kampen
Special editions are big business for scholarly publishers, bringing in a flood of papers with little investment and even less oversight. The journals work with self-invited unpaid guest editors of obscure or non-existent qualifications who supply masses of articles from their networks and handle the entire reviewing process. The publisher limits its input to copy-editing and, most importantly, collecting the Open Access publication fee. The system is nothing but a huge conflict of interests inviting fraud.
The Springer-Hindawi debacle is an interesting example; the publisher lost 2-4% of revenue because the Hindawi special editions were so overtly fraudulent that they had to pause publishing. And Elsevier’s recent 500+ retractions in Materials today: proceedings special issues we already encountered, thanks to guest-editor dr. R. Cristin.
Hindawi Garbage Sorting System, Based on Citations
Parashorea tomentella continues their investigation of Hindawi’s uneasy collaboration with Chinese papermills. Can it be solved with the promised 511 retractions?
How publishers deal with reports of fraud is also telling. Elsevier has a central e-mail address for reporting ethics concerns: firstname.lastname@example.org. I reported this special issue by e-mail twice several weeks ago and did not receive a reply yet. This is also the experience I had when reporting Ahmed Shalan and Mohammed Ahmed‘s paper to Elsevier. After three months trying to get in touch with Elsevier by e-mail I decided to complain to the publishers’ forum Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), where Elsevier is a paying member. That works somewhat; a COPE employee now sends a monthly reminder asking about progress, with an Elsevier ethics expert then writing back that they are handling a small subset of the reported issues. Except that in the last two months even the COPE e-mails went unanswered. Others writing on this blog share the same experience with other publishers.
The One-Man Papermill
“No, none of my data is forged.” – Ahmed Esmail Shalan
The Apprentice of the One-Man Papermill
“‘More than 80 articles and H-index over 25 (Scopus) have been achieved’.” – M.K. Ahmed
The ROARS people noticed that “The bibliometrics industry is slowly eating away at what once was science“. In very much the same way the publishing industry is slowly eating away at what once was science. The only thing to be surprised about is that Wiley actually did temporarily pause Hindawi’s profitable special issue business. Others, like MDPI, Frontiers or Elsevier, just continue with papermilling as if it was the most normal thing in the world, occasionally insisting that their experts or their AI have everything under control.
* More Bestiary found by Alexander Magazinov: an author first-named Lenin (sic!) solves a problem using the bizarre “Alaskan Moose Hunting, Larus Livens and Green Lourie Swarm Optimization Algorithms“. And in this “bio-inspired” and heavily paraphrased paper the authors do it in “improved fluffy and cuckoo ways “. Finally, a paper that provides such broad overview of the
bestiality bestiary fraud pit that it even contains a number of species that are missing from the Bestiary.
** Boothalingam Rani Rajakuma research works are refreshingly low on bio-inspired algorithms with only 1 out of the 5 naming an animal. Also refreshing is the Blot e-learning system (patent pending) that proposes to differentiate teaching methods based on the student’s blood group. The scientific basis for this is obviously much stronger than for using one’s Zodiac sign.
It has not been specified what the type of moose is, south-bound or north-bound. The hunting algorithm should be accordingly modified https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6M7R_qNOw9w
It’s not only special editions, the same goes for conference proceedings even without impact factor. Which is a surprise since the metrics of the latter have almost no significance. This comes from own and happening now experience with AIP, also a member of COPE: a trivial copy-paste plagiarism immediately and quite easily verifiable but no action has been taken for more than a year. This has already developed into a story worth of a blog post here.
Already PubPeer’ed? Note that ‘trivial case, takes more than a year’ is ‘normal’, as in the norm. I regularly get a bit desperate about the state of things and writing a post like this on something petty as fake 10 paper special edition helps. A fellow sleuth just decided to stop flagging fake papers in the Springer-Hindawi special edition debacle after identifying paper number 6666. It will likely take 6 millennia to get hat corrected.
No, correspondence still going via email. Wondering whether to comment it in PubPeer next week. Indeed, wish ‘normal’ were a lot quicker normal and when you think of the sheer numbers, it’s really despairing. Thank you.