July 15, 2014

Taiwan’s education minister resigns in wake of SAGE peer review scandal - Retraction Watch

Taiwan’s education minister, Chiang Wei-ling, whose name appeared on several of 60 retracted articles by Peter Chen — apparently the architect of a peer review and citation syndicate we were first to report on last week — has resigned over the publishing scandal.
According to the University World News:
Chiang said in a statement that the decision to resign was made to uphold his own reputation and avoid unnecessary disturbance of the work of the education ministry, after the incident ignited a wave of public criticism.
The UWN reports that Chaing’s resignation on Monday came after Taiwan’s premier, Jiang Yi-huah, instructed the Ministry of Science and Technology to investigate the Chen case.
What’s more, according to the UWN — in news that, we humbly submit, hammers home the point of our New York Times op-ed last Friday:
The Ministry of Science said this week that it may have funded the research for 40 of Peter Chen’s questionable papers amounting to some NT$5.08 million (US$169,164), according to Lin Yi-Bing, vice-minister of science and technology.
He said in remarks released last Sunday that if Chen was found to have violated academic ethics, the science ministry would demand a return of any research funds awarded to him and bar him for life from applying for such funding.
The relationship between Chiang and Peter Chen is a bit complicated, but may hinge on the researcher’s twin brother C.W. Chen, the UWN reports.
Five of the 60 papers, written by CW Chen – Peter’s twin brother – bore Chiang’s name as a co-writer but also listed Peter Chen as one of the writers.
Chiang was CW Chen’s former thesis advisor. In a statement issued this week CW Chen acknowledged that the papers in question bore Chiang’s name without Chiang having been informed in advance because they were a continuation of research on subjects related to his thesis. “It was my decision,” CW Chen said.
He said he had also sought the opinion of his twin brother on some of the papers and therefore had listed him as a co-author but had not informed Chiang. His academic advisor and his brother had never met to discuss the papers, CW Chen said.
At an earlier press conference, CW Chen insisted that the minister did not have any links to his brother. Peter Chen and the minister had met on only two occasions, once in 2004 when CW Chen graduated from the doctoral programme at National Central University where the minister was teaching, and at a science forum.

July 10, 2014

Scholarly journal retracts 60 articles, smashes ‘peer review ring’ - The Washington Post

Every now and then a scholarly journal retracts an article because of errors or outright fraud. In academic circles, and sometimes beyond, each retraction is a big deal.
Now comes word of a journal retracting 60 articles at once.
The reason for the mass retraction is mind-blowing: A “peer review and citation ring” was apparently rigging the review process to get articles published.
You’ve heard of prostitution rings, gambling rings and extortion rings. Now there’s a “peer review ring.”
The publication is the Journal of Vibration and Control (JVC). It publishes papers with names like “Hydraulic engine mounts: a survey” and “Reduction of wheel force variations with magnetorheological devices.”
The field of acoustics covered by the journal is highly technical:
Analytical, computational and experimental studies of vibration phenomena and their control. The scope encompasses all linear and nonlinear vibration phenomena and covers topics such as: vibration and control of structures and machinery, signal analysis, aeroelasticity, neural networks, structural control and acoustics, noise and noise control, waves in solids and fluids and shock waves.
JVC is part of the SAGE group of academic publications.
Here’s how it describes its peer review process:
[The journal] operates under a conventional single-blind reviewing policy in which the reviewer’s name is always concealed from the submitting author.
All manuscripts are reviewed initially by one of the Editors and only those papers that meet the scientific and editorial standards of the journal, and fit within the aims and scope of the journal, will be sent for peer review.  Generally, reviews from two independent referees are required.
An announcement from SAGE published July 8 explained what happened, albeit somewhat opaquely.
In 2013, the editor of JVC, Ali H. Nayfeh, became aware of people using “fabricated identities” to manipulate an online system called SAGE Track by which scholars review the work of other scholars prior to publication.
Attention focused on a researcher named Peter Chen of the National Pingtung University of Education (NPUE) in Taiwan and “possibly other authors at this institution.”
After a 14-month investigation, JVC determined the ring involved “aliases” and fake e-mail addresses of reviewers — up to 130 of them — in an apparently successful effort to get friendly reviews of submissions and as many articles published as possible by Chen and his friends. “On at least one occasion, the author Peter Chen reviewed his own paper under one of the aliases he created,” according to the SAGE announcement.
The statement does not explain how something like this happens. Did the ring invent names and say they were scholars? Did they use real names and pretend to be other scholars? Doesn’t anyone check on these things by, say, picking up the phone and calling the reviewer?
In any case, SAGE and Nayfeh confronted Chen to give him an “opportunity to address the accusations of misconduct,” the statement said, but were not satisfied with his responses.
In May, “NPUE informed SAGE and JVC that Peter Chen had resigned from his post on 2 February 2014.”
Each of the 60 retracted articles had at least one author and/or one reviewer “who has been implicated in the peer review” ring, said a separate notice issued by JVC.
Efforts by The Washington Post to locate and contact Chen for comment were unsuccessful.
The whole story is described in a publication called Retraction Watch” under the headline: “SAGE Publications busts ‘peer review and citation ring.’”
“This one,” it said, “deserves a ‘wow.’”
Update: Some additional information from the SAGE statement: “As the SAGE investigation drew to a close, in May 2014 Professor Nayfeh’s retirement was announced and he resigned his position as Editor-in-Chief of JVC….Three senior editors and an additional 27 associate editors with expertise and prestige in the field have been appointed to assist with the day-to-day running of the JVC peer review process. Following Professor Nayfeh’s retirement announcement, the external senior editorial team will be responsible for independent editorial control for JVC.”
Note to readers: Thanks for pointing out my grammatical error. No excuses.
There’s a follow to this story here.

January 4, 2014

Guest Post: Plagiarism has been left unpunished - Copy, Shake & Paste

This guest post is from Kayhan Kantarlı, a retired professor of physics from the University of Ege in Turkey. He published a first version of the article on his blog on December 10. I edited the article somewhat and am publishing this version here with his permission, as I do not read Turkish and am unable to verify the sources. -- dww >>>

December 7, 2013

Plagiarism has been legalized !

Translated from Gazete soL 
State Council Committee for Administrative Cases in Turkey has ruled that banishment of faculty members who has been involved in plagiarism cases is not based on legislation, in other words, they have legalized plagiarism. 
Especially in the last few years, there has been a rise in plagiarism cases in Turkish Universities. State Council’s verdict, on the other hand, will encourage those who are involved in plagiarism. State Council Committee for Administrative Cases has decided that banishment of faculty members from their universities is unjust. 
Higher Educational Council (YÖK) of Turkey did not waste any time to put the decree in action by issuing a directive to obey the State Council’s decision.
According to the 3rd  paragraph of 11th article in Faculty Members Discipline Bylaw of YÖK’s Legislature, “using other’s work or study as one’s own without any reference” is a basis for banishment of the faculty member from the university or civil service, however, according to a State Council Decision issued in 2012, this deed has been dropped from being a crime.
There is no Legal basis
The 15 month old decision of State Council Committee for Administrative Cases has rendered the crime of plagiarism sanctionless. Council’s Decision, dating September 2012, states that “there are no regulations for punishment of faculty member, which is established by Faculty Member Discipline Bylaw as banishment, in the YÖK Legislature no. 2547 and State Officer Legislature no. 657” the penalty has no legal basis. As a result, Council has ruled that the disgraceful act of plagiarism /scientific rip off is not a crime.
YÖK: Do not punish
Faculty Members Discipline Bylaw was issued according to the YÖK Legislature no. 547, thus, after the decision of State Council Committee for Administrative Cases regarding the legality of the punishment, YÖK did not attempt to remove the legal void by National Education Ministry and Grand Turkish Assembly; furthermore, it has issued an invoice to rectorates. YÖK’s notice petitioned “to act according to the civil jurisdiction in cases initiated for plagiarism charges”. This official notice directly means to do nothing against faculty members that commit plagiarism.
YÖK’s notice has been imparted to corresponding units in 19 November 2013 by Yunus Söylet, Rector of İstanbul University.
Old penalties rendered void 
On the other hand, according to the Council’s rule, bygone penalties given to the faculty members regarding the plagiarism has “rendered void due to legality”. This opened up the channel for all faculty members who have been banished for committing plagiarism to return to their old posts and demand all of the salaries and monetary entitlements.
‘This will encourage plagiarism’
Prof. Dr. Kayhan Kantarlı, a retired faculty member of Ege University of İzmir, Turkey, stated that Council’s rule will encourage those who intend to do plagiarism. Kantarlı invited all authorities to act against the President of Higher Education Council who breached his duty by letting this scandalous thing to happen which will pave the way for collapse of ethical perception. Kantarlı also called attention of legislative bodies to close this legal void immediately.
‘There is no corresponding crime or act’
Lawsuit was filed by Kamil Can Bulut who was a faculty member at Department of Literature in Ege University, was found to plagiarize in one of his books. In the decree of State Council Committee for Administrative Cases it has been stated that “there is also no corresponding penalty that requires banishment of the faculty member of the university in Legislature no. 2547. In this case, since there are no legal decrees that require the penalty of banishment and there is no legal basis for the act that require this penalty, there is no illegality according to the regulations that is the case before the court and the act that is based on this regulation.” Decision has passed with unanimity of 15 members of the Council except Halide Ayfer Özdemir, including the vice chairman.
         

December 1, 2013

Peer Review, Impact Factors, and the Decline of Science -Copy Shake and Paste

The Economist reported on October 19, 2013 (pp. 21-24) that there is "Trouble at the lab". Indeed. And trouble has been brewing for quite some time without a single identifiable culprit or an easy way to solve the problem. This problem is concerned with predatory publishing, irreproducibility of scientific results, and the use of quantitative data as an attempt to judge quality.

University administrations, search and tenure committees, governments, funding associations, and other bodies need some way of judging people they don't know in order to decide whether to offer them jobs or promotions or funding. This has often boiled down to counting the number of publications, or the impact factors of the journals in which their articles are published. Coupled with the crisis in publishing, with the subscription price of subscription journals exploding, an unhealthy mix is brewing.

Predatory publishers promise quick publication in good-sounding "international" journals, using the Open Access "golden road" to extract fees from authors. They promise peer review, but if at all they only seem to look at the formatting. Established publishers trying to keep up their profits have incorporated more and more journals into their portfolios without keeping a watchful eye on quality control.

Enter John Bohannon. In October 2013 Bohannon published an article in Science, Who's Afraid of Peer Review? He details a sting operation that he conducted between January and August 2013, submitting 304 papers with extremely obvious deficiencies to journals that he chose both from Lund University's "Directory of Open Access Journals" as well as from Jeffrey Beall's list of predatory publishers.

Bohannon has put his data online, showing that 82% of the journals chosen from Beale's list accepted the fabricated paper, as well as 45% of the journals on the DOAJ list. Predictably, DOAJ is not amused and accusing Bohannon of, among other things, racism because he chose African-sounding names for the authors (1 - 2).

In August 2013, Nature journalist Richard van Noorden detailed a scheme by publishers called "citation stacking" in which a group of publishers collude to quote extensively from each other's journals in order to avoid being sanctioned for coercive citation. This activity was described in Science in 2012 by Allen W. Wilhite and Eric A. Fong as a process by which authors are instructed to quote from a publisher's own journals in order to increase the so-called impact factor. van Noorden's article focused on a group of Brazilian journals, so he, too, was accused of racism. This is unfortunate, as it detracts from a very serious problem.

We find ourselves today in a rapidly expanding world with scientific research being conducted in many different places and much money being invested in producing results. People need publications, and have little time for doing peer review, a job that is generally not paid for and performed as a service to the community. Universities in countries without a tradition of rigorous scientific practice have researchers who need publications, and there are people out to make money any way they can. Researchers competing for scarce jobs in countries that are trying to spend less on science and education than they have in the past are also sometimes tempted to follow the path of less resistance and publish with such journals. And some are not aware that they have just selected a publication that sounds like one that is well respected, as Beall has noted.

I don't have a solution to offer, other than boycotting the use of quantitative data about publications and getting people to be aware of the scams going on. We need to get serious about peer review, embracing such concepts as open access pre- and post-publication peer review in order to get more rigor into the publication process. I realize that people have been complaining about the decline of science since at least Charles Babbage (Reflections on the Decline of Science in England, And on Some of Its Causes, 1830). But we are in grave danger of letting bad science get the upper hand.

And what happens to those who try and point out some of the dicier parts of science? Nature just published another article by van Noorden, together with Ed Yong and Heidi Ledford, Research ethics:  3 ways to blow the whistle.

Musings on mock conferences and predatory journals - Copy Shake and Paste

Jeffrey Beall published the "evaluation form" from a scientist who was lured to one of the many OMICS mock conferences. He describes pretty much all of the behavior that is found at such conferences: no involvement of the people on the committees, shortening the conference, massive no-shows, lots of pictures and awards and a fancy web site. It took a lot of effort on his part to get his name removed from their web site, the entire page has now been pulled. Perhaps scientists should quit attending large conferences at hotels, instead sticking to smaller, focused conferences held at universities?

OMICS also publish a wide range of "open access" journals that are on the predatory publishing list. I wonder how many of the "editors-in-chief" actually know that they are editors here?

One of the commenters noted that there is now a CWTS Journal indicator that calculates an impact factor that is normalized according to the field for journals in the SCOPUS database. I looked up a few journals, they seem to have only English-language journals listed. Even just looking at my field, I see so very many journals, how on earth are people able to read all of them? It might be good to check out the journals you are planning on submitting to before you dash off that manuscript.

October 7, 2013

Credibility of Science Journals Under Scrutiny - LV Guardian Express

Don’t-Like-Snake-Oil-Stop-Buying-It

Normally, the discovery of a potential new treatment for cancer would be considered good news; but when the study conducted on the substance is fake, and deeply flawed because it is meant to raise the eyebrows of, and be rejected by science journals, and it is still accepted for publication, the credibility of the peer review process comes under scrutiny.
In an article published by Science magazine, John Bohannon details how he sent deeply flawed studies with false data to 304 purported open access scientific journals. Not only that; but he sent them under the names of fictitious researchers at made-up universities in order to not give himself away by sending the same manuscript to all the journals he targeted in his investigation. He found that many of these journals were willing to publish his paper as long as he paid a fee. Some asked for minor changes, such as a different format or presentation of the data, longer abstracts, etc.; but did not criticize the bunk science behind the study.
Bohannon decided to proceed with this course of action after investigating one particular publisher, and finding out that one of its reviewers had only been asked to peruse one paper in the four years that she has been listed as being affiliated with the journal. Moreover, she asked for that study to be rejected for publication, and yet the manuscript was given the green light by the journal’s editorial staff. After that, the reviewer asked to have her name removed from the journal’s masthead, and yet, she is still listed as a reviewer for that journal.
Bohannon then wrote the paper he was going to use as bait, with huge flaws in the data he falsified, for example, the treatments that were being tested were only applied to cancerous cells, so that if they were also toxic to healthy cells, that would nullify their medicinal usefulness; however, the fictional study did not explore this possibility.
In order to not give himself away, Bohannon did not submit the same study to all the “scientific journals” he targeted. Instead, he replaced the names of different lichens, their extracts, different types of cancers, and different researcher and university names in each submission. Many feel as though his last step was unnecessary, really, as the publishers should have rejected the manuscript on the basis of the bunk science behind it alone in order to maintain their credibility. Also, a big red flag that calls for more scrutiny is that neither the researchers, nor the universities where they conducted the supposed studies exist, and a simple Google search would have revealed that fact.
When examining an issue such as this, we must explore its root causes as well, and one of the main ones, according to the interactive map that Bohannon’s investigation generated is that in India, in particular, professional scientists are under a lot of pressure to publish research in order to get coveted jobs or promotions, and most of these so-called journals that bypass the peer review process in exchange for money are based there.
So why does any of this matter? After all, why should we care about nerds reading research papers written by other nerds? It matters because the nerds supposed to be reading the papers are not actually reading them, and that leads to bunk science being accepted at face value by your insurance company, your doctor, and your lawmakers, even though in many cases it is deeply flawed. That is how charlatans can convince you, for example, that common vaccines are giving your children autism, a “fact” of which there is absolutely no convincing scientific proof, and which leads to outbreaks of disease that should long ago have been eradicated by now, such as the whooping cough outbreak that occurred in 2010 (the largest in California since 1947,) or the more recent measles outbreak in Texas just last month.
In addition, most of us have no use for such scientific studies in our daily lives; but snake oil salesmen constantly try to hijack the peer review process to try to sell us sham cures for people that are so desperately holding onto life that they are basically grasping at any straw offered to them. Also, scientific studies are constantly being used as guide rails for policy within the medical establishment and government. It behooves us, collectively, to make sure such academic papers are held to the same high standard as laws are, because they just might become law.
There are safeguards against such unscrupulous publishers, such as the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) started by Lars Bjørnshauge, a library scientist at Lund University in Sweden, which aims to list credible scientific journals, and a list compiled by Jeffrey Beall, library scientist at the University of Colorado, with the objective of discrediting scientific journals that aim to publish any studies without first reviewing them as long as the authors of the “scientific papers” can pay the corresponding fees.
Unfortunately, Bohannon’s investigation found that there is some overlap between those two lists. This should serve as a caveat to all persons with a critical mind that the peer review process is being compromised, and it is wise to scrutinize carefully everything one reads even if it is published in a “scientific journal” functioning under the thinnest veneer of credibility.
By Milton Ruiz

October 3, 2013

Some Online Journals Will Publish Fake Science, For A Fee - NPR

Many online journals are ready to publish bad research in exchange for a credit card number.
That's the conclusion of an elaborate sting carried out by Science, a leading mainline journal. The result should trouble doctors, patients, policymakers and anyone who has a stake in the integrity of science (and who doesn't?).
The business model of these "predatory publishers" is a scientific version of those phishes from Nigerians who want help transferring a few million dollars into your bank account.
To find out just how common predatory publishing is, Science contributor John Bohannon sent a deliberately faked research article 305 times to online journals. More than half the journals that supposedly reviewed the fake paper accepted it.
"This sting operation," Bohannan writes, reveals "the contours of an emerging Wild West in academic publishing."
Online scientific journals are springing up at a great rate. There are thousands out there. Many, such as PLoS One, are totally respectable. This "open access" model is making good science more accessible than ever before, without making users pay the hefty subscription fees of traditional print journals.
(It should be noted that Science is among these legacy print journals, charging subscription fees and putting much of its online content behind a pay wall.) 
But the Internet has also opened the door to clever imitators who collect fees from scientists eager to get published. "It's the equivalent of paying someone to publish your work on their blog," Bohannan tells Shots.
These sleazy journals often look legitimate. They bear titles like the American Journal of Polymer Science that closely resemble titles of respected journals. Their mastheads often contain the names of respectable-looking experts. But often it's all but impossible to tell who's really behind them or even where in the world they're located.
Bohannan says his experiment shows many of these online journals didn't notice fatal flaws in a paper that should be spotted by "anyone with more than high-school knowledge of chemistry." And in some cases, even when one of their reviewers pointed out mistakes, the journal accepted the paper anyway — and then asked for hundreds or thousands of dollars in publication fees from the author.
This journal offered to publish a fake cancer research paper for a $1,000 fee.
A journalist with an Oxford University PhD in molecular biology, Bohannan fabricated a paper purporting to discover a chemical extracted from lichen that kills cancer cells. Its authors were fake too — nonexistent researchers with African-sounding names based at the fictitious Wassee Institute of Medicine in Asmara, a city in Eritrea.
With help from collaborators at Harvard, Bohannan made the paper look as science-y as possible – but larded it with fundamental errors in method, data and conclusions.
For starters, the purported new cancer drug was tested on cancer cells – but not healthy cells. So there's no way to tell whether its effect was cancer-specific, or if it's simply toxic to all cells.
A graph in the paper purports to show that the more lichen drug that was added to test tubes of cancer cells, the more effective it was at killing. But in fact the actual data show no such difference.
Bohannan says it wasn't easy to write a convincing fake. Initially he made the data "too crazy," he says. His Harvard collaborators worried it made the paper look too interesting. "So we rewrote it, making boring rookie mistakes," he says.
The final touch was to make the paper read as though it had been written by someone whose first language is not English. To do that, Bohannan used Google Translate to put it into French, then translated that version back into English.
In the end, the paper's fictitious authors got 157 acceptance letters and 98 rejections – a score of 61 percent. "That's way higher than I expected," Bohannan says. "I was expecting 10 or 15 percent, or worst case, a quarter accepted."
For the privilege of being published, the paper's authors were asked to send along a publishing fee of up to $3,100.
The highest density of acceptances was from journals based in India, where academics are under intense pressure to publish in order to get promotions and bonuses.To learn the location of online journals that accepted or rejected Bohannan's paper, see this interactive global map.
Bohannan says the exercise is a damning indictment of the way peer review works (or doesn't) at many online journals. Peer review is the time-honored system of having outside experts comb through submissions to identify flaws in method, data or conclusions. It's the way scientific journals do quality control.
"Peer review is in a worse state than anyone guessed," he says.
Bohannan says he doesn't mean to suggest that the whole business model of online open-access journals is a failure. "You can't conclude that from my experiment, because I didn't do the right control – submitting a paper to paid-subscription journals," he says.
As he acknowledges, it's not as if peer review is always up to snuff at subscription journals – even the top subscription journals have been embarrassed by lapses in their peer review processes. But he says online publishing makes poor-quality journals easier to set up. And the sheer volume of online publications these days makes it harder to distinguish between legitimate and shady journals.
Another journal asked the authors to wire 80 Euros to a Turkish bank.

Jeffrey Beall of the University of Colorado wasn't surprised in the least by the outcome of Bohannan's sting. "He basically found what I've been saying for years," he tells Shots.
A growing number of online open-access journals "are accepting papers just to earn publishing fees, and as a result science is being poisoned by a lot of bad articles," Beall says.
Beall, a research librarian, is a self-appointed watchdog over open-access publishing. He maintains a list of what he calls "predatory publishers" – those who "exploit the open-access model of publishing for their own profit."
He points out that online publishers operate under an incentive that's just the opposite of traditional scientific journals. Print journals have rigid constraints on how many articles they can publish, so they have to screen out all but the best. And they have subscribers to keep happy, so they have to cultivate reputations as curators of high-quality research.
But online journals don't have to worry about subscribers; they make their money by charging contributors – who have a strong incentive to get published. So "the more papers they publish the more money they make," Beall says.
Two big questions arise out of all this: What damage is done by publish-anything journals? And what can be done about it?
The potential damage is both far-reaching and difficult to quantify. Bohannan points out that universities and government agencies, particularly in developing countries, may hire researchers based on resumes packed with sleazy citations. Determining which of those CV entries is high-quality and which aren't is no easy task.
Beall notes that lawyers often use scientific citations in briefs and trials. Government officials draw on published research to set policy. Drug companies have a strong incentive to manipulate research to bolster their claims. And researchers may be led down futile paths on the basis of poor research.
As to what can be done, Beall says poor-quality research can probably only be driven out by naming and shaming.
Bohannan thinks there might be a sort of Consumer Reports to survey the quality of online journals and call out those that fall short. And he thinks maybe such an enterprise might regularly carry out stings like his to keep everyone in the field on their toes.

July 26, 2013

What’s the difference between plagiarism and “unintended and unknowing breach of copyright?” - Retraction Watch

In our work here at Retraction Watch, we’ve seen a number of euphemisms for plagiarism. (See slides 18-22 of this presentation for a selection.) Today, in following up on a case we covered last month, we’ve learned of a new way to avoid saying the dreaded p-word.
We reported in June that sex researcher Willibrord Weijmar Schultz had retracted two papers. One was for “substantial overlap between this paper and an earlier published paper by Talli Yehuda Rosenbaum,” while the other was for “breach of warranties made by the authors with respect to originality” and failure to cite a dissertation.
Two more retractions from Weijmar Schultz, for exactly the same reasons as the second one above, have just appeared. One was of a 1991 paper in Sexual and Marital Therapy (now Sexual and Relationship Therapy), while the other was of a 2003 article in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy.
The Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy notice reads as follows: >>>

July 4, 2013

May university rankings help uncover problematic or fraudulent research?

Paul Wouters
Can one person manipulate the position of a whole university in a university ranking such as the Leiden Ranking? The answer is, unfortunately, sometimes yes – provided the processes of quality control in journals do not function properly. A Turkish colleague recently alerted us to the position of Ege University in the most recent Leiden Ranking in the field of mathematics and computer science. This university, not previously known as one of the prestigious Turkish research universities, ranks second with an astonishing value of the PP(top 10%) indicator of almost 21%. In other words, 21% of the mathematics and computer science publications of Ege University belong to the top 10% most frequently cited in their field. This means that Ege University is supposed to have produced twice the amount of highly cited papers as expected. Only Stanford University has performed better.
In mathematics and computer science, Ege university has produced 210 publications (Stanford wrote almost ten times as much). Because this is a relatively small number of publications, the reliability of the ranking position is fairly low, which is indicated by a broad stability interval (an indication of the uncertainty in the measurement). Of the 210 Ege University publications, no less than 65 have been created by one person, a certain Ahmet Yildirim. This is an extremely high productivity in only 4 years in this specialty. Moreover, the Yildirim publications are indeed responsible for the high ranking of Ege University: without them, Ege University would rank around position 300 in this field. This position is therefore probably a much better reflection of its performance in this field. Yildirim’s publications have attracted 421 citations, excluding the self-citations. Mathematics is not a very citation dense field, so this level of citations is able to strongly influence both the PP(top10%) and the MNCS indicators.
An investigation into Yildirim’s publications has not yet started, as far as we know. But suspicions of fraud and plagiarism are rising, both in Turkey and abroad. One of his publications, in the journal Mathematical Physics, has recently been retracted by the journal because of evident plagiarism (pieces of an article by a Chinese author were copied and presented as original). Interestingly, the author has not agreed with this retraction. A fair number of Yildirim’s publications have been published in journals with a less than excellent track record in quality control. The Elsevier journal Computer & Mathematics with Applications (11 articles by Yildirim) has recently retracted an article by a different author because it turned out to have “no scientific content”. Actuallly, it was an almost empty publication. According to Retraction Watch, the journal’s editor Ervin Rodin has been replaced at the end of last year. He was also relieved from his editorial position at the journal Applied Mathematics Letters – An International Journal of Rapid Publication, another Elsevier imprint. Rodin was also editor of Mathematical and Computer Modelling, in which Yildirim published 5 articles. The latter journal currently does not accept any submissions “due to an editorial reconstruction”.
How did Yildirim’s publications attract so many citations? His 65 publications are cited by 285 publications, giving in total 421 citations. This group of publications has a strong internal citation traffic. They have attracted almost 1200 citations, of which a bit more than half is generated within this group. In other words: this set of publications seems to represent a closely knit group of authors, but they are not completely isolated from other authors. If we look at the universities citing Ege University, none of them have a high rank in the Leiden Ranking with the exception of Penn State University (which ranks at 112) that has cited Yildirim once. If we zoom in on mathematics and computer science, virtually all of the citing universities do not rank highly either, with the exception of Penn State (1 publication) and Gazi University (also 1 publication). The rank position of the last university, by the way, is not so reliable either, as indicated by the stability interval that is almost as wide as in the case of Ege University.
The bibliometric evidence allows for two different conclusions. One is that Yildirim is a member of a community which works closely together on an important mathematical problem. The alternative interpretation is that this group is a distributed citation cartel which not only exchanges citations but also produces very similar publications in journals that are functioning mainly as citation generating devices. A cursory look at a sample of the publications and the way the problems are formulated seems to support the second interpretation more than the first.
But from this point, the experts in mathematics should take over. Bibliometrics is currently not able to properly distinguish sense from nonsense in scientific publications. Expertise in the field is required for this task. We have informed the rector of Ege University that the ranking of his university is doubtful and requested more information from him about the position of the author. We have not yet received a reply. If Ege University wishes to be taken seriously, it should start a thorough investigation of the publications by Yildirim and his co-authors.
If you see other strange rankings in our Leiden Ranking or in any other ranking, please do notify us. It may help us create better tools to uncover fraudulent behaviour in academic scholarship.

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