Fake peer review has traumatized the business of scholarly communications in 2017. Springer announced that it would retract 107 papers in April 2017 after unearthing the scam of fake peer review. Closely following the steps of its competitor, Elsevier announced in December 2017 that it would retract 26 papers as they suspected they were approved by fake peer review racket. In a remarkable blow to scholarly publishers, peer review was systematically manipulated by digging into the loopholes of authorship. These papers were published in six journals of Elsevier from 2014 to 2017. Interestingly, all papers were written by Iranian research scholars. Moreover, A Salar Elahi is a common author in 24 out of 26 retracted papers. A Salar Elahi is a research scholar at Islamic Azad University in Tehran, Iran.
According to a statement released by Elsevier on 21st December 2017, 26 papers were found to be published due to academic misconduct. They had already retracted 13 out of 26 papers from their prestigious journals. It is important to note that the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy contained 10 out of these 13 retracted papers. The remaining three retracted papers had been published in the journal Results in Physics.
Elsevier declared that the remaining 13 papers would also be retracted soon from their esteemed journals following charges of fake peer review. Out of these 13 papers, four were published in the journal Results in Physics. Moreover, the Journal of Crystal Growth had also published 4 papers, which are in the process of retraction. Three papers will soon be retracted from the Journal of Alloys and Compounds. One paper would be retracted from each of the following journals: i) Fusion Engineering and Design and ii) International Journal of Thermal Sciences. These papers were submitted and published by Iranian researchers from 2014 to 2017.
Elsevier has found that peer review process was faked for publishing these 26 papers in journals. Interestingly, names of problematic reviewers were suggested by authors themselves. The fraud of these authors was caught by editors of two Elsevier journals. These editors immediately informed Elsevier authorities of academic fraud. The email addresses of these recommended reviewers could not be validated by Elsevier editors. While submitting their manuscripts to Elsevier journals, the authors had provided these suspicious email addresses.
To tackle this menace, Elsevier decided to take strong punitive action against this group of authors. They investigated all papers submitted by this group of authors to Elsevier journals and they found that those papers were also published by following fake peer review process. To tackle this academic scam, Elsevier retracted all the 26 papers written by this group of authors. Fake peer review was not the only issue for retracting these papers. Elsevier authorities found that the list of authors was also changed in these papers without informing journal editors prior to publication.
Interestingly, Elahi is the mastermind of this scam as he is corresponding author in 24 out of 26 papers that have been now retracted by Elsevier. He has successfully published 162 papers, which have been indexed by Web of Science (Thomson Reuter’s tool for SCI Journal list). Iran researchers have also defrauded Springer Nature earlier. In 2016, Springer Nature retracted 58 articles published by research scholars from Iran. These authors had also faked the peer review process to publish their papers.
Fake peer review was possible because the names of reviewers were suggested by authors themselves. Therefore, publishers should stop the practice of asking authors to suggest reviewers for their work, prior to publication in journals. However, publishers seem helpless here as they face scarcity of reviewers quite often. Elsevier spokesperson confirmed that journals have to cope with scarcity of reviewers in a highly competitive world of scholarly communications. Therefore, some journals had relented to the idea of receiving reviews from scholars recommended by authors themselves.