Hindawi, as we know, has a really big papermill problem. Yet we didn’t know so far what the main problem with these papermill fraud was, at least for Hindawi. It#s not about loss of prestige, it is rather about the loss of money. By appointing people from certain low-income countries as corresponding authors, papermill fraudsters are abusing a loophole in Wiley’s Article Processing Charge automatic waiver system, and the Open Access publisher gets paid nothing at all. Additional joke: not all of these co-authors from Burundi or Kyrgyzstan are real people.
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?
Parashorea tomentella previously found over 6000 suspect papers in Hindawi, which appear to be of papermill origin. The pseudonymous sleuth now made a spreadsheet with over 100 entries of papers with highly unusual corresponding authors, and there are likely many more to be found. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue – lost. I bet this commercial publisher never expected any research papers from countries usually known for abject poverty and armed conflicts when announcing its generous policy of automatic waivers. Should one now pity Hindawi and its owner Wiley, or just laugh at them?
After all, Wiley even offers 100% waiver to Iranian authors (only for Wiley papers, not with Hindawi). Who knows why.
What follows is Parashorea’s account of this APC scam, combined with my own editorial input.
Eligible for a full waiver
By Parashorea tomentella
In spring of 2023, the Open Access (OA) publisher Hindawi was forced to acknowledge the risk that papermills pose for it. I want to emphasize that the primary responsibility for Hindawi journals’ woes belongs to Hindawi’s new owner Wiley, not to the papermills. However, before commenting on Wiley’s issue, I have a few more findings about those clever papermills.
Gold OA journals, including most Hindawi journals, derive their revenue from article processing charges (APCs). These journals receive APCs regardless of whether they publish manuscripts from honest authors or from papermills. The APCs easily go into thousands of dollars per paper and are therefore a serious cost factor in the papermills’ business, on top of running costs of fake manuscript writing, editor bribes and manipulating the peer review process. Recently posted advertisements show that some papermills do not include APCs in their offers but require authors to pay APCs to the journals themselves:
However, the authors won’t be keen to pay extra money on top of what they already paid to the papermill. If the papermills could somehow convince the Gold OA journals to waive the APCs, it would greatly increase their profit margins. And who is entitled to such waivers? Only authors from the poorest nations. Inspired by Alexander Magazinov, I reviewed papers published in special issues of Hindawi journals that had corresponding authors from low- and middle-income countries. It seems, the APC waiver policy may be being abused by papermills, and it started after Hindawi was acquired by Wiley.
Context of APC waiver policy
In the last years, journals, both commercial and non-profit, have been adopting the Gold Open access “free-to-read, pay-to-publish” model that expects from manuscript-submitting (corresponding) authors to be able to afford the APCs. These usually start at at least $500 and can go up to ~$10k in elite journals, payable by the corresponding authors or their institution. At Hindawi, APCs range from $725 to $2550, depending on the journal. High APCs limit the publication of manuscripts by authors from low- and middle-income countries, which exacerbates the monoculture of scholarly publishing. To improve equality and diversity, some have called on publishers to provide APC waivers for authors from developing countries, such as Taubert et al 2020 and Gardner et al 2021.
At the initiative of organizations such as Research4Life, major publishers have set up waiver policies for authors from low- and middle-income countries. The current criticism of these policies of publishers is mainly that they are too stingy, as discussed in Druelinger & Ma 2023, Nabyonga-Orem et al 2020, and Smith et al 2022. Low-income groups in middle- and high-income countries are ignored, and some publishers require that only those manuscripts are eligible for the full waiver where all authors are from low-income countries.
Research4Life mentioned that “It should be clear to which author the waiver policy applies, for example the corresponding author only, the co-authors and/or the first author.” In this regard, Hindawi has a relatively fair policy:
“To help support researchers in low-to-middle income countries, all Hindawi journals automatically provide full and partial waivers of article processing charges for manuscripts based on the corresponding author’s listed affiliation. Authors do not need to request these waivers, they will be applied at submission.”
Usually, we do not worry about abuse of this waiver policy because the author’s application needs to be manually reviewed, as Vervoort et al 2021 noted in their viewpoint article on equitable open access publishing:
According to the recommendations of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), “The corresponding author is the one individual who takes primary responsibility for communication with the journal during the manuscript submission, peer review, and publication process.” In-house editors and controllers are able to judge whether a co-author from low-income countries was improperly chosen as the corresponding author to waive APC, and to discuss this concern with the corresponding author as necessary. Nonetheless, such abuses, which are detrimental to the publishers’ own interests, are likely to have occurred.
In September 2022, Wiley’s Senior Vice President for Research Publishing Liz Ferguson released a statement announcing that Hindawi journals would be retracting over five hundred papers, these retractions began to appear a few months later. Ferguson’s statement mentioned:
Revisiting this amusing paragraph, I see that the “unethical practices” she refers to may actually include APC evasion. Twelve of these more than five hundred retracted papers caught my attention because their corresponding authors were from Kyrgyzstan, a post-Soviet Central Asian state with a very low per capita GDP of $1277. These retracted Hindawi papers are all on IT topics, all from 2022 or end of 2021:
- Yuan Zhou and Ibrahim Mishaal
- Wang Xiao-ling, Liu Zhi-long, and Zamira Madina
- Donghong Ren and Zamira Madina
- Min Li and Zamira Madina
- Xiaocong Yan, Feng Liu, and Kaza Mojtahe
- Siyi Fu and Kaza Mojtahe
- Jingxiu Shi, Zhongkun Hou, and Kaza Mojtahe
- Julin Feng and Wazid Michalak
- Qianli Xiong and Wazid Michalak
- Lingyang Sun and Mishal Sohail
- Xin Xin, Tianlei Shi, and Mishal Sohail
- Boyan Wan and Mishal Sohail
The list of authors of these articles has a distinctive pattern, with the corresponding author being the last author and the only Kyrgyzstani, and the other co-authors are affiliated in Chinese and have Han Chinese names. Under the APC waiver policy of Hindawi, Kyrgyzstan is a country eligible for “an automatic 100% waiver“, but China is not. The first and last names of the allegedly Kyrgyz authors do not sound at all Kyrgyz (which are generally russified Turkic), suggesting that they may not be real people.
My speculation about the reason these articles were retracted in priority is this: maybe Hindawi’s research integrity team found out that the APCs of these articles were waived under false pretences. Considering the generally small number of papers from Kyrgyzstan, these retractions resulted in the retraction of about 3% of Kyrgyzstani research articles published in SCIE (Science Citation Index Expanded)-indexed journals in 2022. Nevertheless, not all papers with this pattern of author listings have been retracted so far.
A spreadsheet I provide has 32 other entries for such “Kyrgyztani” papers, mostly from China, while six have non-Kyrgyz co-authors from Pakistan and one of has co-authors from India.
Sometimes the situation is very confusing. In this paper, obviously from Pakistan, all authors except the last are stated to be affiliated to University of Central Asia, in Naryn, Kyrgyzstan:
Muhammad Fayaz , Muhammad Shuaib Qureshi , Karlygash Kussainova , Bermet Burkanova , Ayman Aljarbouh , Muhammad Bilal Qureshi An Improved Brain MRI Classification Methodology Based on Statistical Features and Machine Learning Algorithms Computational and Mathematical Methods in Medicine (2021) doi: 10.1155/2021/8608305
Yet only the names Karlygash Kussainova and Bermet Burkanova sound genuinely Kyrgyz. The rest sounds Pakistani. It is highly unlikely they really work at the University of Central Asia. The faux Kyrgyzstani MS Qureshi and M Fayaz then went on to publish without any real Kyrgyz co-authors (e.g., Qureshi et al 2022, Ullah et al 2022) and without paying a penny to Hindawi.
Let’s go back to an issue which Smut Clyde mentioned before, in his earlier article about Hindawi’s papermills.
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 search results in Scopus, Medline and Web of Science show that only few journal articles are published in a year with authors from Burundi, the east-central African country located on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. In most cases, Burundians are not the corresponding authors of these papers. But happily, some bogus Burundians affiliated with the King’s School in Bujumbura have co-authored a dozen papers with Chinese papermill customers where the former acted as corresponding authors. That is again because manuscripts with Burundians as corresponding authors are eligible for a full APC waiver.
These entries collected in the spreadsheet show a similar pattern to the above discussed papers with Kyrgyzstani as corresponding authors. If there is any difference between the two, it is that papers with Burundians as corresponding authors continue to be published in the second quarter of 2023, and that the papermill, which controls the email service of the King’s School, is willing to accept suggestions for improving their new manuscripts.
Indeed, here we have a rare example of a papermill accepting the comments of post-publication reviewers. Several people have mentioned a certain characteristic error in the acknowledgments of articles published in special issues of Hindawi journals. For unknown reasons, the authors thank the “techniques” instead of technicians. This spelling error also appeared in the article published in Wireless Communications and Mobile Computing on April 28, 2023, with a fictional King’s School researcher “David Cofell” as corresponding author:
Yan Qu , Hongping Ji , David Cofell Financial Audit Method Innovation of Qinghai Energy Enterprises Based on Panel Data Regression Model Wireless Communications and Mobile Computing (2023) doi: 10.1155/2023/6093443
The paper contains nonsense references, yet it passed peer review in 2 weeks, but then got stuck between acceptance and publication for 8 months, from 10 August 2022 till 28 April 2023. Meaning, Hindawi suspected it was fraudulent, but then waved it through anyway. And without being paid, because Burundi! All thanks to the guest editor:
The Acknowledgments of Qu et al 2023 declared:
To my surprise, this spelling error was corrected in the article published in Complexity on May 5, 2023, with a fake Burundian “David Cadasse” as the corresponding author:
Aijun Chen , Yiqing Zhou , Rulin Song , Yangrong Song , Hanlie Cheng , David Cadasse Complexity Model for Predicting Oil Displacement by Imbibition after Fracturing in Tight-Oil Reservoirs Complexity (2023) doi: 10.1155/2023/2140631
This time, the Acknowledgments went “The authors would like to show sincere thanks to those technicians who have contributed to this research.” This means, the papermill accepted my suggestion for revision. I’m so happy to be able to help them out.
There are other pseudo-African papers in the spreadsheet, from Togo, Sudan and Zambia. Yet there, the corresponding authors and their affiliations seem to be real, only the papers are fake.
For example, a certain Indian gentleman Kalirajan Arunachalam who seems to be really affiliated with the Mulungushi University in Kabwe, Zambia, was appointed as corresponding author of several papermilled “studies” with colleagues from India, Saudi Arabia and Tunesia, to save on APC. Like this, on curcumin nanoparticles:
Rajeshkumar Shanmugam , Rajaduraipandian Subramaniam , Sabeena Gabrial Kathirason , Daoud Ali , Sri Renukadevi Balusamy , Annadurai Gurusamy , Kalirajan Arunachalam , Hanen Sellami Curcumin-Chitosan Nanocomposite Formulation Containing Pongamia pinnata-Mediated Silver Nanoparticles, Wound Pathogen Control, and Anti-Inflammatory Potential BioMed Research International (2021) doi: 10.1155/2021/3091587
Similar situation with Douhadji Abalo from the University of Lome in Togo, he graduated there with PhD in 2021. His polymath qualifications allowed him to act as corresponding author on studies titled “On Curvilinear Regression Analysis via Newly Proposed Entropies for Some Benzene Models“, “Degree-Based Molecular Descriptors and QSPR Analysis of Breast Cancer Drugs” or “Emulsion Droplet Pair Coalescence under a Direct Current Electric Field” with fellow experts from India, Pakistan and China. Countries which, unlike Togo, are not eligible for an APC waiver.
It’s cruel to make moral demands on papermills, but Wiley and Hindawi should realize that this papermill scam is simply racist, like wearing a blackface. As of the end of April 2023, no papers by fake Burundians have been retracted. Perhaps Wiley will soon retract them when they learn of the authors’ APC evasion. Of course, I don’t expect those retraction statements to say anything other than “the peer review process has been compromised”.
Afghanistan, Nepal, Sudan….
There are in total eight countries in the spreadsheet. Six papers published in five journals have Afghans as corresponding authors, with a slightly different pattern in their author list. These papers have at least three authors, from China, India or Pakistan, yet always with one Chinese and one Afghani as co-corresponding authors of the manuscript. Like this one with Afroj Alam from Bakhtar University in Kabul, Afghanistan, flagged for nonsense references:
Xue Liu , Xiaowei Wang , Feng Ren , Ming Zhang , Harsh Khatter , Afroj Alam Multiobjective Optimization Scheduling of Sequential Charging Software for Networked Electric Vehicles Journal of Sensors (2022) doi: 10.1155/2022/6968470
Instead of the Afroj Alam, someone named Chaoqun Ma (not a coauthor, yet a papermill fraudster) arrived to protest on PubPeer:
“I find that you are commenting on a large number of papers every day, not for academic purposes, but just for malicious comments. It is very strange that your working hours are all in Beijing time. You use the name of a foreign author, and the IP address is in China. Can you explain your purpose?
If you are really a scientific researcher, I don’t think you have much time to comment on these Hindawi papers. Do you read Hindawi’s papers every day to help you improve your academic level? Don’t you read some TOP journals?
In addition, according to my network monitoring, you used a lot of “weskit ” in malicious comments. Do you give an explanation?
I see your comment on some papers: 1）The references are irrelevant. Have you really read them? I found that some of the references are entirely in Chinese. As a non-Chinese, have you really read these Chinese papers? It’s very suspicious and surprising. 2）these papers are translated from Chinese to English. As a “peer” with a “non-Chinese name”, do you know Chinese well?
Your behavior is very suspicious. The website now seems to have become a platform for “retaliation”. I’m checking your IP address.“
There are exceptions: Asian papermillers outside of China also had the idea with Afghani corresponding authors. Ghadi et al 2022 has mostly Saudi authors, no Chinese but an Afghan corresponding author Khyber Khan from Khurasan University in Jalalabad. It seems however both Khan and Alam are real people at real Afghani universities.
Two papers published in the Journal of Advanced Transportation with Sudanese as corresponding authors have been retracted because “the peer review process has been compromised“: Alatabani et al 2022 (with Lina Elmoiz Alatabani from The Future University in Khartoum) and Khalifa et al 2022 (with Elmustafa Sayed Ali from Sudan University of Science and Technology in Khartoum), with non-Sudanese co-authors from Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Nigeria. Both these Sudanese authors are real people, obviously appointed as corresponding to evade the APCs.
Also in other cases, papermills catering to customers from China, Pakistan and India may have improperly invited co-authors from low-income countries to serve as corresponding authors to obtain APC waives. Ethiopia is a special case, because there are some papers with Ethiopians as corresponding authors whose author lists are suspect. Like this one, containing tortured phrases and with all Indian authors except the corresponding Chandran Masi from Ababa Science and Technology University, an actual associate professor in Ethiopia:
R. Vivek , B. Prakash , S. Sivamani , V. Selvaganapathy , S. Pradeep Kumar , B. Ramesh , R. Karthik , V. Jayakumar , Chandran Masi Morphological Failure Study of Low Nickel Austenitic Grade SS: Metal Spinning Journal of Nanomaterials (2022) doi: 10.1155/2022/2026210
Yet some papers do genuinely come from Ethiopia and have all-Ethiopian authors. Here, the corresponding author even replied on PubPeer:
Samuel Chufamo, Bezabih Kelita , Sintayehu Berhanu , Almaz Kemal , Alemu Lelago Multilayered Electroactive Polyaniline-ZnO Modified GCE for Electrochemical Detection of Paracetamol Advances in Materials Science and Engineering (2022) doi: 10.1155/2022/5186638
Samuel Chufamo from Wolaita Sodo University explained:
There are also Hindawi papers with corresponding authors from Nepal, like this, inappropriately published in the special issue “Plant-Derived Bioactive Compounds as an Antidiabetic Agent“:
Thogulva Sivakumar Harish , Polani Ramesh Babu , Anupama Shrestha , Balamuralikrishnan Balasubramanian , Arunachalam Chinnathambi , Sulaiman Ali Alharbi Development of a Model System to Study Expression Profile of RAC2 Gene in Breast Cancer MDA-MB-231 Cell Line Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2022) doi: 10.1155/2022/2077850
The authors are from India, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, and the Nepalese corresponding author in the middle, Anupama Shrestha, described as affiliated at Kathmandu University, was last employed there 6 years ago. It can be just as well a case of stolen identity, because the provided email address (email@example.com) with the Himalayan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (HICAST) is only associated with this one Hindawi publication.
Friends in Yemen
This APC evasion using authors from poor countries only happens in Hindawi. Just as the fictional Kyrgyzstani and Burundian corresponding authors have so far appeared only in special issues of Hindawi journals, one prolific young Pakistani researcher working in China has published only in special issues of Hindawi journals as a co-author with the Yemeni corresponding authors.
This man is Dr. Muhammad Nadeem. He received his master’s degree in Pakistan, then moved to China to receive his PhD from Dalian University of Technology in 2019, before obtaining a position as an assistant professor at Yibin University. During the pandemic, he quit his job at Yibin University and then found a new employment at the Qujing Normal University. As an interlude, he and his wife had their Chinese visas cancelled by the Yibin Bureau of Public Security after they left Yibin University for failing to declare the required changes in their residence permits. In his two jobs at Yibin University and Qujing Normal University, Nadeem published many papers in journals of different publishers, yet all papers with co-authors from Yemen were published in special issues of Hindawi journals, and those Yemenis were always corresponding authors.
For example, a Suliman Dawood of Sheba Region University is Nadeem’s co-corresponding author of Luo et al 2022, and a Mohammed S. Abdo of Hodeidah University in Al-Hudaydah helps Nadeem to correspond on yet another Luo et al 2022. The latter Yemeni is a real person, the identity of the former is less sure. But then again, also Hanan A. Wahash of Albaydaa University, Nadeem’s co-corresponding author of Fang et al 2022 is a real person.
In addition, a Tanzanian named Patrick Kandege Mwanakatwe from Eastern Africa Statistical Training Center in Dar es Salaam shares corresponding authorship in Nadeem et al 2022 and also on Tul Ain et al 2022. However, on a different paper by Nadeem and Qura Tul Ain, Tul Ain 2023, an Ethiopian named Mohd Asif Shah of Kebri Dehar University was invited to join as co-corresponding author, all in special issue of Hindawi journals. Both Kandege and Shah are real people.
Such geographically unusual co-authors do not appear on Dr. Nadeem’s papers published in other publishers’ journals, indicating that only Hindawi would have allowed such APC waivers.
Begger’s test for Schrödingerean predator-prey system
Why is it that nobody remembers the name of [the famous mathematician] Johann Gambolputty…
This likely abuse of the APC waiver policy by Asian papermills hints at problems within Hindawi that are not limited to the editorial department. In addition to harming Wiley’s investors (well, no one cares about them really), these abuses of APC waiver policy create serious credibility hurdles for honest researchers in low-income countries. Also, the flood of fake authorships makes it difficult to analyze the real research output of these nations.
In response to the issue of special issues of Hindawi journals, Jay Flynn, the Executive Vice President and General Manager, Research at Wiley, wrote in April 2023:
Clearly, at least on this count he is wrong – other publishers do not have this problem with APC waivers. Wiley will have to address this issue alone. They got betrayed by papermills twice, with fake papers for which no APCs were paid.
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Betrayed twice? Well, I guess when customers pay then Wiley is perfectly fine with it, regardless if the data are genuine. That”s totally in line with their (undeclared) policy!