In March 2017, Christopher Blanford received an email from an editor at the Journal of Crystal Growth. Blanford had been named as a suggested reviewer for a manuscript, and the editor, Arnab Bhattacharya, wanted to verify that the Gmail account the authors provided was legitimate.
It was not.
Blanford—a senior lecturer in
biomaterials at the University of Manchester, UK—thought it was an
“amusing coincidence” that he was chosen as a fake reviewer, given that
he has written about malpractice in academic publishing.
He confirmed the Gmail account was not his, and the other two suggested
reviewers told Bhattacharya, a professor at the Tata Institute of
Fundamental Research in Mumbai, India, the same thing.
It turns out the author, Ahmad Salar Elahi, based at Islamic Azad University in Tehran, Iran, had already been under scrutiny by the publisher, Elsevier. (And months
before after Blanford was queried about the email, one of Elahi’s papers had been was retracted by another Elsevier journal. The reason? The editors of International Journal of Hydrogen Energy had found the article was accepted “based upon the positive advice of three illegitimate reviewer reports.”)*
In fact, the publisher had been warned about Elahi’s alleged use of fake reviewers as early as 2015. Still, in 2016 and 2017, 21 papers from this group were submitted and published in Elsevier journals. Last month, we reported that Elsevier is retracting 26 papers affected by fake reviews; Elahi is corresponding author on 24 of them. Islamic Azad University also informed us Elahi has been suspended from all his duties, including teaching.
Blanford described part of the situation from his point of view in a recent editorial in the Journal of Materials Science (a Springer publication, where he is deputy editor-in-chief); he also tweeted about it. Blanford told us the publisher discovered the authors had used him as a suggested reviewer in a dozen other papers submitted to Elsevier journals. According to Blanford, only four were published, two of which have been retracted.